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Thursday, November 8, 2012

Reflecting On The Next Generation Of Vets

Now that I've been in practice for 15 years I'm starting to creep into the "old fogey" category of veterinarians.  I don't think I'm lazy with my cases but I'm about half-way through my career and can see a difference in how I practice now compared to how I did right after graduating.  Having a newly graduated vet working with me makes me reflect more on where I have come and how green I must have been.

Over my career I have mentored dozens of vet students and newly minted vets.  I have helped guide them through the transition from student to doctor and the realization that now the buck really does stop with them when it comes to cases.  I have tried to pass on my knowledge, especially all of the mistakes I have made, in the hopes that they will turn out better than myself.  I have seen people from multiple different veterinary schools in the US, Caribbean, and the UK so I have a broad basis of comparison.  Like most of humanity you have some who are really sharp and catch on quickly, while others seem to have cotton between their ears.  I've had new vets that I've had to reign in because they were too gung-ho to leap forward, and those that I've had to virtually kick in the pants because I knew they were ready to tackle things and they didn't have self-confidence to realize their own skills.  Though everyone is different, there are certain things that I see across all new graduates.

*  Fear of surgery--I can't blame someone for this, as doing surgery is literally the closest to death that we are willingly putting a patient.  A small mistake can have a big impact.  But if someone is going to be in general practice they have to get over the fear quickly, as they'll be doing spays and neuters daily.
*  Slow surgery time--A professor once told us that "time is trauma", meaning that the longer a pet is in surgery, the higher the complication and infection risks.  You want to develop fast surgical skills to minimize anesthesia time.  But that only comes with experience.  When I first graduated my average time for a spay was around an hour.  Now I can do the same surgery in 15-20 minutes, sometimes even a little less.  It takes time to develop the confidence and muscle memory that allows you to get through a surgery quickly.
*  Embarassment at not knowing--It's impossible to remember everything you are taught in medical school, and things frequently appear different in the real world compared to the classroom.  That's okay!  There is nothing wrong with having to look things up and I do so every day.
*  Awkwardness with clients--Unfortunately most vets tend to be introverts and learning to comfortably talk to clients can be difficult.  Like medicine and surgery this is a skill that can be developed with practice, as long as the doctor is aware of the need and seeks help.
*  Eagerness--One of the biggest characteristsics of most new graduates is an energetic eagnerness to starting putting lessons into practice.  Yes, they are nervous, but they are also excited to be a doctor.  At this stage they haven't developed the cynicism that most of us eventuall do.

Yes, I fit all of this when I was also a wet-behind-the-ears veterinarian.  Maybe I was a bit cockier than most and have always had self-confidence, but otherwise all of that applies to how I was.  Looking at new vets makes me think of how I was at that stage in my life, and thankfully I can let them know that they too will get through that.  I like giving back to the profession by mentoring people like I was mentored early on.  And I often learn from them as well!


  1. As a veterinary student, I found this really touching in its simplicity. Reading this made me feel happy and understood.
    Thank you.

  2. I'm two months into small animal practice and this fits me to a "T" :) The best thing a mentor can do is be supportive - to let us have that extra surgery time but be available when we get stuck. It also helps to have a little more appointment time -- things that seem obvious to someone who has years of practice may take us a little longer to reason through!!


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