By Abby Whiting, DVM
I graduated from veterinary school in 2011…and I started a great first job at a busy multi doctor full service general practice. I remember being so excited to finally start work, and feel like a “big kid”! I also remember it wasn’t easy…as a matter of fact there were all kinds of challenges I wasn’t expecting.
I distinctly remember one day very early on; a sick dog in room one with labored breathing and the owner was already crying. I went right in and started my PE. As I examined the dog my stomach fell farther and farther down, like it may actually fall into my feet. I started sweating, I was probably pale. As I listened to the dog’s chest I remember being lost for a moment…totally in another plane of thought…I listened and I listened…and again some more. All I could hear was my inner voice saying “Oh, no this dog needs a doctor! Oh NO! I AM this dog’s doctor”. Turns out, lucky for both me and the dog, I got a pretty state of the art education, but what I was lacking was something school couldn’t help me with.
My first six months in practice I was so emotionally and intellectually drained that I couldn’t manage to check me email….ridiculous I know, but true. I was consumed with reviewing cases, did I make good choices, do I need more information, did I say the right things, would that pet be better off with someone else? I was insanely hard on myself. One night a bunch of my local vet friends got together for a pot luck, and it turns out, all of us were feeling exactly the same way. Some of us were struggling to do email, laundry, self-care, etc. Others were struggling with imposter syndrome, or with developing our communication skills with clients and staff. After supper I felt a whole lot better. I breezed back into work proud I had discovered the transition from student to doctor is hard…only to find out the human brain does odd things sometimes…the more experienced practitioners were stunned and shocked and acted like I was a bit off center on that one. It was in that moment I realized….no one truly understands the transition unless they too are in it. It was then I discovered the value of building a tribe of people who understand. Like every time I adopt a puppy I seem to magically forget how exhausting crate training can be early on…like some sort of mystical spell overrides my intellect…the same phenomenon seems to happen as we move further from school and get more comfortable as the doctor.
After that one pot luck a few friends and I gathered monthly to “share war stories” of practice, of transition, of client care, of staff interactions. We all learned a ton and we all supported each other like a tiny little think tank devoted to making the transition easier, smoother and better. We needed this M/M rounds of sorts. After a few meetings I founded the new graduate task force for my state VMA to try to further this mission. In doing so I have learned a few great tid bits I share with all of you, especially the newer graduates.
1). You’re Not a baby vet, you are a newly minted badass with superhero powers. You aren’t “the new doctor”, you just joined the practice. Don’t ever talk down about yourself, there are too many folks already trying to bring you down…resist the temptation. Your brain will believe what you tell it over time, so be careful the lessons to teach it. My life coach likes to ask me if the streets that run through my head are safe? Or are they filled with doubt self-hatred, blame, and inadequacy.
2). Self care is critical: you MUST do it…not later, not after this case, or next week…you MUST commit to it as part of your routine, whatever that means. I like to get outside, or cook, or turn OFF my cell phone. Find something non animal related and do it for FUN.
3). Staff pets: if a staff member asks you to look at their pet: do so with reverence. The staff trusting you is a big deal, and marks a big milestone in you as the new addition to the team. Give them the time and dedication it warrants, and it will repay you! Soon they will refer clients to you over the phone, or in person. Soon your schedule is full, your opportunities are greater…and you feel like part of something. I don’t give my cell number out to clients, except top staff, and no one has ever abused it.
4). Stay in touch with your friends from vet school: in school we have stressors and hardship, successes and triumphs; always shared with our closest mates. Once graduation hits, we all go separate ways, suddenly the 24/7 support system and comradery is gone like mist. Call them, text them, get together, share stories, vent, laugh, cry. Hold each other up when necessary and be each other’s biggest cheer leaders.
5). Give yourself time to make the transition, its big one. Its ok if you can’t do everything…even if you can’t check those emails for a bit.
6). Reach out if you are struggling: no matter what the subject. Whether its cases and needing someone to coach you, or feeling overwhelmed, or lonely. Reach out and tell folks if you need support. Most of us are not psychic and we need a little direction, but when prompted we want to help. You are not alone.
7). Its ok if you like veterinary medicine. Sometimes our culture/profession is faced with so many challenges it can be easy to get swept into the abyss of unhappiness or dissatisfaction. Sometimes I am even quiet or reserved about that fact I truly love my job and my profession…but don’t be. It is ok to love it. In fact its ok to discover it may not be for you. What I adore most about the DVM/VMD is there are endless things you can do with this education. None of us are locked into a particular facet of practice…no matter what the gremlins in our heads might say.
Welcome to the profession, we need you, we love you, we are glad you are here!
The Admin Team of NOMV is a group of veterinarians dedicated to improving veterinary mental health.