Starting your career as a vet can be daunting, exciting, and a whirlwind, to say the least. It can be incredible to put all the knowledge and skills you’ve learned over the last 4-5 years into practice in real-life scenarios – finally!
Clinically, vet school does an excellent job of preparing us for day one cases. However, a few extra tips can make you much better prepared.
The skills and habits I’m referring to are one’s experienced vets have learned over the years since graduating that help them save time, deal with complicated cases better, and make their work-life a little bit easier. If you’ve recently graduated and are about to start your first job, read on!
Hacks to make your life a LOT easier as a new grad:
1. Ask your manager to give you longer time slots for consults and procedures.
Increasingly, job adverts are now promoting longer consult times for new grads, but even if your new boss hasn’t said so initially, asking for this as a recent grad is very reasonable.
Knowing you have a few more minutes for decision-making, finding equipment, or looking something up takes a lot of stress out of consulting and means you can feel like you’re still doing a great job for the client. All this without creating frustration in the waiting room or for your next calls by running late!
2. Seek help from external vets and specialists as much as you need!
Asking for help can look like clarification on blood results, sending x-rays, or even Whatsapping some photos of a wound or skin disease. Vet school can only teach you so much. Getting some backup from a specialist can give you a massive confidence boost by embarking on a treatment plan, and it can help the client trust you. Consulting a specialist does not make you any less of a vet. My senior vet (30 years post-graduation) and I (four years post-grad) still ask specialists about a huge variety of cases almost weekly.
When I graduated, I certainly did not realize how often vets call up previous colleagues or specialists they know for ideas and opinions on cases.
Your practice should give you the contact details of local referral centers they commonly use. All you need to do is phone or email and ask to be put through to someone in the specialism who might help! Alternatively, ask one of your new colleagues who they tend to go to, as they might have great contacts.
3. Schedule follow-up phone calls on the diary for yourself
When you send home a patient on medication or after performing a procedure, following up is one of the most appreciated gestures by an owner as it shows you care and are making sure everything is going as planned.
If it is not going as planned, scheduling a phone call before the completion of treatment gives you the opportunity to make adjustments earlier. It can also offer further diagnostics and therefore optimize your chances of a successful outcome.
It is also valued from a management’s perspective, as the owner is more likely to follow through with additional veterinary work if you check in and advise it if necessary.
The hardest part? Remembering all your cases from the last 2 weeks, and remembering to make those calls in between your current consults, ops, or ambulatory calls! So, either as soon as you’ve finished seeing that client or at the end of the workday, jump onto your computer system and book your phone call reminders for 3 days or whichever time works best for you.
This way, you don’t need to try to keep it all in your head, be your own PA and schedule.
(Just don’t book this into the diary when you should be doing consults as this runs the great risk of upsetting your employer.)
4. Set boundaries from the start
As a new grad, you’re in a unique position. You have a clean slate; you don’t have a client base yet, and no one knows how you work. This is a fantastic opportunity to set the record straight with your work-life boundaries. Creating boundaries is a fundamental skill and one of the key factors that will help prevent you from burning out.
Don’t want clients texting you at 7pm? Tell them! Don’t want reception asking you to report lab results during your lunch break? Tell them! Be clear, polite, and firm; you will set a healthy foundation upon which to build your career.
Too many new grads will try to please people-please and take on too much, but there is a lot to be respected in a person who knows their boundaries. If clients can’t understand why you aren’t available every waking hour, I’m not sure you want them as clients.
Learn more about how to improve your work-life balance and set boundaries here.
Bonus hacks for large animal new grads:
5. Check behind your car (i.e., for trees, small bollards, or very expensive equipment!) before you get in and reverse out
Be especially wary of anything that might be below your reversing sensor! No one wants to trash the company car on day one or even year one, but it definitely happens to a disproportionately large number of new grads.
Drive safe and be especially careful of driving tired after a night on-call. If you’re really struggling, pulling over for a quick break and being 5 mins late to a call is much better than ending up in a ditch.
6. Make an on-call equipment checklist
Imagine every possible out-of-hours scenario you might be called to (and look back at all the recent weekend and evening calls colleagues have been sent to) and type up an exhaustive list of equipment and drugs you might need for every single one. If you’re not sure – ask a more experienced colleague! Before your weekends on call, go through the checklist and stock up as needed. It is too easy to finish a drug bottle on a busy day and forget to replace it at the practice that evening. Nothing is worse than grabbing something from the car in an emergency and realizing you forgot to pack it or top it up.
If you know you’ve ticked off the checklist before every on-call shift, you can be confident knowing you’re prepared for every eventuality.
The more species specific you become, the list could go on forever, but hopefully, these hacks will make your life as a new grad just that bit smoother. Know your boundaries, request more time if needed, don’t try to remember all your phone calls (because you won’t!), and ask for help!
Plus, drive safely and make stocking your car easy for yourself.
I hope these hacks will make a difference to you as a new graduate vet.
- Three Tips For Graduate Vets: How To Thrive, Not Just Survive At Work
- Creating A Routine When Nothing In Veterinary Medicine Is Routine
- How To Choose Your Perfect Practice
Dr Alice is an ambulatory equine vet working in the northeast of England. After graduating she moved to New Zealand for a 12-month equine internship, before then travelling her way home via Japan and south east Asia to start working in first opinion equine in the UK.
Her clinical interests lie in anaesthesia but has recently developed a passion for mental health, practice culture and psychological safety. She is a mental health first aider and is her practice Wellbeing Champion. She recently started a blog – ThisVetCan – to help veterinary professionals pursue career and financial wellbeing.
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