Settling down in practice... - Veterinary Practice
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Settling down in practice…

SARAH RITTER joint winner of the Animalcare Award at the Royal (Dick) last year, presents ‘a neophyte’s tales from the Derbyshire Dales…’

WHEN I walked into the practice on my first day back in August, I kept very mindful of what everyone had told me – to relax and enjoy myself and that standard line, “You’ll be fine”, that’s always guaranteed to make for a colourful experience of some sort!

For someone whose main interest lies in sheep and cattle, it was potentially a gamble taking on such a mixed job, but I was really grateful for such an opportunity, given that a genuine mixed job is getting harder to find these days.

On my first day, though, I was wondering about the wisdom of such a move when I was on small animal surgery and faced with a couple of rabbits on the list. The first one had four incisors to remove, which caused me to work up a slight “perspiration”, as I concentrated harder than I ever have done before, getting to grips with all the dental equipment and just waiting for the nasty cracking sound of a fractured root! Fortunately they all came out in one piece.

Having used the day’s quota of nervous energy, I was relieved to see the next one as it came in with an abscess on its face, although it caused me a double take as I thought it had two heads! This one bore a little more similarity to large animal work and was incredibly satisfying to drain and flush.

When faced with doing a small animal consult, it hits home just how many things there are to think about. Occasionally, concentrating so much on the moment in hand means a struggle with forward thinking: I was well chuffed to see someone who had brought his dog in because it was riding everyone and everything [brilliant, at last, one I thought I knew the answer for!] so I confidently announced that I thought the answer would be castration … only to find that on leaving he had booked the dog in for a day when I was on operations!

Over-sexed as this dog clearly was, he had a pair of the biggest, most vascular testes I have ever seen in one so small – I wasn’t really one for statistics at college but I could safely say there was a strong correlation between the dog’s testosterone levels and my adrenaline levels. After a moment (or rather several moments and plenty of haemostats) like that it’s always nice to be able to get out on a farm call for a bit.

When I went to one of the farms for the first time to see a sick cow, as I was leaving the farmer told me that I reminded him of Tony Harding, the much-respected now retired partner of the practice.

I had taken this as a real compliment and was just starting to feel at ease with myself until returning home that same evening, when a dog came bounding up to me and the neighbour apologised, saying his dog must have thought I was Craig (the previous resident); this is when I began to wonder if maybe it was because I was just too mannish?!

Another good learning point: it’s probably better to take a bit more time at the practice before leaving to make sure you’re absolutely clear with where you’re going.

Same name

I was asked to go to a call at Coppice Farm so, aiming to be a bit independent, I got out that invaluable tool, the OS map, and proudly found it all by myself, so set off, only to find when I got there it was the wrong one. The farmer had to direct me to the other one, which was also the wrong one! I now know there are three Coppice Farms within a few miles of the practice.

Taking a moment to chat to the farmers on the way round is brilliant for gaining insight into what’s happening on the units, what the client’s priorities are and how you can work together with a common aim.

Granted this is something that often needs to be done during the welly wash on busy days, but it is nevertheless a very worthwhile exercise. Keeping an ear to the ground also lets you find out what’s happening in the local area and identify new opportunities.

One of my favourite pieces of advice from the partners on starting out was, “Never refuse a cup of tea.” That’s right enough – many a good relationship can be formed over a brew. I’ve also taken it upon myself to add to that statement, “…or a piece of cake.” Waterproof trousers can tolerate stretching very well these days!

I have formed a sheep group within the practice that will meet on a regular basis to try and encourage more veterinary input to the sheep world around the area. I’m trying to encourage the farmers likewise to share these ideas and utilise the practice for some of the more novel ideas.

It soon brought a smile to my face as I got to grips with the store room, to discover that the practice owned a couple of ram probes amongst other things, so I could go ram testing for the sheep clients. One of the first times I went out with the “hot rod”, the response I got from the client in question was, “No one smiles that much when they’re TB testing.”

The same one also told me in the pub the other night that he’ll always associate me with the electro-ejaculator! We have also identified “Nurse Hothands” within the practice, who does a grand job as a catcher.

Very different

What I soon realised was that, as much as you feel you’ve experienced things during EMS, it’s very different when you’re the decision maker. It is, therefore, much appreciated to have open access to other staff at all times so that I can ask advice and run things by them. Sometimes, I even have the right idea!

The staff at the practice have all been so helpful and I’m really grateful to them all for taking me under their wings and directing me in all areas: it’s made such a difference to starting out. I also want to thank all the people who tolerated having me for EMS as I often think back to situations I experienced and how I can apply them in the job I’m doing now.

I’ve certainly done my fair share of daft things. I knocked on the door of one of the clients, having been asked to put his dog to sleep. When he answered I introduced myself and the nurse and he invited us in. I walked in, looked round briefly (in a somewhat darkened room, I hasten to add) and was aware of a gathering of people at another door across the room. It was only after saying “hello” to them too that I realised it was our reflections in a rather large mirror the client had and he was actually home alone … yet another of my desired ground-swallowing moments!

To me, a very important aspect of the work at the practice is the social side of things, so it was great to be involved in organising a get-together for the farm clients of the practice. We decided to go for a ceilidh around the time of Burns night and gathered nearly 100 people at one of the local venues, along with a band and some very tasty haggis made by the local butcher.

We had one or two hairy moments, when we found out that the trays we collected the haggis in at 6.30pm on the night wouldn’t go in the ovens at the place, but fortunately we had a great team on the job and soon managed to convert it all into smaller ones in time.

We also had a good gathering of willing scrubbers sorting out the neeps and tatties. I’m really grateful to everyone who helped out and I think it’s fair to say that everyone seemed to enjoy the night and it was a great way of spending time with the clients. I even got swept off my feet at one point during a rather rigorous willow stripping!

Despite the stressful moments, which there will always be, overall I have thoroughly enjoyed my first few months in practice. I hope I can say the same for my bosses (?!) who I thank very much for their patience and hope to eventually become of value to!

Good luck to all those who are taking their finals this time and be sure that it’s worth all the blood, sweat and tears.

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