Two Words for the Newbie Vets

Ah, it’s that time of the year: department stores filled with tacky ruffled prom dresses, florists hawking overpriced leis, parents secretly rubbing their palms in glee at the idea of their kid finally being out of the house come September. It’s graduation, a rite of passage as old as time, a celebration of – hmmm, I wouldn’t say “knowledge” so much as “managed to pass everything”, but what do I know.

I do know that the more advanced your education, the scarier graduation becomes. Kindergarten graduation is a huge party where you have no idea what’s going on. High school graduation is a huge party where all the edgy girls try to sneak bikinis under their robes to shock the audience. When you’re a kid, the world is your oyster and you still have your parents to bail you out so the pressure is low.

When you get to college, it’s a little scarier. There’s loans and stuff. And that strange and disquieting spectre of that thing called a job looming overhead. Time to grow up, kid.

A very long time ago

(Portrait of a young blogger a bajillion years ago at my undergrad ceremony. Note that such was my hubris, I hot glue gunned a Pet Doctor Barbie to my cap declaring my intention despite the fact that I had just decided a month or two prior to apply to vet school and hadn’t even done it yet.)

Those of us who aren’t ready to deal with jobs go on to grad school (and for the really fearful, post-grad residencies, but I digress.) If you want to see a terrified group alternating between joy at surviving the rigors of an advanced medical degree program and horror at the notion of actually having to start doing something with it, go to a vet school graduation.

Not a single streaker in sight, just a bunch of sweaty men and women feeling slightly nauseated as the thought of loan repayments start dancing in the periphery of their brains. At least that is how I remember it. I spent most of the ceremony sobbing in relief that the torment was finally coming to an end (ha! little did I know!)

So here’s the deal, newbies. You just got your nice white lab coat and your new cardio III stethoscope. You have a job lined up, or an internship, or at least a bunch of interviews. Get ready- the next year is going to set the tone for the whole rest of your career. I was thinking of the top five or ten tips for this doe-eyed crop of young Bambis heading out into the forest, but the more I thought about it, it all kind of boils down to one thing. That’s right, just one thing you need to remember and everything else will fall into place:


Seriously. It’s that simple. It’s astonishing how few people follow this advice.ย Do it regularly and you will be a raging success.

1. Be nice to your techs. They know a lot of things you don’t. They will save your butt on a regular basis, if you’re nice. If you’re a know-it-all pain in the rear, you’re on your own. And you will be expressing a lot of anal glands.

2. Be nice to your front desk staff. They have the power to get you out on time or schedule 15 surgeries in a one hour time slot. They can tell the most annoying client in the world that Dr. Newbie is out for the day, or that Dr. Newbie will call them back in 2 minutes and answer every question they ever had about everything.

3. Be nice to your boss, whether you have the best mentor in the world or the most abusive, take-advantage-of-you geezer. Either way, you will learn a lot. You will learn how to practice medicine or how NOT to practice medicine, and they are both lessons you need to know.

4. Be nice to your clients, even the jerky ones. ESPECIALLY the jerky ones. People will forgive you being a slow new grad, one who fumbles the thermometer a little or needs to look something up or hasn’t seen pannus before. What they won’t forgive, ever, is calling their boy a “she” or, even worse, saying “she was a little stinker in the back, hah hah.” Later, they will sue you.

5. Be nice to people who can’t afford to treat their pet. They came to see you, which is more than a lot of people do these days. Help them and look for alternatives and give them options.

If you are kind, maybe they will at least take some antibiotics. They are the people who will remember you on Christmas with a card and some cookies, and will still be with you down the road when their situation improves.ย If you are cruel, the pets gets nothing and you get ripped a new one on Yelp. And you just helped confirm to them that pervasive rumor that vets care more about money than pets.

6. Be nice to your colleagues, in your hospital and elsewhere. It’s a very small world out there in veterinary medicine, and unless you really think you’re going to be in the same clinic for 20 years, it would serve you well to be friendly with the few people out there who know what you deal with on a daily basis. Besides, that way they won’t send you the…handfuls.

I could write for days about VIN and which books to keep and continuing education, but mark my words: be nice, and everything else will fall into place. Best of luck! Don’t be a jerk and all will be well!

