I have been out of veterinary school for almost five years now. I can remember meeting a veterinarian during my first year of practice who told me that it took him about 5 years to really feel settled into his career. He said that was the “magic” moment where he felt like he’d seen almost everything at least once, he finally felt like his head was above water and his confidence grew. I don’t know that I can say I’ve seen everything at least once, but I do feel much more comfortable and much more confident. Personally, the difficult part about transitioning from school to work had very little to do with the medical cases I was seeing. I feel strongly that all veterinary students receive a solid education no matter what school they attend. Most importantly I believe that as veterinarians we are trained to be life-long learners. So, for new graduates this means that we (hopefully) realize that we don’t know everything, and we know how and when to seek help when it’s needed.
No, for me the most difficult part of the transition from school to work was the isolation I felt after leaving veterinary school. It was not something anyone had ever warned me about and it was very unexpected, especially since I was returning to my hometown to work. I went into practice with my father so I was (literally) surrounded by family. One of my veterinary school classmates started at the same practice on the same day as me so I had someone to “compare notes” with but still, I felt somewhat isolated. I have a lot of sympathy for my veterinary school classmates that moved to a new town to work without knowing a single person, without the comfort of a safety net.
Here’s a brief description of my veterinary school career, let’s see if you can relate. For three years, I was shuffled from room to room with roughly the same 100 people for 8-10 hours a day. In the evenings and on weekends, I would hang out with (vet school) friends either studying or finding ways to avoid studying. I lived with a roomate that was also a vet student. Most of my classmates not only lived with a vet student roomate but they also lived in a trailer park surrounded by vet student neighbors. Then during my clinical rotations I rotated through departments with smaller groups of students but the whole time still found myself working in a hospital full of veterinary students, residents and interns. Basically, for four years I was surrounded by as many as 100 people that were in my exact same situation. We shared highs and lows, similar experiences, common stressors and shared stress-relieving activities.
Then, the day that we’d all been working for for the better part of a decade arrived – GRADUATION! We graduated, took some pictures, ate some cake, packed up the apartment (trailer for most) and headed out to start this thing called “real life” that’d been eluding us for so long. We’d been dreaming about all the things we’d do when we were finally a part of the real world. Then, you move, start your new job, look around and suddenly realize that things look a little different without 100 people surrounding you anymore. Now you have coworkers, bosses, clients, and, if you’re lucky, a few friends and family surrounding you. Not so bad, right? Except that they all have their own lives that are very different than yours. They have their own set of experiences, highs, and lows that are different than yours. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a bad thing. It actually tursn out to be a very good thing, but it’s just very different after living four years in the “bubble” of vet school. When the reality sinks in that your 100-person-safety-net is gone, it’s eye-opening. Or at least it was for me!
So, now looking back on this experience with a few years under my belt I can offer one piece of advice for how to smooth this transition from school to work. One thing that can help ease the sense of isolation that is felt when your vet school safety net is gone. GET INVOLVED. I’m not just saying this because this is an AVMA blog, it really helped me in those first few years of my career. Getting involved in various things, including organized veterinary medicine, started rebuilding that safety net little by little. Take the time to step out of the office, take a breath of fresh air and get some perspective. For me this happened through a few outlets. I got involved in my local church and started building relationships that nourished my soul. I made it a point to get together with family and friends, even after those weeks where I wanted to go home and stay in my pajamas until Monday morning (we’ve all had those weeks). And, I got involved with organized veterinary medicine. Through some local get togethers, state association meetings, and an AVMA committee, I regained some aspects of that vet-school-safety-net that I had been missing. It reminded me that there are a whole lot of people out there that are in the same boat as me. They share similar highs and lows, similar experiences, and similar stressors. They just may not be sitting next to me for 8 hours a day like they were in vet school.
I would love to hear what helped you ease the transition from school to work. Feel free to leave a comment below, it may really help a recent graduate who may be treading water just trying to keep their head above water in this transition.