I was reflecting recently on what I’ve learned as both a permanent vet and a locum. I’d never want to change my journey, but it made me think about when lessons I’ve gleaned from over eight years in practice. Here is what I decided I’d want to tell my new graduate self:
1. Don’t take a job just for a paycheque, it might be well-paid, but support & team dynamics are so much more important. I went into my first job blinded by the subjectively huge wage but later realised that it was much busier than expected, a sole-charge branch practice I didn’t know about and no qualified nursing team.
2. You won’t know everything. Ever. However, whatever you don’t know, someone else, somewhere, probably will. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, that's not a fault. Referral centres, Veterinary Information Network, experienced colleagues, travelling specialists; they’re all there to help. I keep my smartphone on me at all times, take photos of cases to help illustrate your point when asking for help (with permission, of course) and clients appreciate it too. There are so many more advice services available now than there ever were when I first graduated. Equally, ease up on the pressure to know exactly what's going on the minute a case walks through the door. We don't go to vet school to be a walking, talking 'Vet Encyclopedia' that knows everything, we go to learn logical reasoning, understand reliable information sources, and formulating the next step. Alongside this, communication and discussing this effectively with a client is key.
3. So many people have the same negative voice in their head that tells them they’ve made
a mistake, they’re not good enough, and that they’re a fraud. In fact, upwards of 70% of the population have felt like a fraud (International Journal of Behavioral Science). It's not a case of stopping this voice ever piping up, it's identifying it and discrediting it, then choosing a kinder story. We quite simply don't have to believe every thought, and often the people that we look up to have experienced the exact same feelings at similar points in their career. This was the biggest lesson for me. I let this voice run the show for years, as I kept trying to prove it wrong and create an armory of qualifications and disaster prevent 'mistakes'.
4. Please don’t forget to have a life away from work, you're SO much more than a vet. Being a vet is an incredible part of you, but that's it, a part of you. I used to compete in flyball and agility, but started to cut down how much I trained, and took on extra shifts, and eventually shut down my team. I didn't realise how much of an outlet this was for me at the time but definitely noticed once I stopped.
5. Make time for friends & family. They are your number one supporters and have been all through vet school. Try not to lose touch, don’t get so busy with work that you forget. Don’t be a stranger.
6. Connect with others in the profession. There’s a big, wide network of support groups, idea generators, and contacts accessible. Sometimes you need a vet friend out of the situation to have a chat with. The regional Young Vet Networks and BSAVA are brilliant for this, as are a number of social media groups. The vet world is huge, and you certainly won't be the only one to have gone through anything you have.
7. Unproductive worrying helps nobody. Talk to yourself kindly “everyone genuine mistake is simply a good intention that didn’t go according to plan” is one of my favourite quotes from Richard Wilkins - which goes hand-in-hand with another of his: "mistakes that you learn from are lessons, mistakes we don't learn from are mistakes". Talk about concerns if you think they’re genuine, go to a senior member of staff. Don’t let 'mistakes' eat away. Think about what you'd tell a close friend or colleague if they did the same.
8. Self-care is not just binge-watching a series on Netflix, it's very individual. Self-care is eating well, looking after yourself, getting regular exercise, going outdoors, and looking after your health. You’d get pet owners to check out minor worries, do the same yourself. I invested in private healthcare and income protection, which was money well spent in my eyes. Alongside this, consider what makes a day good for you? How can you add those ingredients in regularly?
9. Learn to love yourself - and don't take it lightly when I say that, I'm not being unnecessarily 'lovey dovey' or even egotistical. Quite simply, if we don't get the relationship with ourselves right, nothing will ever be enough. Learn about your quirks, your strengths, your uniqueness and spend time on your own mental wellbeing. I hated myself at one point because I zoned into every imperfection and believed the inner criticism. Once I realised about that pesky negative voice, I gave myself another chance.
10. If you have something that you'd really like to do, it's possible. Your brain is such a powerful tool. Find a mentor, become accountable, align with your values and your reasons. The vet profession is so transferable, and reaches wide beyond practice - make the career work for you. You can do ANYTHING you want, you just can’t do EVERYTHING.
I hope that someone found these useful today!