The day has finally come. Those four (or more) years of late-night studying, caffeine binging, nail biting anxiety, coupled with the sleep deprivation and stress from your clinical rotations have culminated into you rising like the phoenix as a fiery plumed baby-doc warrior. Are you ready to tackle the world? Or are you feeling like you need a change of scrub pants right now? I can attest to the latter, specifically when the adrenaline of graduation waned and the first day of work loomed on the horizon. If you find yourself in a similar situation, don’t listen to your amygdala! You will be fine.
Here are some essential tips to carry you through this transition into doctorhood.
1. Befriend your colleagues.
Your veterinary nurses and staff are your best allies. Befriend them and learn all you can from them. Actively solicit their input and don’t feel insecure or defensive if they challenge your views—that’s how you learn. Veterinary medicine isn’t about a hierarchy, it takes equally essential parts of a team working cohesively to achieve the best results for the patient. You will likely be around these people seventy five percent of your time, and you will rely on them during moments of extreme stress. Make sure to laugh, build relationships, and start creating your work family.
2. Explore your hospital’s pharmacy and familiarize yourself with the available drugs.
This makes treatment decisions much simpler. You are not expected to have all doses memorized, that’s what drug formularies are for, so make sure you have access to them. I highly recommend downloading the Plumb’s Veterinary Drugs mobile app, it speeds up the process when the answer is in your pocket. TARGET (Vet) is another great mobile app that shows efficacy of drugs based on the location of the infection.
3. Always have a reason to leave the room.
This one may sound silly, but I guarantee you will do this at least once in your first month. You may find yourself in a room with a client and realize you need to quickly look at a text or consult a colleague. Maybe the patient needs some blood work and can be brought to the treatment area for a moment, or you could say to the owner, “let me just grab my ophthalmoscope,” to buy yourself a few precious minutes. That being said, sometimes it makes more sense to simply explain that you don’t have the answer right now, but you will follow through to do what’s best for the pet. Owners will appreciate your honesty, which often increases their trust in your abilities as a healthcare professional. You do not need to have the final solution, just address one problem at a time and focus on the next step.
4. Take notes.
Another important aspect of professional growth is perpetual learning. One helpful discipline is to keep a small notepad in your pocket so you can jot down topics to investigate during your free time. There are so many resources available to you in addition to textbooks and scientific literature. Memberships to various associations and networks are excellent. There’s also a plethora of veterinary podcasts, such as Dr. Andy Roark’s Cone of Shame, The Derm Vet, and The Purr Podcast. As the veterinary community progresses into this digital age, you will be surprised at how much info is out there.
5. Talk to a mentor.
Mentorship is essential to your early career. Remember that this term is not limited to having one specific doctor holding your hand, although that would be a blessing. Mentorship may take the form of guidance from various sources including a group text with your close classmates, or veterinarians that you’ve created relationships with on social media, a previous employer, or a clinician you bonded with in vet school. Surround yourself with supportive people and don’t be afraid to ask questions.
6. Be compassionate and listen.
This brings me to my most unexpected, yet noteworthy piece of advice. It is my experience that a high level of care and compassion can outweigh the importance of how knowledgeable the client perceives you to be. Every day I parade into the room, grinning like a fifteen year old who hijacked someone’s white coat on the way in. Any logical human can deduce that I’m early in my career, but I take time to attentively listen and respond to the client’s concerns, treat the patient lovingly, and give them both the time they deserve. It’s a simple formula and it will take you far.
7. Be kind to yourself.
With time, treatment plans become easier and the “decision fatigue” dissipates as routine sets in. By the end of your first month you will start to gain your footing, and you’ll find you have days you actually feel like a doctor. That being said, do not forget to be kind to yourself. At some point you will make mistakes, you will have moments of “imposter syndrome,” and unfortunately you may even lose a patient. During those times, remind yourself why you started this journey and keep sight of what’s most important—you are improving lives. Heck, you’re even saving them!
This profession is challenging, but with each difficult case you evolve into a better doctor. So take a deep breath; you are more prepared than you think. Go do what you’ve been working so hard for all these years. Welcome to the field, doc.