Welcome to working life - Veterinary Practice
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Welcome to working life

MATTHEW YARNALL winner of the Animalcare Final Year Student Award 2007 at the Royal (Dick), describes his introduction to life in practice

THERE seems to be so much in the media these days about being a vet, that writing something original about my first few months in practice isn’t as easy as it seemed oh so long ago at graduation in Edinburgh. And everyone’s heard so many anecdotes, mine just seem boring in comparison.

Not that I’m trying to put you off reading this. I mean you’re probably just waiting for a client to turn up at the surgery, or having a quiet coffee break, but your quality time is important. So by all means flick to the next article, on spaying goldfish or something.

If I’ve still got your attention I’ll introduce myself. I’m Matt, one of the many new graduates who entered this prestigious veterinary world in June. A product of the excellent Royal (Dick) in Edinburgh, I felt very confident that going to the Dick vet would obviously arm me with many advantages over the other new grads when competing for jobs.

Especially those peasants from Glasgow. That’s five sixths of vets offended, good work.

Starting with a break

I felt after five years of studying that I deserved a break first though. And if I have any advice for any students reading this then have at least a few months off.

Whatever you feel at the time, you will not forget everything (granted you will forget some of it, but surely you; never expected knowing the gestation period of a chinchilla to actually come in handy), and however stressed you feel that everyone else is getting jobs and you’ll miss out on the best ones, there’s no rush, you’ll be doing this for the rest of your life (in theory), so even six months really doesn’t make much difference.

I started looking quite casually, but nothing really jumped out at me as the ideal job. As much as I tried not to, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get a bit stressed that I’d never find the right job.

Then I noticed an advert in the Vet Record (other publications are available), that went something like this: “Vet wanted, good work life balance, being a rugby player would be an advantage.” Or something equally likely to get complaints. So I felt a calling. Not that I’m much good at rugby, but I was male, and I felt that was where the advert was going. Unless there was demand for big butch females in the area.

And before you get the pen and paper out and write to complain, I’m good friends with several beautiful females who play rugby, who aren’t big, or butch. They are quite hairy though.

So I turn up at the interview, and feel a little concerned when I notice it’s a one man practice. My first thoughts are obviously the on-call rota – as any sane person’s would be – but my fears are allayed when I find out it’s a 1 in 3 rota.

It doesn’t dispel my thoughts on the sanity of said vet however. To cut a long story short, I was lucky enough to be offered the job, and I accepted.

My first few weeks were enjoyable; it was quiet, but that suited as I could take my time and make frequent visits to my car out the back and look up what the hell was going on with this consult with my handy notes in the back of my car, as I “checked whether we’ve got the drugs in”.

Being a small practice, I soon got to know a lot of the regulars. Unfortunately, we seem to have an unfair amount of dog breeders and one such breeder did cause my first stress within a few weeks.

It was with an aged basset hound, with typically vague history and presenting signs. So I decided I needed to run some bloods, and the owners being quite proficient, I asked if they would hold the dog while I got some blood.

How not to make a good impression to a breeder, who probably pays your wages with the amount of work she puts through the practice: don’t spend 40 minutes turning the dog’s neck, both sides, and legs, into a rather red and inflamed pin cushion, before admitting defeat, and keeping the dog in to try again later (preferably with a sword or some other more suitable blood letting device).

After managing to get blood remarkably easily with the receptionist holding for me later on, I felt confident a week later when I wanted to do some more blood tests, that I’d be fine with the owner helping.

Alas, it was not to be, and with both ears clipped up, all legs and the neck still being fairly out of bounds, it was so red and scarred my blood pressure was approaching critical levels. Fortunately, the boss appeared and managed it. Luck. I’d warmed the dog up for him.

But there is one very useful quality we appear to miraculously acquire at graduation, that people see us as vets, and therefore can “do” everything. So when a ferret is presented to be spayed, and I’m standing there scrubbed up and ready, and the nurse asks how many I’ve done, I feel I maybe let her down when I said, “None, but how hard can it be?!”


After a few months I felt I needed to christen my new house, and have a house-warming party. There was a good turnout of my university friends, and I had also invited my work colleagues, and some locals I had only just met. Being from a female dominated world at university, I think it is part of being male to be overly familiar with each other, and pat each other on the backside, and perhaps address each other as “darling”. Or maybe it was just us.

Anyway, the following week I was off to a hunt ball. And I was going with the locals who had been at my party. As the night wore on, and a few more drinks had been had, and we got to know each other better, one of the women confessed that she and the others who had been at the party had been convinced that I was gay.

Not that I’m against homosexuality at all, but being the new young male on the block, and very much single (and used to rather more favourable female ratios at vet school!), I was rather hoping I’d get some local horsey totty, rather than the whipper-ins.

Rest assured, I spent the rest of the evening greeting everyone with vice-like handshakes, making cavemanlike noises of satisfaction whenever an attractive girl passed and re-arranged myself at every available opportunity.

Not wanted!

One of the other disadvantages of being a new graduate is when clients request the more senior vets.

It’s understandable really, I would rather have a more experienced doctor treat me (unless other talents made up for her inexperience), so I don’t get too bothered about it.

However, I do sometimes have a quick look at the patient notes to see if I’ve actually seen them before, or whether they’re just very particular.

So just the other day I saw an appointment in the book with my boss’s name by it, for a hamster. I thought this very strange, my boss not being renowned for his rodent fancying. Not only this, but there was also a “must be”, by his name. I thought this owner must be very particular.

I checked on the notes, and noticed that it was my name by both the last consults. I tried to recount the last consult, and suddenly it all came flooding back.

The hamster had needed his teeth burring, so I had taken it out the back with the nurse and got her to hold it. Unfortunately, as I neared the end, the stupid animal got its tongue caught in the burr, and it bled like a stuck pig.

I just hoped the hamster would keep his mouth shut and it would stop eventually. Unfortunately, as I took the box with the hamster back through to the consulting room, and lifted the lid to explain there may be a little blood, my mouth dropped as I tried to calmly explain away what could only be described as a hamster massacre.

The hamster, as hamsters do, had decided it had a bit of blood on its nice cream fur, so had tried to clean it, and as hamsters do, it used its tongue. So it became a bit of a vicious circle: the more the hamster cleaned, the more red the hamster became, and the more it groomed.

They had a point…

I dread to think how many days it took for the hamster to get back to its normal colour. So I felt they maybe had a point. I did chuckle to myself when I noticed it was in for teeth burring.

To finish with, I’d just like to say to any prospective graduates that you only ever hear about the bad things (unless you’re friends with one of those people who only ever tells you what amazing things they’ve been doing), and that the feeling of getting your first bottle of wine from a client is worth all the effort of those five years.

Finally, I’d like to say thanks to Animalcare for the generous donation; I plan on putting the money towards a paraglider.

So you might be hearing about me again soon – in my obituary.

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