Summary From Part 1:
Happiness = Reality - Expectation
Veterinary Medicine has a large % of veterinarians that are dissatisfied and unhappy with their profession. This is in part due to their expectations exceeding the reality of the career. This 4 part blog addresses common disconnects in the profession between expectations and reality, and hopes to improve happiness by closing this expectation-reality gap, and by providing recommendations to improve reality.
Figurine of female veterinarian very happy.
Part 2 of this Blog Series will focus on Veterinarians vs. The Profession
We expect that our veterinary degree will prepare us for every aspect of our career. We expect to know everything, and that we will be 100% ready to work once we graduate. At the very least we expect that OTHERS expect this of us.
1. School gives you the TOOLS and the BASE KNOWLEDGE that you need, to be able to continue to learn and to manage your cases. This career is a life-long learning endeavour, so you will never graduate with 100% of the knowledge, but with tools to know how to find the latest knowledge.
2. TECHNICAL SKILLS and PATTERN RECOGNITION will take time and experience, as will the decision making processes of when and how to apply your knowledge.
1. ACKNOWLEDGE/UNDERSTAND that it is OK that you don’t know everything right away. Being in a profession where you are constantly learning and adapting is one of the amazing things about medicine. As veterinary medicine evolves and expands there is more and more to know, and life-long learning is required. You should EXPECT of yourself to do the best job you can, and constantly be growing and learning, but you can’t EXPECT to know everything.
2. EXPERIENCE EARLY: Get a job or job shadow as a vet nurse or assistant as early as possible to grow your technical skills and to be exposed to cases.
3. INTERNSHIP YEAR: Official or not, treat your first year out of school as an internship. Mentally prepare to do a few hours of study every week while you learn about cases. Get a few good textbooks and read through them. Challenge yourself to learn from every case you see.
4. PICK THE RIGHT CLINIC: Your first job is crucial, pick a clinic where you can grow into the vet you want to be. Prioritize experience, mentorship, quality of medicine and access to diagnostic and procedural tools. This is more important than driving time or salary. (See ‘Picking Your First Job’ Blog).
School gives you the base information and tools to continue to grow and learn as a veterinarian. As a new graduate, it is important to expect your first year or two to be filled with learning (self-directed or organized) and to pick a clinic or environment that fosters your growth and learning to allow you to become the vet that you want to be.
Many vets will take an offered salary at face value and assume this is ‘fair’ or appropriate. Also, even when people know the profession is underpaid as a group, they think 'well there is nothing I can do about it.'
1. The veterinary profession, in general, is underpaid and it is worse in Australia than other countries.
2. Independent clinics, in general, tend to pay better and are more open to negotiation.
3. It is very possible to get a good and appropriate salary but you need to look for it, work for it and negotiate for it. Remember, it is your boss’/managers’ JOB to pay you as little as possible. It isn’t personal, it’s business.
4. The only way to change the overall 'acceptable salary' is to have an industry shift, which requires an active push for change.
1. NEVER ASSUME: Do not assume that what you are offered is either fair or appropriate, always do your research and evaluate your worth! (see Evaluate Your Worth Blogs or Webinar)
2. NEGOTIATE: Always negotiate, and negotiate well! (see Negotiation Blog) Remember, it isn’t personal, it’s business, and it is YOUR JOB to get the best compensation you can for the work you do! Your boss isn’t evil for offering you a lower salary, it isn’t a matter of ‘not respecting’ or ‘not valuing’ you, it is just business. By the exact same logic, it is just business for you to ask for raises and push a higher salary. You are not ‘undermining’ or ‘not respecting’ your boss and their business, you are just push for fair compensation for the job you are doing!
3. POWER IN NUMBERS: Until we ALL start pushing for change in the industry it won’t come! We have to actively create a change. If every new grad demanded a higher salary, then the clinics would be forced to either close their doors, or pay more. Until the drain from salaries out-weighs the profit to the clinic, the clinics will pay more. For this to work we all need to push for higher salaries and refuse to accept salaries that are unfair.
4. VALUE YOURSELF: The more you stand up for yourself, the more you value yourself, the more respect and value you will demand from your boss.
Pessimists are more realistic but Optimists are the ones that change the world, so be part of the solution. Unless we all continue to push the envelope of salaries the ‘Industry Standard’ will never change, so we all need to advocate for ourselves. Also, asking for a raise or higher salary is just business, it’s not personal so take the emotion out of it! Value yourself, advocate for yourself, and get fair compensation!
Expectation: WORKING HOURS
You will work ‘normal’ hours, and be paid for all the hours you work.
Neon 'Open' sign at night.
Clinics are expanding their hours to being open on nights, weekends and holidays. This is becoming the new 'normal' working hours, and isn't being compensated for with higher salaries.
