On Being A Vet: Five Years On

Vet Career Tips & Guidance

Five years into any career, a professional might take some time to reflect on what they’ve learned, how their job has impacted their worldview, and how they’ve managed to balance their work responsibilities and social or family obligations.

You, as a veterinarian, don’t need to be told the importance of self-evaluation. After all, as technology and techniques evolve, you need to keep pace. You keep long and often irregular hours, either at the clinic or at home with your nose in reference books and trade journals.

Five years on as a practicing vet, you’ve earned your chops and gained confidence in your work. Now’s the time to take a step back for a big-picture view. What’s ahead for your career? What are your goals in your “civilian” life? Where do you see yourself five years from now?

Applaud Your Strengths

Self-reflection can be tricky. As human beings, especially those of us with the necessary drive to achieve the five-year milestone, we tend to focus on our shortcomings and inevitable failures (after all, we do lose patients and our patience from time to time; it goes with the territory). But the first step in evaluating our careers is recognizing our victories.

  • List five cases that made you feel proud of your skills, training, and professionalism.
  • List five instances in which you notably galvanised your staff or inspired a downtrodden colleague, nurse or tech to rally after a work conflict or disheartening case.
  • List five times when you realised you’d reached a skill milestone: This could be mastering a piece of equipment or a suturing technique, or correctly diagnosing an uncommon condition when the animal’s symptoms weren’t plainly presented.

Now, tape this list to the wall next to your desk. You’ll want to refer to it if the following exercises send you into a spiral of gloom.

Identify Your Weaknesses

Ask yourself which areas you would like to improve. You’ve had those moments when you’ve been in the thick of things, and wished you could immediately download to your brain a particular skillset or entire veterinary reference. Now that the pressure has passed, what are you doing about it?

You may have berated yourself for not being current on medications when a newly-approved drug might have saved an animal’s life.

Perhaps you’ve been so focused on the well-being of your patients that you’ve neglected that of your colleagues, staff, and yourself.

Or, you’ve found that your family has stopped expecting you at holiday gatherings, school events, or the dinner table.

We all have room for improvement. Some of your improvement goals might not be reactionary; for example, you’ve become adept at orthopaedic procedures, and now you want to focus on raising your expertise in other areas to the same standard.

Don’t despair if your list feels brutally long. It’s when you can’t think of any problem areas that the alarm is raised…because you’re delusional.

Assess Your Mental Wellness

Veterinary medicine is fraught with stress. We’re constantly exposing ourselves to trauma, and in these situations, we’re in charge. We’re responsible for monitoring our staff for signs of stress, and we have to remain centred when interacting with our customers when they’re experiencing extreme emotions.

Have you been taking care of your mental health? While veterinarians don’t experience significantly higher mental health issues than professionals in other fields, a recent study of veterinarians in the United States shows that work stress and concerns about keeping up with financial aid payments are more evident in the newest generation of veterinary professionals—those age 45 and younger—as compared to their older colleagues. Women, in particular, experience more stress than their male counterparts.

It’s imperative that we seek out therapy or more aggressive mental health resources if we feel that work stress or the effects of trauma are impacting our lives. It’s also important to encourage colleagues to do the same.

Design A Healthier, More Balanced Life

How can you better adjust the course of your career to maintain a balance between healthy social, familial and work activities? Now that you’ve reached the five-year milestone, you’re a seasoned veterinarian with experience and confidence. You’ll always have your mentors, but you no longer need to be under anyone’s wing.

If you’re like many veterinarians at this career stage, you might be a parent or thinking of becoming one. If you’re in a serious relationship, you’ve had a chance to figure out if your current routine is beneficial to a mutually-satisfactory partnership.

No matter your age or marital status, you may be neglecting your friends and healthy social interactions, or the personal interests that let you decompress from workday stress.

“A life outside the practice—family time, socialization, travel, exercise—is ‘absolutely essential,’ researchers say; it correlates highly with well-being.” —Kristi Reimer Fender, dvm360

Whether or not your professional obligations are destroying your ability to maintain a healthy balance, this is a good time to decide if you should remain in your current clinic environment or pursue other veterinary endeavours.

Are you interested in specialised medicine? Whether you choose to apply yourself to a single species or pathogen, the hours, stress, and financial compensation might be more amenable to your lifestyle. If you find that human clients are more aggravating than you can handle, you might want to pursue research or other valuable, behind-the-scenes areas of veterinary science.

If you’ve fallen in love with medical technology, you could pursue a career training veterinary professionals on new equipment.

It’s possible that your clinic’s “company culture” isn’t a good fit for you. This doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t get along with your co-workers; it may mean that you, as a single veterinarian, might always work on Saturdays and holidays because your clinic’s other vet has three children and seniority.

You might want to find a more suitable clinic that provides funding and encouragement for continuing education, or a reputation for expertise in your area of interest.

If you’d rather work back of beyond and don’t mind irregular hours and lots of road time, a large animal practice might be the change you’re looking for.

You’ve endured the gruelling rigours of vet school and your first years of veterinary practice. From here on out, you’re calling the shots, but its wise to bring in expert advisors to help you make important decisions. Sit down with trusted colleagues, close friends, your partner, and your family, and engage them in frank discussions about your prospects, options, and objectives. Make sure you’re ready to listen to their input, even if it’s painful to hear.

Whether you choose to stay on in your current position or seek out greener pastures, your success is ultimately in your own hands—and it’s attainable through frequent self-evaluation, realistic goal-setting, and mindful self-care.

These are just a few of the vet career tips that you may need to help you on your journey; explore more advice and guidance from fellow industry professionals throughout our Vet & Pet Jobs blog.

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