How to survive your first night of being on call
Most veterinarians feel intimidated by being on-call for the first time. Most find, however, that they had little to nothing to worry about. Overcoming the unique challenges presented by out-of-hours work can be very rewarding, but it is important to prepare correctly and to know when, and who, to ask for help.
What to expect from being on call
Different practices have different expectations in terms of when new staff first go on call, and how much support they will need preceding and during the night. It is important for graduates to bear this in mind when choosing their first job, as a supportive practice will set up new vets to best realise their potential over the coming years.
Surviving your first night
Preparation in advance of the first night on call is essential to help minimise stress on the night, and may save precious minutes in the rare event of a true emergency. The articles 'First night on-call?' and 'How to survive your first weekend on-call' detail the equipment required and stress the importance of preparing mentally and physically. New practitioners should familiarise themselves with key pieces of equipment, the crash kit and keys to dangerous drugs cabinets. It is a good idea to have access to the phone numbers of available colleagues, local referral centres, the VPIS, pet blood bank UK, and local charities that may be able to help clients where the practice cannot (e.g. for monetary reasons). On-call staff will also need to be aware of the out-of-hours fee policy, and should explain this before examining an animal.
Triage as a key skill
Triage is an important skill for on-call work, both over the phone to decide which cases can wait until the morning and in the management of any emergency patient brought in to the practice. Some calls are clearly frivolous and others clear emergencies, inexperienced vets are advised to play it safe with those that are harder to decide over the phone until they have more experience being on-call.
It is important for solo night workers to ensure their own wellbeing and refrain from panicking, it is also vital that individuals know when they are out of their depth, and call for help if necessary.