Starting work

Trevor Heath at the School of Veterinary Science, the University of Queensland, gives the following advice to new graduates:

Before you start work:

1.  Get experience of dealing with the public face to face in holiday jobs.

2.  Develop competence with:

  • interpersonal skills – decide on the words you will use to introduce yourself, welcome clients, terminate consultations, deal with fees, breaking bad news etc
  • basic technical skills – especially animal handling, clinical examinations, surgical basics (for example, suturing, handling tissue, instruments), and
  • common conditions – learn protocols and drugs and prepare an indexed record of them while you have time, even though later you may need to modify these to suit practice protocols. After getting a job, check any special local veterinary features such as unusual plant and animal species, parasites, toxins and so on

3.  Arrange to keep personal readjustments to a minimum – try not to make any big changes to your life outside work, like breaking up a relationship, in the first few months of starting a job.

4.  Make contacts that may lead to a good job through work experience and visits to practices.

The Job Itself:

5.  Select your boss with great care as he will be the main determinant of your stress level in the job. Check who is really in charge – it can sometimes be the principal’s spouse or other practice manager.

  • Who to look for? Someone who will be supportive and fair and encourage learning with progressive independence; maintain high standards of professional work, ethics and interpersonal interactions, and someone with whom you could develop a good (synergistic or, at least, symbiotic) working relationship. It is preferable to seek a practice with more than one other veterinary surgeon because there are less ‘after hours’ and more people to learn from
  • How to know you’ve found a good boss?  Be critical in your evaluation; ask previous associates; use university networks
  • Should I take the first job offered?  Only if you are confident that the job and the boss are right for you.  But do not delay in reaching a decision, because this can cause problems for the employer

6.  Get it in writing – ensure you get a contract stating the precise conditions of your employment.

After Starting Work:

7.  Make clear that you are prepared to learn.  Look, ask, listen, think, take advice and learn.

8.  Consider the feelings of others, including the boss, who must maintain the practice while helping you settle in; and also those of nurses, colleagues and clients, all of whom may have much to offer.  Clean up after yourself; imagine yourself in their place.  Never underestimate the importance of an animal to its owner.

9.  Take steps to maintain mental and physical health:

  • Get enough rest, especially at the beginning when it will be particularly tiring
  • Get enough exercise, both for health and as an escape from work.  Sporting clubs can also help you gain acceptance into the community and overcome loneliness and homesickness
  • Retain old friendships; they too can help overcome loneliness and provide reassurance that you are not the only one in your situation
  • Make new friendships; this may be difficult in a new town but social, sporting and church activities may be helpful
  • Discuss problems, do not internalise them.  Discussions with the boss, other practice colleagues or classmates can provide reassurance, reduce stress and encourage learning.
  • Seek help from support groups or Vetlife Helpline and seek professional counselling before problems become acute

10.  Think and act as a professional person:

  • Veterinary practice is a business so be aware that to have a future in practice you will need to work efficiently and economically.  Don’t be wasteful, especially of your time, EMS is the ideal time to develop such skills
  • Dress, speak and generally comport yourself in a professional way; this will help you feel, and be accepted as, a professional person
  • Mentally rehearse professional interactions in advance, concentrating on a successful technical and interpersonal performance
  • Avoid appearing tentative and uncertain (even if you feel that way) as this will be detected by clients and their reaction may undermine confidence
  • Avoid appearing over-confident or worse, arrogant; this may result from feelings of inadequacy but it can lead to alienation and decreased self-esteem

I think there are few jobs as demanding on your spare time, or as unpredictable. Remember that you know a lot more than the owners and that you have ethical guidelines that you must follow.  Don’t be bullied or pressured into decisions you don’t want to make or feel to be wrong.  Never lose your temper with a client, stay calm and stand strong.