Ten years ago this month, I was walking across the stage accepting my veterinary diploma after successfully completing an arduous course of study in veterinary medicine. This was one of my happiest moments in my lifetime. I worked so hard for my veterinary degree and was successful. Now here I am ten years later reflecting on that journey. How have I changed over the years? What advice would I have to those looking to pursue this career? What have I learned over the years? What do I look forward to the future? These are some of the questions I address in this post.
A brief history of how I started my veterinary journey.
My fondness for animals grew with my exposure of having several dogs and cats for pets while growing up. There was also my affinity for science that helped me decide that the career of veterinary medicine was for me. So I took all the necessary classes for my undergraduate degree and applied to veterinary school shortly after graduating. Unfortunately, I was rejected by all the schools I applied to. Disappointed, but not discouraged I pursued plan B . My plan B was to go to school to be a licensed veterinary technician hoping my experience would put me in a better position to re-apply. I gained great experience and was able to do well with the graduate entrance exams. These combined with other factors helped me gain acceptance to veterinary school as I so desired. Four years later veterinary school seemed to go by so quickly and before I knew it I was a new DVM graduate preparing for my new career.
Me as a young veterinarian
I will admit earlier on in my career I was over confident. Can you blame me? I survived a very arduous course of study and finally earned the title “Doctor”. I earned the right to write prescriptions, perform life saving surgeries, and diagnose diseases in pets. So admittedly it got to my head. But that changed rather quickly during the first year in practice. I soon learned that all my newly gained book knowledge could not make up for my lack of clinical experience. I faced many scenarios that greatly challenged this knowledge and I then realized what I really signed up for when I decided I wanted to be called Dr. Alleyne. Patience while gaining experience was important. My initial pride was out the window as I focused on applying my knowledge in an appropriate manner.
Pearls of wisdom I learned
There are many things I learned throughout the decade as a veterinarian. But there were a few that really stood out.
Things don’t always go by the book.
This point was probably the most frustrating to learn. I spent years of school learning how medications , and specific medical procedures work just to find out animals may respond different depending on various factors. This was most evident for surgery. The surgery books makes most surgeries look simple. I would study my surgery book prior to performing one and I think if I follow the steps everything should be fine. But once I started the surgery ,things never went as smooth as I envisioned. I also learned even though I have been successful with a specific surgery or medical treatment in the past, it does not mean it will always be that way. One does not truly get good at something unless they are prepared for every outcome good or bad.
You will make mistakes
Even the most experienced veterinarians will make mistakes. The difference is those experienced will know how to adapt to the mistakes. No matter how much I hate making mistakes, they provided me with the most learning experiences and provided the biggest growth for me as a veterinarian.
Veterinary Client relationships are just like real relationships!
In an ideal scenario we would like to get along with all our clients, but that just won’t happen. Sometimes it could be my fault, the fault of the client, or even the fault of the support staff. But sometimes it’s due to a lack of chemistry. Just like platonic and romantic relationships, chemistry can have a significant role in how you get along with a client. There are clients who may like or dislike you and you may not know why. You soon realize that chemistry has a lot to do with it. Therefore expect break-ups and make-ups in these relationships as well.
Being a good veterinarian is a team effort
Just as relationships with your clients are important, good chemistry with your veterinary support staff is valuable as well. Support staff can be like your third eye by helping you avoid mistakes. They can give you good ideas how to help your patient, get you back on track when you are distracted, greatly increase your efficiency by being efficient themselves. and prevent you from having a total meltdown during busy times. So it is very important that you treat them like your equal or better.
Always follow your gut.
One challenging part of being a doctor is that we have to make many important decisions that may have long-lasting effects. As a result, we may find ourselves second-guessing our decisions. But If I had a choice, I rather follow my gut and make a mistake instead of second guessing myself then regretting my lack of action. I learned with more experience that the subconscious becomes more accurate.
It is you against the internet
Fortunately, most clients will come to you because they trust your experience and education. But there are clients who will bring information from all type of sources including the internet (Dr. Google) , breeders, and other self-proclaimed pet experts. Sometimes it will be misinformation and others misinterpretation of reliable information. Either way there are clients who will expect you to heed this information. This will often require a great amount of patience when dealing with this.
Your best skill will be learning the types of clients you will be dealing with
Sure clients can like you for being able to diagnose their pet’s medical issues and your medical knowledge. But it seems like many look for a veterinarian who understands their needs and are responsive to them. I talk about this in “Being a Veterinarian: What does it take?” This is a skill that can take time to learn as you are exposed to different types of clients. Once mastered, one can handle clients from all walks of life.
What to look for in the future?
So I expect my career will be always be a continuing learning experience and I will continue to face unexpected challenges. I have truly enjoyed being a veterinarian for the last 10 years and I hope to enjoy it for the next 10 years. I have learned though it would be great to be considered a great veterinarian, being great means nothing without first having a great character. Though it can be nice to be admired for skills as a veterinarian, what is most important is to be admired for your integrity and character. This should be important to others as well no matter what their career is.
This blog post is dedicated to the Cornell Veterinary class of 2006!!!