As the saying goes “Time flies when you’re having fun” and this year most certainly has. It feels like only a few weeks ago I was hitting publish on my ‘first month in practice’ blog post and here I am 12 months later writing a post to mark a year of being a vet! It’s been a long time since I’ve written about my veterinary escapades as gone are the James Herriot days of being open and honest about life without much real risk of getting sued. In this day and age with client confidentiality and various PR hoops to jump through, it can be hard to write honestly about my experiences without coming under fire in some way or another, and trust me when I say our job is hard enough without adding any extra stress or complications! But anyway, I’m not here to moan about my creative prowess being shackled by society, I’m here to talk about what this year has been like as a new vet in practice. I can tell you there’s been laughter, tears, tantrums, highs and lows, but it most certainly hasn’t been dull!
Now I knew veterinary wasn’t a glamorous job, but what I have discovered are there are some smells which require an exorcism to get rid of. One of which is cow foetal membranes (I.e. the placenta and associated bits which should pass after a baby is born)…. It has just occurred to me that I should probably have pre-warned readers as to the potential contents of this post. Well, consider yourself warned, blood, guts and gore coming your way, depart now if you don’t have the stomach for it! Now, cows, unlike humans can go merrily about their day nicely maturing those foetal membranes with little consequence to their health, waiting for a vet like myself to come by with the pleasant task of removing them. I can certainly report that this is a smell that sticks and the phantom musk of rotting placenta will follow you like, well, a bad smell all day until you have chance to take five showers at boiling temperature.
In addition to bad smells it is not uncommon for certain bodily fluids (thankfully mostly just blood) to find their way onto a vets person without he or she being aware. What this has taught me is British politeness is so ingrained that no one other than your colleagues will summon the courage to tell you about it. I have done a full weekly shop, purchased petrol and had conversations with people at length looking like an extra from the Walking Dead and I’ve only discovered this when I happen to glance in a mirror hours later. So if you see me going about my day with a face splattered in blood, please don’t be afraid to tell me, because the likelihood is I will have had no idea. Trust me, you’ll be doing me a huge favour before I get arrested in Sainsbury’s for looking like I’ve committed a murder.
Although the vet gig is definitely not glamorous, it is filled with emotions. My job certainly has its ups and downs. There are times we feel helpless, when we wish we could have done more, and times we have to do things that we don’t want to do. I’ve brought many new lives into the world which is definitely one of the highlights of the job and, sadly helped people say goodbye to many more. What is hard and often not considered by society is the behind the scenes emotions at play in our line of work. I think a lot of vets suffer from emotional whiplash, at any given time in the day we could have gone from an incredibly heartbreaking put to sleep and then in a 5-minute turn around have to greet an excited family bringing their new puppy for its first check-up. I mean, puppies to me are an excellent kind of therapy, if I’m having a bad day I’ll often sneak down to the kennels and find a waggy tail to console me for a few minutes. But some days are hard and I’ve learnt sometimes you just need to let all those emotions out. Sometimes we all just need a good cry, an emotional cleanse …and chocolate never goes amiss in these situations either! The emotion pot usually bubbles over for me during a difficult euthanasia and I have found myself sat with clients all crying together sharing a box of tissues. But I am not ashamed of this, in fact, I think it’s important clients know we care and that this job is never going to be business as usual, they matter to us, their animals always matter to us.
They say to never work with children or animals, in this job we often find ourselves working with both and it’s regularly a hilarious combination. School holidays guarantee a full house for us with children keen to visit the practice with their pets. Children tend to go one of two ways in the vets, some scream and beg you not to stick a needle in their darling animal while others are glued to your every move in awe. I even had one child after I vaccinated her pet turn to me with wide eyes and say “Do it again!” both her mother and I looked a little alarmed at that particular comment. But I do love it when keen kids get involved, often allowing them to listen to their animal’s heart and I’m more than happy to answer all their burning questions, after all, a very patient vet did the same for me when I was a kid too and here I am today living the dream as a vet! You can also find interesting things out from children; they often helpfully volunteer information parents may have been tactfully leaving out. Though not all of this information is pertaining to the animal and I am as keen as the parents in some cases to keep some elements of their private life just that!
I’ve learnt very quickly how essential a good team is to the running of a vets practice, and my sanity! From starting out as a new grad knowing no one at all, a year on I have a fantastic group of friends who definitely brighten up my working day with their good humour and support. Both inside and outside work it’s invaluable to have a support network and who better to understand what you’re going through than your colleagues? The receptionists helpfully come to my rescue with the countless daily issues I seem to have with admin or the computer and the nurses and auxiliary staff keep us all in check and put their fingers and faces on the line to protect me when dealing with angry animals. There’s always small acts of kindness and comradeship which occur every day in our practice from the quick hug someone gives you after a difficult euthanasia, the silly story of past faux pas other colleagues tell you to make you feel better when you’ve made a mistake and the chocolate which gets quietly slid in front of you when you’ve been having a bad day. I could not ask for a better team and I’m convinced without them this year would have turned out very differently.
As a mixed vet, I have seen the stark contrast between large and small animal medicine and I love being a vet who practices both. On farm I love getting out and about in the countryside, the relationships you build with farmers and the endless cups of tea, bacon sandwiches and biscuits offered for a job well done. In large animal, you work closely with the farmers and smallholders who, unlike in small animal where we have a team dedicated to help with handling and during procedures are often your sole assistance. Luckily they’re usually incredibly knowledgeable and adept at handling their animals, however, a few incidences do spring to mind where I maybe could have done with an extra pair of hands! One such time, I needed an extra pair of hands during a difficult cow cesarean and bossily demanded the farmer’s son scrub in to help me. It was only when the job was done that I turned to thank him and noticed he’d gone a very peculiar colour. It was then he admitted he wasn’t really very good with blood but hadn’t dared argue with me at the time. So from this, I learnt to always check your assistant is not likely to need their own doctor when volunteering them to face blood, guts and gore!
So what’s changed in the last year? I feel a lot calmer the majority of my working week, though my doctor says my blood pressure would sometimes disagree! Most days I feel in control and the impostor syndrome every new vet inevitably feels rarely raises its ugly head anymore. I actually feel like I have some energy left at the end of the day now to do something more than shower and sleep and I feel much more settled in my new Preston home. We’ve acquired new baby vets who terrifyingly come to me when they have questions. It’s weird to be passing on the advice which was passed on to me when I first started; “You’re doing great” “You will get there,” and “It won’t always feel this hard.” I mean I didn’t believe them and you can see the scepticism sometimes in the new grads faces which was definitely something I felt too. Veterinary is a job where you really do hit the ground running and tackle an Everest size learning curve in those first few months. But one thing I do hope is that I never forget that feeling and can therefore always empathise and try to help and support those new and old to the profession because new grad or old-hand, we all have a wobble sometimes.
So here’s my little ode to my first year in practice. I hope you’ve enjoyed this little peek into the life of a new grad vet and I thank each and every one of you for your support on my journey to get here, as I know many of you have followed my progress from before I even got into vet school! If you’d like to read more stories from life in practice or vet student frivolities click here for more posts.