What they don’t teach you at vet school

I have been working in the veterinary industry for over 15 years and I've learnt a lot. I've learnt that it's not always easy being a vet. I've also learnt that there are many things they don't teach you at vet school. This post is for all of the new graduate veterinarians out there who have started their first job, for all of those final year vet students who are about to embark on the start of their career. Not all of them will stay in the profession and sometimes this is because they are not adequately prepared for what veterinary practice involves. I wish that someone had told me that I'm not superwoman and that some of my patients will die regardless of how good my vet work is. For my new graduate self and for all those other new graduate veterinarians this is for you!


I shall do no wrong

What they don’t teach you at vet school

  • Some of your patients will die, regardless of how well you treat them, how correct your treatment is, sometimes, some of your patients will not make it. It will not be your fault. Sometimes our patients will die despite our best efforts. You are not the only variable that will determine whether or not your patient lives or dies.
  • Not all clients will like you and that is okay. We can’t make everyone happy, be grateful when the grumpy ones would rather see somebody else.
  • Clients will complain about you. Unless you’ve done the wrong thing, don’t take it personally. You can’t make everyone happy. Some people just like to complain. For all of the complaints, you’re likely to have tens more compliments.
  • It is okay to cry along with your clients. Your job is at times emotional, and it is okay if your emotions spill over. Clients won’t look down on you. They will appreciate that you care so much.
  • Nobody knows all of the answers. We are always learning. Never be afraid to ask for help.
  • Honesty is always the best policy. If you make a mistake (and you will – we all do), own it. If you don’t know the answer, tell the clients. Clients much rather an honest vet that will spend the time finding the answer, than one who pretends to know everything and will “wing it”.
  • Learn to communicate clearly and concisely with your clients. Most complaints in our industry are the result of poor communication between the veterinarian and the client. Learn to ask open ended questions, communicate why you recommend the tests to you do and justify the cost, explain the risks associated with procedures, always offer best practice and explain the risks associated with not following our recommendations.
  • Find a good mentor – they will be a sounding board, the voice of reason and someone who can listen to you whinge and understand why some days it feels like we have the hardest job in the world. Remember, as you progress with your career, give back to the new graduates that come into your practice. After all, experienced vets were new graduates once too.
  • Debrief with your colleagues after you lose a patient or the outcome is different than you expect. Try not to think of them as failures but as learning experiences. Ensure that you learn from every mistake you make, you owe it to yourself and your patients.
  • Respect your nurses, if you think you have a rough job, theirs can be much rougher. They are the ones who shock the clients with the bill if you haven’t discussed it with them properly. They are the ones who will be protecting you from the aggressive animal you are trying to cope with. They are the ones who cop the abuse from the clients, who often then are nice as pie in the consult room with you. You know they work hard, you know they don’t do it for the money. Don’t make their life harder, because they can certainly make yours more difficult if they want to.
  • Don’t judge your clients. You’ll never completely know what challenges they are facing that is restricting their ability to treat their pet. If they have elected to euthanase their pet because they can’t afford treatment, remember it is often kinder to do this than let them die a slow painful death at home. You can always offer to rehome the pet but if they decline that is their right.
  • Most of all don’t suffer in silence. I’m sure you’ve heard the statistics. Veterinarians have a higher rate of depression and suicide. If you are feeling blue please please seek help. This is not a sign of weakness. It can be a part of life – I myself battle depression and it is sometimes exacerbated by work. There is help and you are not alone.

I hope this post helps new graduate veterinarians to have a more realistic idea of what is expected of them. The point I struggled with the most was that I can't save all of my patients. No matter how much I want to and how hard I will them to be better; I can't always save them. I have to remind myself of this from time to time. It is not my fault. We live and we die. I am not God. Whilst I can help ease suffering and provide treatment for my patients, it is up to their bodies to respond to it.

What is the best advice you have been given?


Sometimes you just need to improvise


5 Responses

  1. Wow, one would thing that some of these things certainly should be taught, or students at least prepared for them. It seems that human doctors are primed for some of this stuff at some point.

  2. Great tips! I think vet schools should print it and hand out at every graduation ceremony 🙂 xox

  3. Thank you for your advice! I am on my clinical year of vet school and I am starting to realize how hard our career can be. Reading your article has opened my eyes and made me realize the challenged that I will face after I graduate.

    • Hi Stephanie, I’m glad you found it useful. I think the most valuable thing you can do is talk to your colleagues and ask for help when you need it. We’ve all been there and know how daunting it can be when you first graduate. Saying that I wouldn’t change my career for the world. I still love what I do regardless of the challenges and I’ve met some amazing friends along the way. Find a great team to join and it’ll make your life 100x easier!
      Good luck with the rest of your studies!

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