Transitioning from Student to Practice Veterinarian

5 Things I Wish I Had Known

Why transitioning from student to expert can be daunting and ways to ease your fears.

Arriving for the first day of my career as a practicing veterinarian and being addressed as Dr. Jennifer Nguyen is surreal. I have my mask on (COVID times), my lunch packed, my laptop and notes in hand, and I am ready to take on my first day as someone who has practiced how to be a veterinarian her whole life. By the end of the day, my mind is racing in ten million directions. I am ecstatic, drained, lost, and scared all at the same time. What have I signed myself up for?

Nothing could prepare me for my first day, but maybe I could give you a glimpse of what it is like practicing in the real world as a new graduate. Let me offer up some advice –

5 Things I Wish I Had Known:

  1. Pace yourself and learn how to depend on your technicians
  2. Surround yourself with good mentors, including your peers
  3. Student loan management
  4. Not everything goes by the book, and it is all right to change your plan
  5. Work is important, but make sure to prioritize your own wellness – EAT LUNCH

Pace yourself and learn how to depend on your technicians.
During my first week I found myself trying to do everything on my own. I stopped and asked myself – Why am I trying to do this all by myself? It is because I was taught to do everything on my own in vet school. In vet school, I had a max of 4 patients a day, at most, and I had all morning to develop the plan of care. As a new veterinarian, I am seeing 10-15 pets a day.

Do yourself a favor and learn how to pace yourself and depend on your staff. My caring technicians and receptionists reminded me that I am not alone during my appointment. They are there to assist me whether I need medications filled, blood drawn, vaccinations pulled, slides stained, records scanned, pets restrained, etc. Learn to rely on them so you can pace yourself during your appointment to meet your clients. needs during the time allowed.

Surround yourself with good mentors, including your peers.
My greatest advice would be to search for a 2-3 doctor practice when you are first starting out as a veterinarian. I have learned so much from my mentors and they take the time to teach me about topics I had little or no exposure to in school, even down to how to communicate with your clients. Instead of radiographs, I need to say x-rays – lesson learned! I am learning things every day and I am keeping notes on the most common medications, diagnostics, therapeutics, and plans I should take when encountering common problems/diseases.

I have found myself discussing some of my cases with previous veterinary friends as well. Sometimes all we need is some confirmation that our plan for our patient is something another veterinarian would consider doing as well. You did not suffer with your classmates for nothing. they are now your colleagues in the veterinary profession, and most are willing to learn from you as well as help you during your time of need.

Student loan management
I was not taught how to manage my loans walking out of veterinary school, point-blank. I have spent 8 years of my life in school, and now that I am out, I find myself struggling to manage my expenses.

First and foremost, do yourself a favor and visit the website below and watch the video:

This video gives you a glimpse of different loan repayment plans from the basic standard 10-year plan to the income-driven repayment plans: PAYE, REPAYE, IBR, etc. This video educated me on all the plans so I could choose the one that best meets my needs in the future. VIN also has a student debt center that has a loan simulator that you can use to see which repayment plan best meets your goals. I wish I had learned this in school, but I am happy that there are resources that can guide my financial plan and debt.

Not everything goes by the book, and it is all right to change your plan.
I really beat myself up at the beginning because I had some cases I really struggled with. Diseases do not follow the book. Every patient is different. All clients do not have the same funds.

Keep your resources available: veterinary books, your notes from vet school, VIN, continuing education webinars, etc. I am continually referring back to my books, there is nothing wrong with taking a few extra minutes to re-look up a dosage, re-look up a diagnostic test, and verify your treatment plans with a credible source.

The books and resources I have found useful are:

  • Clinical Veterinary Advisor
  • Small Animal Clinical Diagnostics by Laboratory Methods
  • VIN/ VIN Partner

In vet school, we learned gold standard and that money is not an issue. This is not the case for most of my clients. I have had to continually modify my diagnostic/treatment plan for a client because they did not have the funds. Some clients even surprised me with how far they wanted to go for their pets. Offer all approaches but be able to be versatile when a plan needs to be changed.

Work is important, but make sure to prioritize your own wellness. EAT LUNCH.
I was skipping lunch on some days when I first started working at my vet hospital. I felt like I was behind on paperwork and drop-offs and I would purposely choose not to eat to get those things finished. I found myself bringing notes home with me to finish or staying super late after everyone else has been long gone to finish my paperwork. After a week or two of doing this, one of my mentors lectured me on using my time more wisely during appointments and learning how to be more concise with my SOAP notes.

You will always have work to do, but you also have a life to live. We have sacrificed a lot of our life to the veterinary profession, it is alright to continue your hobbies, pick up new ones, and do the things you love. You will enjoy work way more if you do not have to dwell on it all the time. Prioritize your wellness.

Please be kind to yourself and your peers, learn how to take constructive criticism, and always do what is best for your clients and their pets. I have had some of the hardest days of work in my life with some of the best people I know who continually teach me every day how to be a better veterinarian.

Dr. Jennifer Nguyen
Texas A&M University Class of 2020