1. With the growing trends of general practices to be open late, on weekends and holidays, the 9-5 job is a thing of the past. As associate GP vets, you are often now expected to work these ‘extended hours’, which were previously either filled by emergency clinics only, or by vets being on-call.
2. These extended hours are often not compensated with higher salaries.
3. Often you will be on salary, or won’t be paid if you work over your allocated hours. Clinics use the pretence that you are ‘slow’ or ‘inefficient’, when the reality is more often that the clinic is inefficient, or understaffed.
1. PICK THE RIGHT CLINIC: During your working interview, pay attention to how the clinic is staffed and how the schedule works. When do the vets' shifts finish vs. when they leave? What hours are part of their normal schedule?
2. EFFICIENCY: Improve your work flow, create processes and templates and delegate tasks to become more efficient. Also, never procrastinate!
3. NEGOTIATE: Negotiate a higher salary if your job involves weekends, late evenings, holidays, overnights, or on-call.
4. DO NOT WORK FOR FREE: As a new grad, or a vet coming back from an extended leave, you are already being paid less for being 'slow' & 'learning', therefore any hours that you work should be paid for! If you are constantly staying late, meet with your boss to either improve clinic efficiency, or agree on overtime rates.
5. SALARY Vs. HOURLY WAGE: Salary is great when you have a schedule that is consistent, and your work hours = paid hours. If you are staying late all the time, discuss with your boss switching to an hourly rate, so that all worked hours are paid.
As the veterinary profession evolves and changes with the economy, clinics are going back to being open late hours/weekends. Associate vets are expected to work these hours without appropriate compensation for these shifts. Also, vets are often staying late due to clinic inefficiencies or understaffing issues, and are not being paid for these hours. It is important to pay attention to the actual working hours of the staff during your working interview, and address these hours head-on in your negotiations. Value your time and do NOT work for free!
We expect all clinics and veterinarians are performing decent medicine, and are staying somewhat up-to-date. We know it is likely not ‘gold standard’, but at least some sort of standard is expected.
1. There is massive variability in the level of medicine, ‘up-to-date ness’ of practices, and patient care from vet to vet and clinic to clinic.
2. Veterinary medicine is self-directed, which is one of the amazing things about the profession. However, this is a double edged sword as it means that there is very little accountability. This allows for many clinics to practice out of date, unsafe, and unethical medicine without being ‘caught’ or ‘punished’.
1. PICK THE RIGHT CLINIC: Pick a clinic that performs the level of medicine and has the patient care with which you are comfortable. When interviewing, pay attention to how cases are managed, and if clinics are malleable to change to the level of care you would like to provide.
2. EXPOSE YOURSELF: Apply and interview at a few different clinics, even if you already have a job 'lined up'. Until you have been exposed to different types of clinics, and different levels of care, you won’t know what you want and need. Don’t limit yourself by not looking at all your options! If you are a working vet, consider locuming at different clinics from time-to-time to increase your exposure.
3. PERSONAL STANDARDS: Create your own standards that you personally uphold. Ensure that you aren’t dropping these standards as you work, as these are signs of compassion fatigue and burn-out. Re-evaluate your standards regularly as they will change as you progress in your profession.
4. ALWAYS BE LEARNING: Be thankful you have picked a profession that will keep you learning, engaged and stimulated! Always strive to learn something new every day, learn about diseases as difficult cases come through. Embrace learning and make it a part of your career!
5. MORBIDITY AND MORTALITY ROUNDS: Find a ‘safe’ group of friends or colleagues for case discussions. M & M Rounds are important to learn from our mistakes (or near misses), to prevent situations from occurring in the future. They are non-judgemental, non-blame conversations that look at the facts of the case for teaching purposes.
Let's Get Personal
My own current personal standards are : “Never make the same mistake twice”, “Start fresh each new consult” and “Always strive for gold standard”.
Part of being a veterinarian means you have entered into a contract with society to continue to learn and grow, and evolve as the profession evolves. It is important that you create a work environment that promotes continued learning, investigations into cases that didn’t go as well as they could, and you hold yourself accountable. Getting exposure to different levels and types of medicine, as well as having personal standards and a way to productively learn from every case is imperative to being an ongoing KICK ASS VET!
Let's Get Personal
When I was 3 months out of school I had a ‘routine spay’ die on recovery from the surgery. I was devastated, absolutely devastated. I cried for months about it and still think about ‘Katie’ all the time. But I learned so much about anaesthesia after that situation, and am a better vet for it.

