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Starting practice on a firm footing
  1. Candice Summers


Candice Summers joined Medivet's residency programme when she qualified and is now a partner in the company's Watford 24-hour centre

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I REMEMBER my graduation day as being one of the happiest and proudest moments of my life. The gruelling routine of spending most of my waking hours revising for finals was over, and the enormous sense of achievement in qualifying as a veterinary surgeon was finally sinking in. The time spent as an undergraduate student is a special and unique period. Not only do we benefit from a multi-disciplinary support network of learning and advice from our clinical tutors, but living and working alongside our fellow students means that many of our academic and personal stresses are shared and eased.

However, the excitement and anticipation of my ‘first working day’ started to develop into anxiety and panic. Could I remember how to perform a low dose dexamethasone suppression test? What would I do if I encountered a ‘bleeder’ during a bitch spay? The fears that set in ahead of your first job are not easily allayed. According to the Veterinary Defence Society, 10 per cent of all claims in 2000 were made against new graduates, and recent figures suggest litigation claims are increasing. This means such worries are not unfounded and do little to ease the pressure on new graduates.

I was lucky to have applied and been accepted onto Medivet's Residency Training Programme. Flicking through the jobs pages of Veterinary Record, the benefits of having a period of time spent learning and practising under close and guided supervision seemed to make sense. The programme offers a new graduate three to six months of working alongside a partner in a sufficiently busy, but not overwhelmingly so, practice to develop their skills gradually and progressively. As a new graduate I was filled with a wealth of theoretical knowledge, but not necessarily the same level of surgical, communicative and organisational skills required to be an effective clinician. In my first few days of working I found I was not going to have to face the daunting situations I had anticipated alone.

During my time on the programme, I worked alongside a partner to develop my consultation skills, starting with simple vaccinations, and then moving to more complicated clinical presentations. This helped greatly to condense a 20- to 30-minute consultation a student may be have been used to at university into a time frame more commonly encountered in general practice. I benefited from an experienced pair of eyes when performing routine surgery or radiography and interpreting laboratory results. The programme also provides new graduates with a supportive nursing team who, in my case, were extremely patient and encouraging.

It is common for new graduates to experience a crisis of confidence and be self-critical of their performance. However, failure and disappointment is something that cannot be avoided, whether from a failure of treatment, misdiagnosis or communication breakdown with a client. It is important to keep these in perspective and use constructive criticism positively. Working alongside a more experienced clinician, I was able to reflect on aspects I could have done or said better, and turn any disappointments into areas of improvement and positive focus.

The programme also allowed dedicated time for me to complete my Professional Development Phase (PDP) and this helped to highlight areas where I needed further experience. Regular and ongoing appraisals highlighted my strengths, which boosted my confidence and also identified areas where I needed to improve.

At the company's large 24-hour clinics I observed more complicated surgeries, got involved with hospitalised patients and started gaining experience in other diagnostics such as ultrasonography. I was introduced to other new graduates and attended Medivet's clinical clubs and internal CPD evenings. I quickly developed a support network and avoided the feeling of isolation that can often affect new graduates.

A new graduate's experience during the first few months in practice will undoubtedly impact on their future career. I firmly believe the support and guidance I received on the scheme helped me develop the confidence and skills to progress my career and cope with the daily pressures of being a veterinary surgeon. As a partner, I now face exciting, new challenges providing a busy and varied caseload. I am working towards the RCVS Certificate in Advanced Veterinary Practice, a goal I have had since graduating.

I can already appreciate the new knowledge and skills the first module has given me and feel lucky to work within a clinical team that is encouraging and supportive in the challenges faced when combining studies with work duties.

Alongside a large team of clinicians, I now provide a ‘buddy service’ to new graduates to help support and guide them in their first challenging months or years (Vet Record Careers, September 22, 2012, pi-ii). From my own experience, simply being there on the other end of the phone is all that is often needed to reassure a new graduate, and this is probably one of the most rewarding aspects of my job. I will always look back and be appreciative of the firm footing the residency training programme and the team gave me.

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