“Managing client expectations”… But what about your own? How do you achieve veterinary career satisfaction

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Throughout our veterinary education, we’re all taught about the importance of ‘managing expectations’ of our clients. 


The plethora of prime-time TV shows like ‘Supervet’ can sometimes give clients an unrealistic view of what’s possible in first opinion practice (and not least in budget!), so the best way to keep everyone happy is to be realistic, discuss what’s involved in your plan, and, if appropriate, the relative benefits of referral. After all, nobody enjoys that moment when you proudly discharge a dog following a successful FHNE, only to have the owner ask what the ‘implants’ are made of.

So my question is why don’t we have these kind of discussions with ourselves? If we understand that clients with unrealistic expectations can never leave satisfied and happy, how do we expect ourselves to be satisfied and happy in our careers?

Getting into vet school is hard. Really hard. There are so many other equally intelligent, caring and enthusiastic applicants that we spend our summers doing anything to prove we want it more than anyone else. One of the things that sets veterinarians apart from, let’s say, an accountant executive for a mid-tier publishing company, is that people assume you’ve wanted to do it since you were born! We’re taught from the start that if you want a place, you better believe you’ve been destined for veterinary greatness ever since you saved that baby bird from drowning in the pond at your fifth birthday party.

“Did you always want to be a vet?” We’ve heard it a million times. Personally, I did a degree and a masters in Marine Biology first – fifteen year old me didn’t think I was cut out for five years of vet med. THERE!  I’m doing it even now, making excuses. Why is it not ok just to say “No”? 

Our childhood aspirations bear little relevance on our competency as a vet or vet nurse so why does the idea of us admitting that it’s actually just a job make Mrs Chance clutch Snowflake to her chest and request the other vet quicker than you can say ‘anal glands’?

Now for many of us, we really did rescue that baby bird. And that’s amazing! But even then not every day of your career is going to live up to the “all creatures great and small” dream.

You WILL get shouted at by clients, AND by your boss. You WILL make the wrong call and it WILL be your fault. You WILL miss something on that x-ray, or even that ex-lap! You WILL have days where every patient that steps foot in your exam room has a terminal illness, and you WILL have to explain to your clients that there is nothing you can do.

Regardless of how hard you’ve dreamt of being a vet, or how much you usually enjoy your job, there will be days where you find yourself praying for a day full of puppy vaccines so you don’t have to think too hard. And that’s ok! 


Being honest with ourselves about that doesn’t make us worse at our job. It doesn’t make us care less or try less hard. But it does make you feel less guilty when it happens. 

Google ‘what’s it like to work in veterinary medicine’ and before you get to the end of page one you’ll be seeing words like “burnout” “imposter syndrome” and “suicide”.  And that’s not alright. It’s not right to be in a profession where over half of us feel inadequate. It’s not right to feel like your failing on a daily basis. And it’s not right to pile so much pressure on yourself to have the ‘best job in the world’ that you can’t admit when you’re having shitty day… or week…or more.

So what’s the answer? 

Personally, I think the change starts with us. We have to be honest with ourselves about what our careers can offer us and what they should mean to us.  Managing our own expectations in order to be satisfied in our careers is no different than what we do with our atopic dogs or FLUTD cats – alot of the time it’s going to be great, but there will be lapses from time to time so you can’t beat yourself up for it!

I’m no expert, and I’m far from practicing what I preach 100% of the time, but here are some  things I’ve learned so far:

1. Spend at least an hour a day doing something non-work related. 

I adore being a vet (although I know it probably doesn’t sound that way!) and I honestly think it’s the best fit for my career that I could possibly have found, but at the same time I enjoy hobbies and friends outside of the vet world and that’s important too. Take time for yourself… And here’s the hard part… DON’T feel guilty about it! Read a novel instead of journal articles before bed each night! Binge watch that season of Homeland! Take up a sport or an art and you’ll find it so refreshing to spend time bettering yourself at something purely for fun!  I find nothing clears my mind better than trying not to fall off a surfboard or a horse, or contorting myself into unnatural positions on a yoga mat for a few hours! 

