As a vet, the first job after qualifying is an important choice. If you pick the wrong job, you can end up over-stressed, making mistakes that damage your self-confidence, and losing enthusiasm for the profession that you’ve worked so hard to join. Choose the right job, and your skills will steadily grow, you’ll become more confident, and your enthusiasm will go from strength to strength.
Everybody has to work this out for themselves, and plenty has been written elsewhere about how to choose the right job. Perhaps the most useful input I can give is to share my own experiences.
I had two “first jobs”: the very first one as a locum for two months in Aberdeenshire, and the second “first job” as a long term assistant-ship for four years in the Scottish Borders.
My first, “first job”, as a locum
I’ve written before about that early locum post: this is where I did most of my “firsts”, from small animal consults, to farm animal call outs, to horse lamenesses, to calvings, to just “being on call”. It was stressful time for me, but the two partners in the practice were laid back individuals who were used to new graduates (they used one every summer for two months, to give each partner a month’s holiday). The advantage of this locum was that when I came to apply for my first “real” assistant-ship, I already had some experience. This helped with my job application, and it also meant that I started out with my longer term clients in my assistant-ship with a higher level of confidence.
My second “first job”, as a long term assistant
I chose the long term assistant job with care: there were some key boxes that had to be ticked.
- It had to be in the right location (close to my girlfriend: this is a big issue for many young vets),
- I wanted true mixed practice, to allow me to consolidate the academic learning that I’d done over the previous five years. I chose a practice with beef and dairy cattle, sheep, horses, pigs, poultry, and even some fish farms, as well as around 30% small animal.
- I wanted to be allowed to do everything, including a decent amount of small animal surgery.
- Above all else, I had to feel an immediate sense of rapport with my new bosses and colleagues. As it worked out, twenty five years after leaving the job, I am still in regular contact with my original boss, who has become a long term friend.
- Of course pay and conditions had to be reasonable, although after surviving for years on a student stipend, any salary felt like immense wealth, and after cycling around Edinburgh for five years at college, any company car was a huge upgrade.
- The practice had to provide me with accommodation: there was a flat above the clinic that became my home.
The first days at work: loitering with intent
The first days in the job were tricky, as they always are. Everybody else seemed to know what to do and where they should be, while I felt as if I was standing around, loitering, always needing to ask a question. This phase passed quickly, and within a couple of weeks, I was used to the new routine.
Learning the ropes about small animal practice
The small animal side was the easiest to get used to: my college training had set up me well for taking histories, carrying out clinical examinations and organising treatment. I did find myself stressing about medication: how much of that injection should I give? What size of tablets should I dispense? The brand names were new to me, so I kept a small notebook with everything listed, along with dose rates.
I made some typical new graduate errors: for example, imagining that a simple case of gastroenteritis could be Addisonian, and starting a complex dermatological work up on a dog that had obvious flea dirt. You learn rapidly from such situations, and no harm is done. The main thing is that patients are well protected from the beginning, and that’s why it’s so important to have a friendly, supportive experienced vet within shouting distance.
Winning the confidence of farmers and horse owners
The biggest challenge with the farm and equine work was learning where the farms were located and then convincing the farmers that despite my juvenile appearance, I did know what I was talking about. In over 95% of my new clients, there was no problem: I focussed on being diligent, punctual and efficient, and they appreciated my efforts. Of course, there were one or two grumpy farm clients, but the practice partners supported me when there were minor issues, and things soon settled down.
I did make one classic new graduate mishap: I managed to write off the car. I was under pressure to get to a hemorrhaging prize ram as rapidly as possible, and I hit a patch of oil at speed, spinning off the road. The partners were remarkably forgiving: “Are you OK” was the only question they had when I phoned in to report the accident.
Moving on was not easy…
After four years in the job, I could easily have stayed for life: I was even offered a partnership. The sense of wanderlust in my late twenties meant that a year of backpacking was more appealing to myself and my girlfriend. We were sad to leave the area, but we still have many happy memories of our time there.
Choose your first job carefully: above all else, find colleagues who you feel you can get on well with. Unquestioning, faithful professional support is the single biggest factor that will make your early life as a vet successful and enjoyable.