There is never going to be a definitive time to finish a first job, but for a while I have felt I wanted a new challenge.
When I chat to more experienced colleagues, the majority seem to talk about the “two-year itch” and it has been quite comforting to hear it’s a common experience.
As a new graduate I was fortunate to be in a practice that pushed me forward and supported me through that transition. I’ve been surrounded by a fantastic team of vets, vet nurses, kennel assistants and receptionists who have all contributed in numerous ways to my first leap into the wide world of veterinary medicine.
The past few weeks were incredibly emotional, and culminated in a very surreal final day where I was truly spoilt by clients and colleagues alike.
As I sit writing this article – midway through a night shift of Easter weekend lambing for the seventh year running – I thought it would be nice to reflect back on my most recent challenge: my first day as a locum.
Until now, I’ve had very little exposure to locums throughout my veterinary career and education. They always seemed to be these elusive people who just slot into the background and crack on, and I’ve always had a lot of respect for that ability.
Dave’s leaving gifts.
I never really saw myself going down the locum route. Being a bit of a control freak, I like to know exactly where equipment is and what drugs are in stock. Fleeting between practices tends to make this more difficult.
Nevertheless, with the support of some close friends who have taken the plunge into the locum world, I have just started a new chapter in my career. Perhaps finishing my permanent job on a Thursday and heading up my first locum shift on the following Friday was slightly poor judgement from my end, but, as always, I never like to make things easy for myself.
I wasn’t really sure what I needed to have in place prior to starting work as a self-employed locum. Thankfully, as I’m only planning on locuming for a short period of time, I’ve managed to avoid some of the more complicated tax-related factors, but I certainly had a few things to get sorted out.
A quick telephone call to the Veterinary Defence Society, a few online forms with HMRC and kitting out my “keen bean” university Pick-Pocket, and I felt like I was ready.
I was quite fortunate my first day as a locum was at a practice where an ex-colleague RVN happened to work. Although she handily had the day booked off, I felt like it was marginally easier to walk in knowing that (hopefully) some people knew what to expect when I went through the door – at least one side of the party would.
Being completely open, I was incredibly nervous prior to my first day. Walking up to a new practice for the day, I felt a sudden rush back to my first day practising as a vet. I was so lucky in my first job that I knew the team and where everything was kept and didn’t have to worry about what was expected of me.
On my first day as a locum, however, I didn’t know any of the team, I’d never visited the building before and I was charging a day rate – I had the overwhelming feeling I was expected to be able to go in and do anything that was asked of me.
I turned up a generous 20 minutes early and was delighted to see I had been given time to explore the practice, get introduced to people and find my consulting room. Ah, the best-laid plans of mice and men.
An emergency rabbit consult was booked in and all the other vets were chock-a-block with consults. I will happily admit rabbits are not my forte. I think they are fascinating creatures and lots can, and should, be done for them – but a lack of experience and knowledge makes me gulp a little every time I see them booked in for me.
It’s amazing what you get used to. At my first job, I rarely saw anything more exotic than a Persian cat. Handily, a lovely ex-colleague knew about my lack of confidence with rabbits and small mammals, and very early on in my career she sent me a “how-to” guide for most basic conditions (thank you, Emmie), which I have used a few times in my, so-far, short career.
I called in the consult, and explained to the worried owner that my name was Dave and I was one of the vets at the practice. Having managed a few rabbits with suspected gut stasis, I was quite glad to see my first consult was actually not as much of an emergency as first thought, and I am happy to say I have since heard the rabbit was feeling much better after a cocktail of analgesics, gut stimulants and supportive feeding.
Unfortunately, however, the clinical component of this consult wasn’t the only challenge.
I will repeat – it’s amazing what you get used to. Prior to my first day as a locum, I hadn’t ever used a computer system other than RoboVet. I knew exactly how to navigate it, how to pull up certain animal stats and trend them, and also knew what most things cost.
But wait – all of the prices were different, too. Not only was this the first time trying to navigate a completely new system, I also had the sudden realisation I had no idea what anything cost, or what drugs the practice stocked. Group this all together with shorter consults than I was used to, it was safe to say my morning was a bit of a whirlwind.
After finishing a two-hour consulting block that felt like mania (when in reality, it was actually a set of very straightforward consults thanks to a kind reception team), I headed into prep to introduce myself to the team.
Dave’s trusty Pick-Pocket.
I glanced at the operations board and saw my initials next to a cat dental. Confused, as I had not admitted anything that morning, I asked what the plan was. Apparently, all the patients were admitted by RVNs, and my patient had been examined, catheterised and pre-med already. The team was on it, I just wasn’t.
“That’s okay,” I thought. “I’m fairly confident with my dentistry, I’m sure I’ll crack through it.”
It felt like one of the longest cat dentals in my life. For what would usually be a simple set of open extractions of mandibular 05s, I took almost twice to three times as long as I usually would.
The x-ray machine was different – it took forever for me to get decent x-rays; all of the luxators and elevators had different handles. I couldn’t find anything to get purchase; even the lighting was different – I felt so lost.
The boss came through and checked to see if everything was going okay, offered to swap in if needed and was very kind about the whole situation, but I couldn’t help feeling an internal pressure to perform well.
Suddenly, I had gone from being a confident, established member of a team, to a nervous over-analysing vet. I found myself questioning: “Is this normal?”
Of course it’s normal. I was in a completely new environment, working with people who I didn’t know and I’d never been in this situation before as a practising vet.
Sure, I went to a variety of practices as an EMS student, but the role of a vet student is incredibly different from the role of a vet. It’s completely normal to feel nervous in these situations; therefore, we should expect it, accept it and move on. Unfortunately, most of us internally create more pressure on ourselves, even when it’s not coming from external sources, and it’s easy to get into a dangerous cycle of self-doubt and imposter syndrome.
By the end of the day, I was feeling more settled. I had gotten used to the computer system, the nurses had pointed me in the right direction of all the equipment I needed and helped me with consent forms, and I had received some good feedback from clients on reception. I almost felt silly for worrying earlier on in the day.
Change of routine can be very difficult, but I have to remember I still have months of valuable experience under my belt, which is more than can be said for my first day as a practising vet.
I would like to think as I progress through my locum journey, going to new practices will get easier, but even if that takes time, it’s normal to be a little nervous.
Going forward, I’m really looking forward to taking on some more personal challenges, as well as being exposed to a variety of practices and an incredible breadth of veterinary professionals.
If at any point you have a question, or want to discuss a topic from Practice Makes Perfect, please feel free to drop me an email at [email protected] and I will try to get back to you ASAP.
Until next time, take care.