2. Have non-vet friends! Gasp! 

At vet school you make friendships that last forever. Nothing cements a relationship like the thrill of calving your first cow together or scrubbing into your first big op on surgical rotation. But our tendency to ‘talk shop’ can detract from point 1. Having friends with different interests brings variety and when your work does come up, chances are your non-vet friends will think what you do sounds pretty cool so and can give you a nice confidence boost to boot! 

3. Talk openly with your vet friends– Sharing the bad times as well as the good ones

We’ve all been there. You’re having a catch up with the old gang and everyone’s excitedly swapping stories of their latest surgical success or medical mystery. Sharing our successes with our colleagues and friends is important and fun, but when was the last time you brought up that spay didn’t go right, or the anaesthetic accident that shouldn’t have happened but did. When was the last time you admitted that you don’t enjoy your job sometimes? What are your friends going to do if you start the conversation? Judge you? Unfriend you on facebook? Run to the RCVS? Chances are, if you start sharing your lowest moments your friends will join in with their own. 

According to the latest stats from VetFutures.org, vet students are 1/3 less likely to discuss mental health issues with others than the general population – that’s 75.5% of vet students hiding an issue that affects 1 in 4 people.  And when 38.7% of those vet students are having suicidal thoughts that’s a HUGE problem! Discussing our failures and weaknesses and reflecting on how to avoid them next time not only makes us better vets, but it’s a great form of catharsis! When we’re all honest and share the bad as well as the good it helps everyone remember that we’re only human, and we’re all always learning, and we’re all in it together. 

4. Seek help when you need it

I’m no counsellor or psychiatrist, but there are plenty of people that are that want to help you. Mental health awareness in the veterinary field has soared in recent years as worrying statistics like those I touched upon above have become better known. Reach out and use them and you might just find yourself happier in both your career and personal life. 

If you’re having concerns about your career or future try the Vet Helpline at http://www.vetlife.org.uk/ 

Check out the RCVS and BSAVA mind matters initiatives http://www.rcvs.org.uk/news-and-events/news/mind-matters-initiative-new-veterinary-mental-health-and/

https://www.bsava.com/Education/CPD/Mind-Matters

The Royal Veterinary College CPD unit has an upcoming online webinar plus series on “professional and non clinical skills” which includes challenging notions of ‘success’ http://cpd.rvc.ac.uk/courses/webinar-plus-professional-and-non-clinical-skills-–-what-are-they-and-how-can-they-make-me-a-better-vet

Even check out these free webinars from VetMindMatters and The Webinar Vet! http://www.vetmindmatters.org/from-mind-full-to-mindful-with-series-of-stress-reduction-webinars/

5. One final thought… Maybe it’s time to redress the boundaries about what ‘being a vet/vet nurse’ means

Does ‘being a vet’ mean that every day has to be something out of a children’s story? No – we all have bad days and good. Hopefully the good days outnumber the bad but accept that its ok to come home some evenings and Google alternative careers or sabattical ideas! 

Does ‘being a vet’ mean you can’t admit when you got something wrong or aren’t enjoying your work for fear of being judged? No – nobody’s perfect and everyone screws up from time to time. So long as you try your hardest you won’t be judged for that. 

Does ‘being a vet’ mean it’s ok for people that you haven’t spoken to since primary school to message you on a Sunday night for free vet advice? No – would you walk into a shop owned by someone you knew when you were twelve and ask for free clothes? We all trained long and hard for our knowledge so it’s not too much to expect vague acquaintances to respect (and pay for) that. 

And does ‘being a vet’ mean you can’t imagine yourself doing anything else? No – if you’re not enjoying your work then there are many alternatives such as reearch, pharmaceutical repping, teaching or even completely different professions such as law who love the rational, structured mind of a veterinary professional. The working world can often be far removed from vet school,  just because you trained hard to become qualified doesn’t mean you have to stick with it if it’s not for you. 