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  • Lisa W

    Well said! As part of the “be nice’ campaign, I would offer this pearl of wisdom (for both vets and people doctors): Don’t treat your clients like they are idiots, even if they are. I know that you have more than your share of people who insist they know more than you do, but I for one am an adult and respect your knowledge. If you don’t know an answer, I am perfectly willing to accept “I don’t know but I will find out for you” as an answer. You have seen the last of me if you BS your way through something and I find out you’re wrong. You have also seen the last of me if you talk down to me because I don’t have a medical degree. I’m pretty smart in my own way, thanks.

    Oh yeah, and even if you’re nice, don’t continue to treat the symptoms without looking for the cause. I had a vet I loved but who continued to just treat Bailey’s continual ear infections. Come to find out, she had some massive food allergies, which I discovered after going to a new vet. New food, no ear infections. Magic.

    I’ve been lucky to have some great vets (and people doctors, too) but I’ve known my fair share of folks who have seen their last dollar from me. The ones who are nice (and investigate causes) will keep me every time!

  • Tabitha W

    I think the “be nice” motto can go for every new grad….Social workers – Be nice to the families you work with, its often not their fault; society has usually failed them.

    Wouldn’t it be great if everyone was nice? I have never met a mean vet, but I have met a few that i didnt agree with. And I have only met on “not nice” tech who didn’t listen to me and nearly got attacked by my cat. All the front desk staff have been wonderful, especially the one who held me as i cried when I put my rat, Mindy, down.
    To all the grads out there crossing the stage, no matter what you are graduating, CONGRATS!!!!!!

  • ” hot glue gunned a Pet Doctor Barbie to my cap”
    Priceless! Apparently, you’ve always been creative!

  • Alisha

    I am just starting my vet school journey this fall (yaaayyy!!!), and I will certainly be thinking about your advice while I’m in school. “Be nice” is actually kind of my personal motto, but I it’s especially good to practice in the field you care a lot about! ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Tonya

    I must be in “one of those moods” because the first part of #5 brought a tear to my eye. I absolutely agree with your advice. I am lucky to have an office full of nice vets. They’ve had a couple pass through over the years who were not so nice, but they didn’t last long. Sign of a good practice, I say.
    And I love the Pet Dr. Barbie adornment on you cap! ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Great advice! That’s something people seem to forget a lot these days, but everyone is fighting their own battles and should be treated with kindness. And it’s especially relevant when you are treating their fur-children.

  • TaxiLab

    I agree with those above – just plain “BE NICE.” If everyone followed this advice, the world would be a MUCH easier place to live in and everyone would be a lot happier ๐Ÿ™‚ I think it’s harder and harder to find nice and courteous people ๐Ÿ™ and why is that so hard?

  • Hi Y’all,
    Yep! My Human said the first thing she learned in business was “be nice” to your staff, you need them.
    My sweet young vet took over a retiring doctor’s practice. She never missed a beat. The office staff are the same sweet ladies I always knew. The techs my Human leaves me with to get “checked” are the same sweet gals I love to drag up and down the halls.
    Oh, and my vet goes by a letter too, just like you, only her’s is in the middle of the alphabet. ๐Ÿ™‚
    Y’all come by now,
    Hawk aka BrownDog

  • JaneK

    people are so caught up in being “the best” “the smartest” “top of the class” whatever…. that those simple words have been lost. In my opinion I think the professional that is nice and takes a true interest in his customers and has true care about what s/he does is the one who provides the best service; b/c they are going to take time to see what the real need is. So, in other words: preach it sister and AMEN!

  • Your advice works well for those of us who are no longer “newbie vets” too ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Heather M.

    One more to suggest Dr. V: Be Nice to your Drug Reps… of course if they are worthy of niceness. Why? Well… Most reps travel to the majority of clinics surrounding the practice you are standing in and can help if ever your looking for a new place to hang your stethescope. We give out free stuff, we buy dinners and we love to help out new grads with anything they request. Don’t be afraid of us. We are usually good people there to educate, inform and feed you. If you see us in our pressed logo’d shirts and our tacky detail bag, please stop and say hello. You will make our day and most likely we’ll hand you a pen or something free.