10 tips for new vet school grads
Black and White headshot of IndeVets Employee lindsay
Words by:
Lindsay Wolcott — Associate IndeVet

Dr. Lindsay Wolcott shares 10 tips she wishes she knew as a new vet school grad.

Starting a new career as a veterinarian can be stressful. Even though vet school prepares you with clinical knowledge, many new docs still have practical questions about how best to practice. Here are 10 tips to help you hit the ground running.

Tip #1: Don’t panic!

Just like the back cover of the beloved sci-fi book Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy says.. DON’T PANIC!

It’s easy to do in our industry. We never know what the day will bring. On arrival to the clinic each the morning I would make a preliminary game plan in my head for each patient beforehand. I used worry about any change to my schedule. Whenever a nurse would say “heads up doc, triage coming in,” it didn’t matter what it was, I would instantly panic.

Worst case scenarios were already running circles in my head. “What if I can’t handle this patient/disease?” But if I just took a second and a deep breath I would calm down enough to be able to trust my instincts, my training, and my staff to handle whatever came in the door.

Tip #2: Phone a friend

Never be afraid to ask for help. My first clinic was a three doctor hospital. Initially I was worried about looking like an idiot, but my peers made it easy to talk to them about any case; simple or complicated. I’ve even pulled them into surgery a few times to help and vice versa.

Experience and time in the field counts for a lot of the knowledge you gain as a vet. So make good use of senior vets.

If you are the only vet on that day make sure you someone on speed dial that you trust to call. And yes, I’ve called my mentor mid surgery too when it didn’t go quite to plan and she walked me through what ever complication I ran into right then and there. Remember you are never truly alone.

More from Dr. Wolcott: Finding relief from burnout with IndeVets

Tip #3: Math actually is easy

Unless you are in specialty medicine and are running CRIs and multiple fluid lines for critical patients there is really one main calculation you need to memorize. Ready?

Here it is:

mg/ kg ( dose) x kg (of patient) ÷ concentration (mg per tablet or mg/ml)  = # of tablets (or mls)

That’s it. This is the only equation I need on a daily basis. Anything else; I look up.

Tip #4: Trust your techs and nurses

Techs and nurses do the majority of the work and any nurse that has been there for more than 3- 4 years will know more than you. Learn from them.

I learned how to treat pancreatitis cases in the real world from my senior nurse. I am forever grateful to her for all her advice.

Learn to recognize their voices and their tones. There is a huge difference when I hear “Doctor W,” vs “ DOCTOR W!” (you’ll have to trust me on this one). One will get me over in a few minutes when I’m done with whatever I’m doing, the other will have me jumping over people and tables in a heartbeat. When your nurses are worried, you get worried.

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Tip #5: Grab a book

In vet school you needed to memorize everything in order to pass your exams. I have good news: in the real world you don’t need to!

Figuring out treatment plans are the easy part its already written down somewhere. The difficulty is learning how to diagnose the disease properly.

Luckily, every good clinic should have a well stocked library. Don’t let anyone shame you for grabbing a book. I’ve been in practice for 5 years and if I ever feel I’m missing something or need to confirm my theory on a diagnosis, I grab a book.

Tip #6: Keep a notebook

Speaking of books, I still carry around a small notebook in my pocket with little tidbits of information to have readily available. The information you want to keep will vary, but in mine I keep a list of categories of medications and common dosages for different species.

I have one page summaries of common presentations for common diseases, options for testing, and treatment plans.

I also have examples of the more complicated calculations and how to set up a CRI should I need it.

Additionally, I have a few pages about small mammals as well. Write down what you need to make your day easier.

Read more: ER for GP docs — 5 tips for surviving your shifts

Tip #7: Keep up with your CE

Yes, its required by state law and each state is different in terms of hours needed every year, but if you spread out your CE during the year so you aren’t panicking by the holidays to finish all at once.

I recommend you pick topics based on a 50/50 scale. Fifty percent of topics that really interest you and 50% stuff you don’t like. The reason is this: You never know what cases are going to be on your schedule. You will get cases of diseases you don’t like, but you still have to treat them.

Help yourself get more comfortable with those cases, as well as becoming very skilled at  the cases that are more suited to your strengths and interests.

Tip #8: Remember that not every day is a great day

Veterinary medicine is unique in that we are allowed to perform euthanasia. I have found it to be a privilege and honor to relieve the suffering of my patients. However, there will be days when just one appointment will pull at your heart strings and you’ll need a minute to yourself. Take it.

There will be other days when you’ll need to do three euthanasias in a row and then turn right around to a new puppy appointment with a smile on your face. Acknowledge the sadness, but don’t let it consume you.

Talk to someone if it weighs heavier than you thought it would. That’s normal. Do realize that not every day is like that, but they do happen and its best to be prepared. Not One More Vet is a great resource for days like these.

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Tip #9: Also remember that not every client will like you — and that’s okay

Everyone has a different way of being a vet. Just as everyone has their own personality. You’re not going to be friends with everyone you meet in real life and not every client will like you as their vet.

The first time a client wanted another doctor I was hurt. Turns out she liked the other vet who had a more bubbly personality, whereas I am more to the point. On the other hand one of my best clients will ONLY see me because he likes of my way of presenting information. Every time he comes in he tells me that I will only ever be his vet because I am to the point and won’t “beat around the bush.”

You will find clients that love you for the way you  practice medicine. If a client doesn’t want you, that’s okay, help them find a vet they like and that way you can fill your roster with clients who do want and appreciate your help and expertise.

As a relief vet I don’t take it personally when someone wants their normal vet. They don’t know me, but I always let them know am still there to help them and their pet until their vet comes back from their well deserved holiday.

Tip #10: Hug the puppies

People envy us because they think we play with puppies all day. While we know that’s not 100% true, we do see puppies on average more than a lay person.

I love my puppy appointments. I snuggle the puppies. All of them. I get down on the floor to play with them. I keep them on my lap when I do my notes.

It’s moments like this that remind us why we love our jobs and do what we do. So when your last room of the day is a litter of puppies; seize the day and hug the puppies.

Dr. Lindsay Wolcott is an Associate IndeVet practicing in South Carolina.

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