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Time for your marathon moment, class of 2020
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  1. Nigel Taylor

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Nigel Taylor is a locum vet and consultant vet for the University of Exeter

There’s a moment, as you pull off the black bin liner that’s been keeping you warm, when, with a sharp intake of chilly, early morning Blackheath air, you suddenly realise the enormity of what you’ve taken on. Stretched out ahead, as far as you can see, are over 35,000 people and 26.2 miles. Yes, you’re on the starting line of the London Marathon!

I guess we all feel like that, nervous and not a little excited, when we first join the veterinary profession as a new graduate.

What are those first few miles of our professional journey going to be like? We’ve spent ages training but there’s still the uncertainty of those early steps. Will it be like a controlled gentle jog of Parkrun proportions or a calamitous hamstring-tearing, adrenaline-fuelled sprint that sees you drop out before you’ve covered the first mile or two.

Those early days in that first role can be quite challenging. Gone is the comfort blanket of university clinics with all the specialist expertise, help and guidance you’ve relied on as you’ve felt your way to becoming the veterinary clinician you’ve studied hard to be.

Suddenly, there’s a cold clinical wind blowing and you feel you’re on your own

Suddenly, there’s a cold clinical wind blowing and you feel you’re on your own. Diagnosis and decision making are down to you.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, clients can be very demanding and it can really be a struggle finding that they don’t always accept your beautifully constructed diagnostic and treatment plan, even though it may well be based on your recently acquired, most up-to-date, evidence-based veterinary knowledge. But, you have to learn that not everything is going to go your way. Even the most routine surgical procedures can throw you a curve ball when you least expect it.

So, it’s important, right from your earliest days in practice, to realise that you’re part of a team. From the most senior vet to the most junior receptionist, you’re all in it together. A team that’ll help you succeed. Veterinary nurses, in particular, are a great source of support when you’re finding the novel hustle of the clinical world a little challenging. Trained to a very high standard themselves and, more importantly, highly practised and competent in all the many and varied complex procedures you’ll encounter, they are the very best of clinical mentors. Watch them as they work, admire their skills and wonder as they cope with even the most recalcitrant of patients. And they’ll also teach you solid foundations of compassion and care that you’ll carry with you right through your professional career.

Oh, and remember why you chose to become a vet in the first place – you enjoy working with animals, right?

Don’t feel the need to always chase the most difficult of cases. There’s a lifetime of those waiting for you. Learn to enjoy the basic consultations, like vaccinations. If you’re working in small animal practice, take time out to play with the puppies and the kittens you encounter. Your clients like to see that someone genuinely likes their pets and you’ll be building subtle but effective bonds with both the animals and their owners. There’ll be times, especially after an emotionally challenging euthanasia, when the arrival of a young puppy or kitten in the consult room will be just the wellbeing tonic you’ll need.

Veterinary practice is a lot like the London Marathon. From a walking start you’ll gradually pick up speed and confidence until the journey seems almost effortless. Passing those mile marks of increasing experience and developing specialist skills and qualifications becomes ever more pleasurable.

Then, sooner than you know, you’ll be focusing on your own Usain Bolt moment in the Mall – the sprint finish and quiet smile that means you’ve achieved your ambitions. Trust me (I’ve run it three times so far), it’s quite a moment!

Welcome to the profession, class of 2020. ●

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