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“Drawing the line between concern and paralysing fear comes with the experience of passing many humdrum days where nothing very exciting happens”

12 April 2021, at 2:00pm

I have been following a vet student/young vet Facebook group recently and, well – how to put it… it is a pretty gloomy place. To say there is a negative slant on working life would be an understatement.

I think there are several biases at work here. In any environment people don’t take to social media to report a good to middling day. Vets don’t ring each other up or contact the VDS to say they have had a markedly average day at work, nothing died, at least not unexpectedly, most people paid most of their bills and none of the clients caused a scene at reception. That is the reality of life in practice and for recent graduates/final year students reading this, make sure you keep that in mind.

To offset this bias, I thought I might post a regular dispatch from the front line, with a more realistic, verging on optimistic, view on things. To do this I am told by the page admin that everything I write will have to pass through their scrutiny to make sure I am not advertising, falling foul of the RCVS (nice to see fear of that noble institution sets in before graduation) or inciting a riot or such like. If I can clear those editorial hurdles then they may publish what I write on their page. I have so far got one story on there. It had one like (from an old friend – thank you Colin) and no comments, compared to the flurry of interaction on a doom and gloom post. I guess there is a limited market for good news – just look at the headlines on the front page of a paper or news website. I asked a psychologist friend exactly why this is and he replied that humans are wired to be exquisitely interested and pay attention to anything that may cause them harm. A good survival tool in the ages when wild animals, falling rocks and lack of shelter were your main worries. Not so useful for getting through our modern lives.

We have had a student on EMS this week. He is by his own admission a typical millennial and worries about things too much. After very competently completing a bitch spay, he didn’t come in the next day as he was so anxious about it, that something may have gone wrong. In his words he had “The Fear”. I tried to explain that having concern for your patients is essential and without it you could not be a vet, or not a decent one anyway. But drawing the line between concern and paralysing fear comes with the experience of passing many humdrum days where nothing very exciting happens.

I am also teaching my eldest to drive. It is a similar feeling of having to think back to how it was when I learned, how what is so natural and routine to me is a massive deal to people starting out. After hearing the engine revving and screaming round a darkened industrial estate on her 17th birthday plus one day, my daughter asked: “How much clutch do you need after you have changed gear and just driving around”. None. Of course, you don’t, but I had not even realised that I knew to do that, just lift the left foot after a gear change. Things quietened down a lot after passing that little nugget of information on.

In veterinary practice like anywhere, wisdom cannot just be handed on like a morsel of fact. As Walt Whitman said in Song of the Open Road: “Here is the test of wisdom,/Wisdom is not finally tested in schools,/Wisdom cannot be pass’d from one having it to another not having it”

How much to use the clutch, how much to care, how much to fear... It is a long process, gaining veterinary wisdom. Good luck to all of you starting out this year down the veterinary road. Keep a lid on the Fear and don’t burn out your clutch.