If you could travel back in time, what would you tell yourself?
Early in our careers, many of us will marvel at a more experienced veterinary colleague and think, “If only I could take an exact copy of their professional brain…”. The sad news is: you can’t. The good news is: you don’t need to! With some hands-on experience and learning, you are going to become your version of Veterinarian Extraordinaire! In the meantime, your composed, knowledgeable future self has kindly sent back in time the following pieces of helpful advice that they know you’ll appreciate an early heads-up on now.
And before you ask: no, unfortunately, you still don’t know who took your favourite work pen. Sorry.
It’s okay if you don’t know all the answers
It’s okay not to know all the answers. It’s better to admit our ignorance than to believe answers that might be wrong. Pretending to know everything, closes the door to finding out what’s really there – Neil deGrasse Tyson.
If you’re new to the industry or just starting in a new role, it can seem like you always have to ask for help or research the correct way to proceed. There may be some helpful colleagues whom you seek advice from, or useful textbooks or apps on your phone that you’re regularly consulting to check drug doses or protocols.
Your future self is here to say: it’s okay not to know everything, and it’s okay to ask for help! There will always be those particular clients who want to see Dr Mature-Vet (who knows every textbook back-to-front and has “seen and done it all”). However, many clients will also appreciate a keen new veterinarian who demonstrates care for their animal and a willingness to investigate the most up-to-date treatment recommendations.
Whilst Imposter Syndrome is common, try to have confidence in your value to the team, and know that it is okay not to know everything off the top of your head, provided you actively seek the correct answer. Not only will this ensure that you’re providing the best care to each patient, but it will also support your professional learning in the long term.
Your good preparation can eliminate trepidation
Whilst there are a handful of emergency procedures that you should research and practise in advance (e.g. CPR), in most cases, you’ll be able to prepare before performing a new procedure.
If you know you’ll be undertaking a new surgery or procedure, try to take at least ten minutes the day before for training – this can involve consulting a textbook or app or watching YouTube videos of the surgery in question.
Ideally, you should then do a mental rehearsal just before the procedure. As with athletes, visualising the activity you are about to perform can improve clarity and confidence, and decrease anxiety, and thereby help get you in “the zone”, ready to perform at your best.
Your communication skills are important
Your future self wants to emphasise enough the importance of good communication for effective and enjoyable veterinary practice. It will help you to properly “hear” and address client concerns, build a trusting (and hopefully respectful) relationship between yourself and clients, keep clients and staff onside as much as possible, and resolve conflicts that may arise. It can also allow you to debrief healthily after difficult professional situations.
Good communication involves active listening on your part and clear, concise explanations in return. It also involves thoroughly documenting any interactions between clients and yourself, and having them sign detailed consent forms before any procedures (combined with a verbal summary).
In many cases, issues between veterinary staff and clients are due to breakdowns in communication, rather than an actual problem with the veterinary care provided. Whilst you can’t control how a client thinks and feels, you can at least be very clear about the realistic treatment options and goals you’re offering, and the potential outcomes and costs involved. If you outline these options clearly in advance, clients are in a position to make informed decisions. This thoroughness also helps to protect you, should the unfortunate situation arise where a client raises a complaint.
As well as helping to keep clients onside, good communication will also encourage the most effective teamwork within your practice. This assists in providing a high standard of patient care, and supports a happy and harmonious workplace.
If you’re unsure about your communication skills, have a trusted team member role-play a few common emotionally-charged client situations with you (e.g. breaking bad news), and provide you with feedback. Also, try to work on your “active listening” skills, and pay attention to your non-verbal communication (i.e. your body language).
Your Continuing Education requirements don’t have to be a chore
Whilst Continuing Professional Development or Continuing Education is a mandatory exercise, try to approach this compulsory learning with a positive attitude. After all, effective CPD/CE can help you feel professionally fresh and excited to learn and practice new skills.
When selecting CPD/CE, consider selecting courses or presentations on a topic that your practice sees a lot of, subjects you want to improve in, or disciplines that you enjoy and want to become more advanced in. Try to find courses with practical elements, as this can help you gain maximal benefit from any theoretical knowledge gained.
If the course in question is above your allocated CPD/CE budget, don’t rule it out. If you are looking to stay at the practice for the foreseeable future, and you can prove that your new skills will be relevant and potentially lucrative, discuss the opportunity with your practice manager and see what they can offer.