What was very helpful was discussing the case with my friends and colleagues, going over what happened, where things could have gone wrong, etc. Some of my friends were very sweet and supportive and insisted that I did everything I could have and there must have been something underlying and wrong with the patient. Although that was nice to hear it didn’t help me become a better vet and figure out what I could do differently next time. It didn't empower me that I could be better and prevent this from happeneing again, it made me feel hopeless for the future.

Other friends and colleagues discussed the details of the case with me, and pointed out early markers that I mis-interpreted or missed that could have resulted in a different outcome. Both groups were supportive, but the latter group was more helpful. I thank those friends so much for being honest with me, even when it was uncomfortable.

So get a group of friends/collegues, vets that you work with, classmates, mentors, etc. and create a safe place for open dialogue about cases.
We expect our day will be filled with hands on 'saving'. We think we will be working up cases, thinking, doing procedures, and really saving animals for each case. We picture ourselves on our feet, moving about, active all day.
White fluffy puppy playing with white fluffy kitten.
The perception of veterinary medicine 'all you do is play with puppies and kittens all day' is true for the odd consult, however in reality you spend much more time in front of a computer writing records, and talking to human clients.
1. Veterinarian Job = diagnosing, prescribing treatment plans, performing surgeries/ultrasounds/physical exams/procedures, writing records and client communication. Hands on care will be performed by techs/nurses. This will vary clinic to clinic, but your job should be mainly thinking and writing, with some ‘Vet Only’ hands-on tasks. A LOT of your day is filled with writing records and making plans, and less hands on 'saving'.
2. Client Communication: We all love the animals, but that doesn’t usually extend to their human counterparts. Unfortunately they are a huge part of the career, and a giant portion of your day will be talking to humans. Without the ability to communicate well with the owners, you cannot treat their animals.
3. The Big Save: Most cases will either be focusing on preventative measurements, or managing chronic disease cases. The ‘big save’ is uncommon.
1. PICK THE RIGHT CLINIC: Find the level of ‘hands on’ patient care that you want. During your interview pay attention to exactly what the day-to-day work is like in that clinic.
2. EFFICIENCY: Template your paperwork, install processes to improve work-flow, delegate tasks that can be done by others. This will decrease ‘wasted time’, will improve communication throughout your clinic, and will also decrease medical mistakes.
3. EMBRACE COMMUNICATION: Communication is a skill like any other, practice makes perfect. The better communicators we are, the better patient care we can deliver. Embrace that communication is a HUGE part of your job, and treat it as you would any other skill and practice. Job shadow someone great at communicating to gain insight. OR, if you really hate communicating, pick a career path that doesn’t involve talking to clients such as radiology, pathology, research, etc.
4. PREVENTATIVE MEDICINE SAVES LIVES: Preventive medicine is the best medicine. Re-set your goals to getting as many animals protected as possible, get them vaccinated, desexed and on pet insurance! If you really want the ‘big saves’, become an ECC specialist or an emergency doctor. Remember though, a lot of their cases die. You save way more animals each day by vaccinating and preventing disease than an ECC specialist will save in a year!
The veterinary job is thinking, performing veterinary specific tasks, communicating with clients, and writing records. The more efficient your clinic, the less ‘hands-on’ you will be with your patients. Pick a clinic that has the level of hands-on care that you desire. Also, if you are a poor communicator acknowledge this and practice it as you would any other skill.
Please continue to Part 3/4 'Expectations vs. Reality: Vet vs. Boss...'
Written by Dr. Ann Herbst BSc, DVM

Published July 10th, 2019

Advocate for yourself, you are the only one that will!

Most Recent Blogs
KICK ASS Boundaries for Locums
Locuming can leave you just as stressed and exhausted as full-time work, if you don't set the right boundaries!
Imposter Syndrome
Chances are you will experience Imposter Syndrome in your career, so tackle it head on!
KICK ASS Confidence
Confidence is knowing that you cannot know everything, and new/recent graduates need to know this!
Stay In Touch With Kick Ass Vets