Dear New Graduate Veterinarian Class of 2017,
CONGRATULATIONS! You are now fully qualified vets! Chances are you have been working for a few weeks or are having a much earned break before jumping into you working lives. Either way I'm so excited for you and want to welcome you once more into our fabulous veterinary community.
You have chosen a profession that is as diverse at the species we treat, that will take you in off in any direction you desire, you will make lifelong friends and have countless memorable experiences both good and bad, it will enrich your life in more ways than you can currently imagine and you will both directly and indirectly have a positive impact on your patients, their families and the community.
Like many of you I was the child that always dreamed of becoming a vet. Nearly every school has one and I was it. At age 14 on Year 10 work experience I met my veterinary role models. They were the most amazing team of female vets and nurses who were absolutely kicking ass in the veterinary industry. I observed a kookaburra getting it’s wing pinned, heard stories about surgical repairs of fractures in ferrets and was able to breath in many aspects of small animal vet practice. From that moment my destiny was set in stone. Nothing was going to stop me from achieving my dream of becoming a vet.
So much of who I am today was formed during my time here at Sydney Uni. I developed a good understanding of accountability and consequences after spending too much time drinking beer and skipping lectures in first year. After first semester results came out I never skipped lectures again.
I struggled with social anxiety and forced myself out of my comfort zone and into VetSoc Harbour Cruises, Vet Pub Crawls, BBGrog’s and Vet Balls. I battled feelings of inadequacy and imposter syndrome – partially due to my full fee paying status.
I learnt about resilience when my dad was diagnosed with terminal melanoma during study vacation at the end of second year. My family and I was with him during his 13 months of treatments and finally when he passed away. Resilience is what kept me coming back to uni, sitting my exams and taking steps towards achieving my dream. It taught me about grief and loss, it provided me with clarity around what was important to me and increased my compassion surrounding end of life.
Resilience is what helped me bounce back from burnout, depression and crippling anxiety throughout my career. More importantly it has allowed me to talk openly about it, provide honest dialogue with my staff and allows me to use my profile to shed light on such an important topic. In fact if I could gift you all one thing, it would be the gift of resilience. There are going to be tough times during your career however you will come through them and you will learn from them and what I’ve found is that you often come out the other side stronger and better.
Resilience also means that I am able to talk about the Tiger B incident and use an objective lens to assess what went wrong. Tiger was a mature age, entire male German Shepherd. I was a new grad. He came in for a castrate. I performed an open castration and sent him home pretty chuffed that it went well. I continued to believe this delusion for a good seven days. On the 8th day he returned with what can only be described as a water melon sized scrotum hanging painfully between his back legs. I was devastated. What on earth had I done wrong? How did this happen? Why am I such a bad vet?
I’ll let you in on a little secrete here – like many vets I was about to discover that I had a God complex. I always thought I was pretty humble but after I had three patients die unexpectedly in a week, I felt an all-consuming responsibility for their deaths, I emotionally broke down and carted myself off to my psychologist. It was there she directly shattered my sense of self-importance for the better. She asked “Belinda, who made you so special that you are the only factor that affects whether or not a patient lives or dies…”
She then introduced me to the most valuable pie chart I’ve ever come across and tonight I’m going to share it with you. My hope is that when you have a patient die or there is a shitty outcome that you will not only think about Tiger’s scrotum, but that you will also think about the other factors that were at play.
If this pie chart makes up all of the different factors that can affect whether or not Tiger will have a giant water melon scrotum post castrate how much do you think is;
- How long the owners waited to bring him into the clinic?
- Next – how much is the amount of exercise that Tiger was doing at home?
- Right and how much do you think is the owners not reading the discharge paperwork you gave them?
- What about the owners not listening to the nurse when they told them to keep him quiet
- And what about your surgical technique – how much do you think was that you performed an open castration vs closed or that you didn’t specifically tie off the tunica.
- His age – was that a factor
Now this simple exercise allowed me to see that I was in fact NOT the only factor that affected the state of poor Tigers scrotum. This has been invaluable to me over the years. To get my head around patient deaths or unexpected outcomes, sitting down and looking at all of the potential factors and seeing that I am not the one single reason has saved me so much anxiety and self-induced heartache and stress.
Since graduating I’ve become a certified veterinary acupuncturist, I’ve felt like I’ve made a difference to our profession by being the leader I always wanted, I’ve created my own personal brand Dr Belinda The Vet, found a passion for blogging and sharing this brilliant profession with the world, discovered that there are very few social media platforms that can’t be used to show off behind the scenes footage of the vet hospital and feel grateful that I am able to connect with vet students, vet nurses and aspiring vets all of the globe.
Now you will all have your own Tiger's. My advice is to find a supportive workplace. If you find yourself in one that doesn’t have a good “feel” then don’t put up with it. Leave. Life is too short to miserable and trust me it’s liberating. If the right environment doesn’t exist then what is stopping you from creating it? You don’t have to be the boss, the business owner or a senior vet to create change. If the people surrounding you don’t agree with being a part of supportive workplace then look for people who are.
And finally I want to share one of my most memorable patients with you. His name was Rodney, he was a Guinea Pig who travelled in to the vet on the back of a motorbike for his acupuncture appointment. And that my friends is why being a vet is AMAZING! May you meet many Rodney’s and very few Tiger B's.
Love Dr Belinda
Modified from my speech at the University of Sydney Veterinary and Animal Science Students and Alumni Awards night.