It’s okay for you to say “No!”
Whilst in this industry we are all pretty good at practising empathy and going out of our way to help clients or other team members, your future self wants you to learn to say an appropriate but firm “No” where necessary.
It’s nice to be a kind, helpful professional and team player, but not to the extent that you take on work where you’re not going to be able to deliver good results or will potentially jeopardise your mental health.
Take some time to consider where your personal and professional boundaries lie in regards to veterinary services you will provide, the practice policies you will work under, and the employment conditions that you will consent to. Consider saying “No” to situations where you have a legitimate excuse to push back, such as the handling of aggressive animals without appropriate sedation and restraint, practice policies you morally disagree with, clients unnecessarily turning up at close, or extra shifts to cover a poorly-managed gap in staffing.
Remember, you do not need to be the mythical “Rockstar Vet” who says yes to any procedure and shift – unless that’s truly who you want to be.
If you learn to say “No” appropriately and professionally, a good manager will respect you setting boundaries and letting them know when you’re starting to exceed your capacity. However, if your practicing style consistently does not align with that of your clinic and your boundaries are not being respected, it’s likely time to seek a new role.
Don’t be distracted by the bells and whistles
When you’re seeking a new role, it can be tempting to look for an impressive, purpose-built practice with fancy tech.
Whilst it’s important to have at least the basic medical provisions for safe and effective patient care, your future self wants you to prioritise the human aspect of a prospective clinic rather than the impressive equipment on offer.
For long-term workplace happiness, a good team environment is most important! Look for a practice with a long-standing staff, who treat each other respectfully, work harmoniously as a team and communicate effectively. The ability to have a few laughs together is also a plus.
It’s all very well having an MRI or CT machine to play with, but if you don’t feel supported and respected within your workplace by your team-mates and managers, then it’s probably not a “forever” role.
You’re not trapped
You put so much emotional and physical energy, money and training into your veterinary career, and in some cases, your job may even feel like a part of your identity. So if things just aren’t working professionally, it can feel pretty devastating and like an insurmountable problem.
If you’re feeling unfulfilled, unhappy or mentally overwhelmed in your current role, it’s important to remember that you do have other options. These include:
- Moving to another company whose working values better align with your own
- Diversification within the veterinary field – read more on that here
- Levelling up and gaining confidence in your current role with some intense CE/CPD in an area of interest
- Going part-time in the veterinary field, so that you can take some time off or work in an unrelated field of interest
If you’re unsure and need further clarity, consider discussing your options further with a trusted mentor figure or hiring a veterinary career coach.
Just remember, feeling like this at some point in your career is relatively common, and worth addressing for your long-term happiness.
This last point is pretty simple – whilst it may look silly, ensure you always protect yourself by wearing any Personal Protective Equipment relevant to the situation. Wear gloves when handling potentially infectious material, and add face masks and protective glasses when performing dentals. Don lead-lined gear if you’re going to be in the vicinity of x-rays, and wherever possible, safely sedate the animal to eliminate the need for any close restraint. You may feel like a bit of a dork, but you’re protecting your long-term physical health.
Ensure your practice has set into place effective and humane protocols and OH&S guidelines and has the proper equipment for dealing with fractious animals, so you’re not unnecessarily at risk of a severe bite or scratch wound.
And lastly, make sure to keep your mouth closed when expressing pet anal glands. Trust your future self on this one!
- What is visualisation? How successful athletes practice this proven technique – November 19 2020 – https://restoic.com/blogs/blog/what-is-visualization-how-successful-access-practice-this-proven-technique – As viewed on November 25 2021
- Yes, Imposter Syndrome is real. Here’s how to deal with it – June 20 2018 – https://time.com/5312483/how-to-deal-with-impostor-syndrome/ – As viewed on November 25 2021
- Why is professional communication important in the workplace? – Updated June 2020 – https://www.opencolleges.edu.au/blog/2020/06/05/professional-communication-in-the-workplace/ – As viewed on November 25 2021
- When to say no at work, and why it’s important – September 19 2016 – https://www.forbes.com/sites/elanagross/2016/09/19/when-to-say-no-at-work/?sh=3e5559871322 – As viewed on November 25 2021
- How and when to say no at work – November 18 2020 – https://www.abc.net.au/everyday/how-to-say-no-at-work/12821000 – As viewed on November 25 2021
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