SO what are those first few days and weeks like? That is the question almost every veterinary student in the UK begins to ask themselves as they approach finals. And I was no different. Would I be able to diagnose the patients presented to me? Would the clients like and trust me? What would I do if I didn’t know the answer?
I was in the fortunate position of having a job lined up for after graduation, partly as I used the application process as a timely revision break, and started work on the Monday after our graduation ceremony.
It was there that it really hit home. I had often asked myself how I would cope
with the first few weeks but not until I took the RCVS oath in front of my fellow graduates did I really understand the scale of responsibility and expectation upon the shoulders of a new graduate,a responsibility I would have in just five days time.
For the first time we would be on our own, without the safety blanket of
university specialists or practitioners on EMS. In front of clients who expect you to know the answer, regardless of how obscure the question may be!
We, as a profession, are in a unique position of trust, and most clients have called us because they need our help and will do whatever we advise. And that is a scary thought: our advice and actions will define the progression of whatever disease, ailment or problem is presented to us.
Throughout my time as a student, there was always someone more experienced and knowledgeable to confirm what I was thinking. My first
case was that of a suspected LDA, a condition I felt I had good knowledge of and had seen and heard several times on EMS. Even the drive out there was a surreal experience,I had never been to a call on my own–there had always been a vet in the car to talk to. But now I was the vet and I was alone. So I just thought through all the questions aforementioned.
I heard the classic ping, which once heard is unforgettable. Even though the history and clinical examination gave a clear diagnosis, it was still a strange feeling. I looked over my shoulder as I had done so many times previously but this time there was no experienced clinician to give me that confirmation.
Instead there was a farmer, looking for an answer to what was wrong with his cow. Even in such a clear case it was a strange feeling to give a diagnosis and recommend a treatment strategy; this cow would undergo surgery on my say so.
And it was then I realised, no matter how confident a person you are, this requires extraordinary self-confidence and conviction. Had it been a less well-defined condition, and I have had many of these over the first few months, this would have required even more bravery.
I spent much of the first few days in my job on the telephone when on call and in the prep room when in the clinic, asking for advice from senior members of staff and from friends who were yet to start work. Even on cases I didn’t seek advice or clarification on, I would find myself talking through them with the partners, probably more in the quest for agreement than just making
But this need for verification doesreduce and rarely now do I seek advice
whilst dealing with a case. I still discuss cases afterwards,a thing which I hope
to do for my entire career as part of my self-assessment and pursuit to improve.
It is only now that I can begin to look back to four months ago and see how much my clinical skills have improved, and how much better my communication skills are. The amount you develop and change in those initial few months is something you cannot appreciate until you have gone through
it, but is a change which helps define you as both a vet and as a person.
As I said, we are a trusted profession and as such we have a responsibility to have the necessary clinical knowledge and practical skills to complete our job competently.
In the infancy of our careers we are not expected to be as good and competent as those more experienced clinicians but we are expected to meet the RCVS day one requirements, and ask for help from senior members of the profession when we need it.
It is an absolute requirement to have good communication skills, something I looked upon too lightly whilst at university. I thought that because I am a confident person and did well in communication skills role-plays, it would not be an issue for me.
You quickly learn that you can have an exact diagnosis and treatment strategy, yet the client will not trust you unless you communicate that information confidently and simply. Conversely, you can have very little idea on what is going on with a case yet the client will have complete trust in you if you can communicate well and show that this case is important to you.
At my interview for Liverpool we had to write an essay on the most interesting case we had seen during our work experience. I wrote about a case, the details of which escape me, but concluded that the most interesting case is the one that is currently in your consult room.
Only now do I realise just how right I was, not only for the animal and yourself, but also for the clients who trust in you.
So what are those first few days and weeks like? They are probably the steepest learning curve I have ever experienced. How do you cope? You have to. And you have to do it confidently whilst knowing when to seek support.