The Vet Space Journal

You don't have to fill anyone's boots!

Jennifer Kenny Boyd MVB MRCVS | July 1st, 2020

I’ve worked as a mixed practice vet for 8 years now and my life as a vet started on the beautiful peninsula that is Inishowen, Co. Donegal. Home to Ireland’s most northerly point, I accepted a job in one of the most picturesque spots in the country, living in a thatched cottage jutting into the Atlantic Ocean – sounds ideal, right? My bosses were beyond wonderful but fast forward two months and I was a bundle of nerves. I absolutely dreaded my on-call nights and always started my day with a knot in my stomach. I put so much pressure on myself when I first qualified to know all the answers- all of the time. Needless to say this was an unrealistic goal and it just added to my worry and stress. It’s pretty daunting starting work as a vet. Your head is bursting with all of your knowledge from college but it’s not always that easy to translate that into a diagnosis and treatment. For me, coming to terms with and accepting I was not enjoying my job was really difficult. Thanks to great family and friends I got my anxiety under control and got back to enjoying my job. So, what can I suggest. 

  1. Keep talking to your friends. Everyone will be finding life as a new vet stressful but it only takes a minute to buzz a friend. Sometimes talking to someone is exactly what you need even if it’s the last thing you want to do after a hectic day. Don’t assume everyone else is getting on brilliantly. I can assure you, you won’t be the only one finding everyday a challenge.
  2. Find a colleague you click with and lean on them for support. Vets love helping young vets to succeed and do well. There is no such thing as a silly question and the more you ask the more you learn. Clients will always respect you for saying “I don’t know but I’m going to find out”. Remember, as a first opinion vets and our job is not to know everything about every species, our job (as I see it) it to do our level best for every animal under our care. And if that means getting a second opinion or doing some research then that’s just fine.
  3. Take a few minutes each day to chase up cases and see how they are getting on. Starting off is daunting enough and if I’m honest, I was never really too sure if I had correctly diagnosed anything for the first few months. Checking in and hearing back that all was well was great for my clinical confidence. Clients always really appreciate a phone call especially from the new vet, it shows that we care and helps to build up a bit of rapport.
  4. Organisation is key! A chaotic jeep does nothing for my stress levels. Have some kind of system in your boot. Keep a spare set of clothes, always have a towel and a rope and never run out of catgut and calcium. Get into a routine of restocking you boot regularly.
    It takes a while in any new job to get used to your day of work and tasks ahead of you- I keep a daily to-do list. At the end of the day whatever I didn’t get to it moved to tomorrow’s list, not to be thought of until then. This really helped me to switch off in the evenings.
  5. Take breaks throughout the day too- remember, no matter how urgent the next call is you’ll do a far better job if you’re fully charged. I keep an emergency food stash in the jeep-essential! Don’t drive like a crazy person to calls, nothing is worth crashing the car which unfortunately is how I learnt my lesson. No matter how much blood they tell you the horse is losing or how long she’s been calving don’t speed to the call. I used to remind myself to slow down driving and I genuinely arrived on farm all the calmer for it.
  6. Your first few days will likely be quite overwhelming but stick to the basics. Don’t rush to a clinical exam when you haven’t taken a history. And don’t underestimate the importance of a history. Once you have this, then proceed with your clinical exam. No need to have ten differentials, three is plenty and more will just confuse owners (I find). Next, put a treatment plan in place. Keeping to this protocol will keep you calm and ensure you do a thorough job. And yes, of course you’re going to do things slower than the other vets to start off with, try not to compare yourself to what they are doing. Everyone has to start somewhere and so long as you have the right attitude I believe everything will fall into place! I was once told by a client “I had big boots to fill” having taken over from a more experienced vet.

    Don’t start off thinking you’ve to fill anyone’s boots, you are there to be the best vet you can be. Don’t aim for perfection, it’s unachievable and I found it unhelpful.
    If you are finding things tough don’t be afraid to admit this, I pretended everything was ok for months and things only got worse. We work in a caring profession but I think sometimes we aren’t very kind to ourselves. I used to tell myself to just get on with it! What’s wrong with you? Why can’t you just cope like everyone else? I would never dream of talking to a friend like this so why do we talk to ourselves in this way? No matter your circumstances, it really is ok not to be ok.

Jenny graduated from UCD in 2012. She spent her first 2 years in mixed practice in Carndonagh Veterinary Clinic in Co. Donegal. After this she spent 6 months in small animal practice for Active Vet Care in Co.Dublin. For the past 5 years she has worked in mixed practice at Lagan Valley Vets in Co.Down.

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