Banner Default Image


Confessions of a New Graduate


Dr Louise Curtis BVetMed MRCVS General


So I had made it as a real, qualified vet. All grown-up, one might say. Except I didn't feel it. Not at first. Not for quite a while, actually. It's a scary moment when you go to call in your very first patient and realise that boring Cambridge-Calgary Consult Model may have been useful after all.

Now, I'm nearly 2 years in and still going strong. I love my job, and most of the time I get along just fine, but I have made mistakes. There have been plenty of times when I was left wishing the ground would swallow me up. It’s true what people say, you learn most from your mistakes, although that doesn’t make them easier to handle. Let me confess to you a few of the more memorable ones...

One of my first ever appointments was for an annual vaccination with a cat called Zack. I remember looking forward to this consult, probably because a) it sounded straightforward and b) I too have a pet called Zack. So, when his appointment came around, I cheerily called him through and examined him thoroughly. I chatted with the owner absent-mindedly whilst I administered the vaccine. We bonded over the name thing, and the client left with a smile (and Zack wasn't too put out either).

I was just writing up my notes, went to write in the vaccine batch number and then realised what I'd done. I felt the blood drain from my face.  You see, my Zack is a dog, and in the excitement of meeting this Zack I appeared to have completely confused his species! Yes, I had indeed given the cat a canine vaccination. I stopped dead. The owner didn't keep a record card. No one would know if I just write in different vaccines. I could get away with it. But what if the cat had a reaction? What if he caught a disease he was supposed to be vaccinated against? I swiftly ran out to reception and called the owner back through. I explained the situation and then rang the vaccine manufacturers for advice. Luckily her cat was absolutely fine and she was very understanding. She even thanked me for being honest and going to the trouble of seeking advice. I saw her again this year for her cat's booster. And don't worry, I never made that mistake again!

Unfortunately, not everyone is so forgiving of human error. A few weeks into the job I was tasked with admitting a dog for cruciate surgery. We were standing in the busy kennel room and I was giving my usual speech, requesting the owner or his mother (the lady with him) to ring us later for an update. At this point, both of the aforementioned humans went very red in the face. In a deadpan tone, the owner said “This is my wife.”. I had judged the situation completely wrong. Everyone in the kennel room stopped dead. Flustered, I began apologising profusely for the confusion but there was no taking those words back. Safe to say those owners asked to see another vet for their post-op checks!

There are also parts of the job you dread more than others. On call was always a dreaded concept to me; sole charge and lack of sleep are no one's favourite combo. At 12.34 AM on my first shift the phone rings. Half asleep I still manage to answer it before the second tone, telling myself I was ready for whatever emergency I was about to deal with. “Yes hello, my cat is in for spraying (NOT a typo.) tomorrow and I can't remember when the receptionist told me to take the food away?”. Calls like this will make you hate your job. Just temporarily though. After giving some guidance over the phone, it was time to go back to sleep. Other times, out of hours work can be the most rewarding; from caesareans that save both the mother and all the pups, to dogs with toys stuck in the roof of their mouth saved by some quick handy work. This job will sometimes make you feel like a superhero, as without you those animals wouldn't have made it. I don't think I'll do on-call work forever but so far, the testing cases have taught me a lot and more importantly shown me what I really can handle.

In my opinion, there are just three key lessons that will get you through this first job and probably your next ones too:

  1. Be kind – If you treat them well, your team will always back you up, those animals will cooperate a little better and your clients will return to you again and again.

  2. Be honest – You are human, owning up to a mistake and giving a sincere apology will get you out of all sorts of trouble.

  3. Believe in yourself – You CAN deal with this, remember to address the basics and not be ashamed to ask for help

Now stop hiding in the break room and go help some animals!


Scroll to top