Confucius once said “Choose a job you love and you’ll never have to work a day in your life“. I’m sorry, but i’m calling bullshit!  I think Cathie Black was much more realistic when she said  “You can love your job, but it won’t (always) love you back“. You can’t expect any career to fulfil you if you haven’t taken steps fulfil yourself. Take care of yourselves; be realistic about what you expect from your career; and reach out when you need help. 

Hello Paradise!

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Adventures in the British Virgin Islands Part I

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In 2015 my time at the Royal Veterinary College reached its end, and, like all recent graduates I took the plunge into a terrifying new world of responsibility and my first full time job as a veterinary surgeon! Unlike most other new grad vets however, I jumped in with both feet, and took that job in the British Virgin Islands; a collection of stunning islands in the Caribbean!

I’m very flattered to have had so many requests from people wanting to keep up-to-date with our adventures, so I’ve put together a short video of the highlights of the first few months! Here is the first instalment of our adventures, watch with sound if you can!

Life on a rock in the Caribbean isn’t all champagne and beach sunsets (although there is a lot of that too!). Sometimes it can get frustrating having to explain where you live via directions featuring the nearest skip because there are no actual addresses, or having to collect and pay your bills in person with each company every month. But then you just have to take a deep breath and remember that living here also means you get to surf with sea turtles every sunday, do yoga at sunset on the beach after work, and spend weekends taking boat trips with friends to explore new islands.

Adjusting to working here has been a challenge. I’d be lying if I said I there hadn’t been more than one occasion where I’d been left staring vacantly at the thermometer trying to decide what on earth ‘normal’ body temperature looks like in Fahrenheit!  The range of patients we see is huge too; every day we see everything from much-loved family members travelling first class to new climes, to stray and abandoned cats and dogs brought in by concerned citizens, and all the weird and wonderful parrots and exotic animals in between! Luckily my colleagues have all been amazingly supportive, and the genuine enthusiasm I’ve received from clients that are so pleased to have a full time vet on island is more than enough to push me through the tough times.

We’re super excited that the next few months will be full of visitors, so stay tuned for the next instalment which will be no doubt full of many sunburnt bodies and lobster dinners!

In the mean time, check out my Instagram account ‘MissPlaice’ for more regular snippets!

 

 

 

Text Santa for Guide Dogs for the Blind

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So since my last post went viral (over 270000 hits and counting! Thank you everyone!!) I’ve been a bit unsure what to post to be honest! Do I try and do funny? Do I just stick to my original intentions and post about what I’ve been up to? Quite a dilemma you’ll agree… So I decided to post about something near to my heart, and as it’s TextSanta day today, I’m hoping I can use my new international audience to raise some much needed money for a good cause – Guide Dogs for the Blind.

In early 2013, my father, at just 56, was registered as visually impaired and now that he’s unable to work or drive, he decided in the summer of 2014 to spend his time fostering a guide dog puppy.

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He’s cheeky, he’s playful, he’s VERY smart, he’s a world class sock thief, and one day he’s going to change someone’s life. He’ll give a visually impaired person the opportunity and confidence to leave the house and get on with their life, and more than that, he’ll give them a friend.

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For those of you unfamiliar with the scheme, guide dog fosterers take on a puppy at just 8-10weeks old, and look after it for the first year of its life, socialising it, getting it used to trains and buses and people and animals and anything It might later encounter when out working. They help guide it through its basic training and mould it into a happy sociable puppy, ready to go on and complete its training and become a lifeline for a visually impaired person.

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It costs money to train and raise these dogs, so I urge you to send a text message (SMS for my international friends!) with the words ‘Santa5’ or ‘Santa10’ to 70760 to donate £5 or £10 today, and visit http://www.guidedogs.org.uk for more information and details of other ways you can help

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15 reasons why (not) to date a vet – an eharmony rebuttal

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The dating website eHarmony has published a wonderfully upbeat, but sadly unrealistic list of reasons why dating a veterinarian is a good idea.

