What we wish we had known when we graduated

1 vet nurse and 1 vet doing surgery on a dog

One of the greatest resources we have as vets and vet students is being a member of an incredible network of professionals, who are always ready and willing to give advice. We are a small profession and we like to look after each other. To this end, we set up the Facebook group Veterinary Voices UK to provide a platform for vets to share ideas, discuss issues and support one another. The issue of support for new graduates is always a hot topic and has been discussed extensively.

This blog post is a compilation of non-clinical advice for newly graduated vets offered by the members of Veterinary Voices UK. Much of it may appear to be obvious, but it is the collective advice of a large group of vets with hundreds of years of clinical experience between them.

Non-clinical advice for newly graduated vets

Sometimes things go wrong

Sometimes the animal will die despite all your best efforts.

Sometimes you will arrive at the correct diagnosis and administer the appropriate treatment and the animal will die despite this. Sometimes animals will recover even though you have no idea what was wrong with them.

It is human to make mistakes

You will make some mistakes and some poor clinical judgements, but you will always learn from them. It is only human to make mistakes – we all make them – so use them as a learning experience and some good will come from them.

Dealing with complaints

Some clients will complain even if you do an amazing job and there is a good clinical outcome. It’s not a reflection on you as a vet so you must learn not take it personally.

Some clients will not complain even when you make huge mistakes and feel as though they have every right to. In fact, some of these people will bring you chocolates and flowers making you feel worse, but showing you how much they appreciate your efforts.

Communication is key

Good client communication is possibly the most important aspect of being a successful and popular vet. Learn to explain to clients in layman’s terms so they understand in what way their animal is sick and how you intend to treat it. Most people are happy to consent to tests or procedures if they fully understand why they are necessary.

"Don’t be afraid to ask for help and advice"

Keep owners regularly updated regarding their animal’s progress and the likely financial costs – people don’t like surprises.

You don’t need to be able to arrive at a definitive diagnosis on initial examination in the consult room, you simply need to provide the owner with a plan of action involving diagnostic tests to get there. You can get help from your colleagues if necessary. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and advice.

Trust your judgement

You learn a lot very quickly and improve your clinical skills and decision making by doing out of hours’ work. Your steepest learning curve might be when you’re out of mobile signal or can’t get in touch with whoever is backing you up, and you have to make a decision. Remember that you are a qualified vet and trust your judgment; you’ll be right more often than you are wrong. You will grow in confidence every time you are forced to make a decision without support. And even the bad decisions will make you a better vet from this day on.

Finances and business

There is no reason for you to feel guilty if clients cannot afford ‘gold standard’ veterinary treatment. It does lead to some difficult conversations but you are not responsible for their financial situation or the number of animals they have chosen to own. It is not your fault that the animal is ill or injured.

Remember you are working in a business and a business can only function if it is profitable. Along with caring for animals you must try to keep clients happy and charge appropriately. You should not feel as though a lack of experience means you are not worth proper veterinary fees, so it is not appropriate for you to charge discounted rates or reduced veterinary time to artificially lower bills.

The gold standard

Appreciate that ‘gold standard' treatment is not always appropriate. The best option for treatment is dependent on all sorts of factors that relate to the animal's personality, lifestyle and concurrent illnesses as well as its owner’s personal and financial circumstances. It's about fitting the jigsaw pieces together and creating the 'perfect compromise' rather than what your university might consider to be the perfect medical treatment.

Mental health and self-care

Veterinary work is sometimes stressful. You may be making life and death decisions with stressed owners, often with financial constraints. As long as your whole job isn't constantly stressful it is worth remembering that a pressured situation can actually help you perform better.

"No job is worth sacrificing your mental or physical health for"

However, if your job is always awful, stressful, unsupported and making you constantly miserable you can quit. This is not meant to sound flippant, but the bottom line is that no job is worth sacrificing your mental or physical health for, especially if your bosses do not even appear to appreciate your efforts. When you’re job hunting, think about the type of practice and people that will best support you. You will find a practice with the type of team ethos and management style that suit your personality.


Ensure that you demonstrate empathy towards both the animal and the client’s situation. One senior vet commented: “How do people know you care if you don’t show you care?”

My advice

During the transition from student to veterinary surgeon you will discover that the hard-earned wisdom of our colleagues can be just as important as your clinical knowledge.

As for me, the single best piece of advice I received when I first graduated was from my cousin, a phenomenally popular human GP, who said: “People don’t care how much you know, they want to know how much you care.”

Visit the Veterinary Voices UK Facebook group to join the discussion.

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