I moved up to Newry to start working in a mixed practice in October 2020. Looking back, it was the perfect time for me to start – I had taken a break after graduating in June and was refreshed and excited to start my new chapter. I had a few months to find my feet before the busier part of the year “sprung” up on me. I was also incredibly nervous – it felt like I didn’t remember anything after final exams! Real life veterinary was so different to college.
I started with small animals for my first month. I learned to do/find all the basic things I wouldn’t have a second thought about now. The nurses and ancillary staff were so helpful with my millions of questions. (“Where can I find more blue roll???”) I did vaccinations and nail clips… and slowly built up my confidence. I remember having to ask one of the vets to show me how to express anal glands! It makes me cringe now, but I had severe imposter syndrome for the first few weeks. Overthinking was my biggest challenge starting off because it would cause me to freeze up and be indecisive.
Due to COVID we operate using a closed-door policy. This meant I had to learn to ask all my questions (and more importantly, the relevant ones!) before bringing the animal in for examination. It was great to not have the pressure of people watching me while I figured out what to do… and also meant I usually had another vet nearby for help. Back then everything was so new to me that I wrote down almost everything that I had learned in a small notebook. Over time I found myself recalling it mostly from memory – it felt great to see myself improving week on week.
I didn’t get a lot of surgical experience on placement, so it was something I was very nervous about starting as a new grad. I remember being so nervous for my first dog castrate that I accidently cut two holes into the surgical drape (the head nurse nearly wet herself laughing) Once I mastered cutting just one hole into the surgical drape, I moved onto cat spays. They were difficult at first but now I enjoy them. Now I’m starting to do bitch spays and am hoping I will someday enjoy those too, haha! Taking blood and placing catheters were skills I also quickly learned – some things are really just about practice!
As soon as I got settled in smalls, I was promptly booted from my comfort zone when I started doing farm calls. I felt like an absolute spoofer and DREADED heading out on calls for the first few weeks. The information was all in my head, but I found it so hard to apply it practically with confidence. (I can always call another vet for advice, but my phone service does not consistently give me the option!) I also was getting incredibly lost in the beautiful Mournes but have learned the SatNav will only take you 90% of the way there and you need some detective skills (and sometimes a prayer) to find the right place.
Luckily, my natural chatterbox tendencies have helped me build a rapport with farm clients and the farm call jitters have mostly gone away. I have started to love spending afternoons on farm calls and getting away from the chronic busyness of smalls. I am loving the variety and fresh air that mixed practice brings! There are still plenty of skills I still need to master (IV injections…hit or miss) but overall, I know they’ll come with practice and time.
I eventually did my first cow and ewe c-sections on my own which has been such a confidence booster with the spring coming up.
I could write a whole book about my experiences being on call and the stories other new grad vets have told me. It’s part of the job in mixed practice but overall, I have managed to get through it and push myself to do things, I didn’t think possible! It can be very tiring, so I really try to be organised and look after myself, both physically and mentally. Coming home to Lily and Billy, my housemate’s cats – and my own new foster cat, affectionately known as ‘Stinky’ – makes a huge difference after a long day.
And while I’m grateful for the support and backup I have in my job, my friends on the other end of our “SOS” group chat, has proved itself to be vital for those first few months in practice. We share embarrassing stories & advice, discuss cases and most importantly are just there for each other. I learn a lot from them by just hearing what they are getting up to in their own jobs. I’m sure we’d be meeting up at the weekends if not due to COVID, but it will just have to wait for now. I miss them so much after almost 5 years of college together! These first 6 months after graduating have been so fulfilling and made the studying worth it – so I’m looking forward to the next 6 just as much.