So in the interests of singletons everywhere, I’ve written a few corrections to save everyone the time and heartbreak when it all goes wrong (and because if you read no. 15, you will see we have no interest in consoling our colleagues)

1. They’re patient. Their furry patients can be stubborn and aggressive.Vets respond to chaos with patience, gentleness and a calming demeanor.
Just don’t expect your date to extend you the same patience when she’s just finished a 14hour shift being lacerated by angry cats and trying to convince her clients that 5+ years of training means she probably knows better than the 16 year old sales clerk in Pets at Home.

2. Veterinarians are passionate about their work. They don’t choose the career for its prestige or the money, they do it because they love it.
Translation: You’re paying for dinner (unless you fancy Royal Canin samples of course)

3. Veterinarians work hard. They endure countless years of tough schooling, long hours at clinics and unexpected middle-of-the-night calls.
Your date will be likely to cancel at the last minute, perfect if you’re looking for a partner that you don’t have to see that often (which is quite likely given no. 4+5).

4. Scrubs are cute.
Not when they’re covered in blood and pus and faeces.

5. Veterinarians have seen it all. Nothing grosses them out. Or, if it does, they persevere through it.
Your date will have absolutely no concept of ‘appropriate dinner conversation’.

6. Date a veterinarian and you’ll be dating someone who saves lives, eases pain, and helps lives end with dignity.
Dignity is overrated. Your date will also be someone who spends a large portion of her day with her hands in unimaginable places, crawling around on her hands and knees and picking fleas from her scrub top. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

7. Veterinarians have thick skins — literally. They endure scratches and bites in the quest to make the lives of our furry friends better.

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Great if you’re into that ’emo’ look, not so great if you don’t want to be eyed with suspicion every time your date gets her forearms out in public.

 

 

8. Veterinarians have rigorous hygiene standards. (No, your date won’t smell like a barn when she arrives for dinner.)
If your date treated a sheep any time in the last week, she will smell of sheep (Has this person ever actually met a vet?! )

9. Veterinarians are smart, quick problem solvers, making life-and-death decisions on the spot and quickly assessing serious problems.
Your date is exhausted and wants nothing more than a large glass of wine and to spend the evening watching Made In Chelsea and browsing Buzzfeed.

10. Veterinarians are big-hearted, often shedding tears with pet owners when animals’ lives end, and rejoicing with them when little miracles happen.
Translation: Vets have the highest suicide rate of any profession (also great if your into the emo thing)

11. Veterinarians have the strength to do the right thing even when it’s difficult.
Lucky veterinarians have wonderful vet nurses who they get to do the right thing when it’s difficult.

12. A sense of humor. Vets are able to laugh at the messes and stresses that comes with working with animals all day.
Translation: Your date will be one of the most cynical, sarcastic people you will ever meet and will tell jokes that will make you vomit in your own mouth (unless anal glands and exploding abscesses get you going)

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13. Veterinarians make kids smile, helping their pets recover from injuries and illnesses, and showing them how best to care for their canine pals.

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Veterinarians also kill children’s pets and make them cry. If your date liked children, she’d have become a paediatrician.

 

 

 

 

14. Veterinarians have impressive job descriptions. They’re anesthesiologists, radiography technicians, surgeons, teachers, babysitters, physical therapists, playmates, protectors, cleaners, pharmacists, and best friends to needy animals.

Your date will have no time for housework, cooking or a social life and will spend most evenings researching difficult cases.

15. Veterinarians know how to reassure others in stressful, difficult times. They know how to prepare people for bad news, and can console them when that bad news comes.

Veterinarians spend all day dealing with stressful situations and delivering bad news. If you want sympathy and understanding, date a therapist

The 6 Stages of Revision

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Because i’m currently lodged firmly in stage 4, I figured i’d capture the essence of revision in the only way the internet knows how.

Stage 1. Fear – this stage usually strikes the day that your last lecture ends and you can no longer avoid the fact that you are now, indeed on ‘study leave’.

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Stage 2: Positivity Because no mountain of lecture notes is insurmountable, you’ve passed exams like this before and you’ll do it again. Of course you can get through 2 weeks worth of lectures and practical material in a day! (Note: this stage is often transient)

Stage 3: Boredom –  Because sitting at a computer reading about public health and cows feet all day gets pretty damned tedious.

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Stage 4: Procrastination –  Because i’ll get back to revision just as soon as I’ve rearranged my socks into alphabetical order by which animal they feature.

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Stage 5: Lunacy – So you haven’t left your house for a while, and you’re missing human contact, and you start to get a little… odd.

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Stage 6: Despair – Because what’s the point? You’ve left it too late, you’ll never get it all done now. Best start revising for the resits.

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Repeat Stage 1 (usually night before exam)

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Good Luck on Friday!

Home is where the hearth is…

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House-hunting is so much fun when you first start out. The excitement of putting down roots; making the single biggest purchase of your life; a whole new set of rooms to decorate and fill with beautiful things. On top of that is the fun that comes with that brief period when it becomes socially acceptable to nose around other peoples houses and cupboards and pass judgement on their taste (or more often lack of it!).

So why is it then, that pretty soon after you start, house-hunting becomes more stressful than enjoyable?

I, like most people looking to buy their first house, massively idealise the whole thing. I want perfect, and i’m not denying that that roll top baths and open fires are probably unnecessary, but I want them anyway. I’ve been to see around 30 houses over the last 6 months or so. I’ve seen terraced, semi and detached. I’ve seen relatively modern builds, houses that haven’t been touched since the 70s or 80s (including this monstrosity that I like to call the ‘angry vagina bath’)vag bath

I’ve seen plenty of lovely (and not so lovely) Victorian Semis, and even a few Grade II listed buildings as old as 14th Century!

The problem we have is that we like what is the same as all the other 20-30 something, first time buyers looking for houses in the London commuter belt like. And even though we’ve now put in 2 offers, in excess of the asking price, within a few hours of having our first viewing, we’ve still been beaten to it.

And so the hunt starts again, and every time you find your ‘dream house’ and mentally move in, and decide ‘ooh that colour would look good in that room’, and then see it get sold to someone else, a little piece of that enthusiasm and joy you started out with gets sold along with it.

So what is the answer? Do we settle and buy a house that is ‘just ok’, or should we wait, stick to our guns and hold out for a house that we’re excited to get the keys for, and fill with all those pretty things I find on Pinterest while i’m supposed to be working?

I can’t tell you how it’s going to work out, but at the moment, I’m firmly sticking with the latter. If i’m going to spend that much money on somewhere to hang my coat, I want it to be somewhere that i’m excited to come home to after a long day of being shouted at by clinicians and trying not to kill anything.

 

In the mean time, here are some more photos of the house with the angry vagina bath…

9974_113836A_13836_IMG_04_0000_max_620x414 (I’m pretty sure they killed a Disney Princess to make that bedspread)9974_113836A_13836_IMG_05_0000_max_620x414 9974_113836A_13836_IMG_06_0000_max_620x414(Insert suspension-building horror movie music here…)

 

Feeling Philoslothical…

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For those of you that know me, you’ll no doubt be very aware that I am generally terrible at keeping in touch and up to date with things like this. But as over the next few months i’ll be going through quite a lot and probably won’t be able to have any kind of social life for the next 18 months, I figured now would be as good a time as any to start recording what it is i’m up to.

For those of you who don’t know me. Hello. My name is Sarah, I am currently a 4th year Veterinary Medicine student at the Royal Veterinary College, London. I have a Masters in Marine Biology and as you could probably guess, yes, I like animals. Especially the weird, slimey, scaley, bitey ones.  I also like taking photographs of things, baking, painting, skiing, scuba diving, eating cheese and wearing pyjamas whenever it’s socially acceptable to do so.

At the moment, I’m busy studying for my 4th year final exams, so this also doubles as a fantastic form of procrastination. After Christmas, i’ll be starting my rotations, so between now and when I (hopefully) graduate in 18 months, I will be doing a lot of terrifying (equine), dirty (farm), exciting (zoos, lots and lots of zoo work) and nerve-wracking (surgery) things. I’m not promising to write it all down, but i’ll give it a go.

TTFN, and remember, Owl you need is love.

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