Long nights, long hours and a long road ahead

Long nights, long hours and a long road ahead

On a much-needed day off, Drs. Greenskin and Deerin Headlights compare life as new grads in small animal and equine veterinary practice.
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Aug 16, 2016

Illustration by Ryan Ostrander and Anne McDonald Campfield, DVMDr. Greenskin is finally enjoying a day off and planning to meet one of her favorite vet school classmates for lunch to catch up and compare life stories since graduation. She feels that her coveted day off is well-deserved, particularly since Mr. Sketch's lab puppy has recovered quickly and completely after his enterotomy. Another innocent puppy’s life plucked from the grasp of the deadly corncob! And who would have guessed—after all that drama, Mr. Sketch even sent a thank you note to Dr. Greenskin for saving the pup. No cookies or gift card, but still a welcome surprise! 

Greenskin pulls up to a small sandwich shop downtown and parks next to a shiny vet truck. She immediately recognizes her buddy sitting on the outside terrace. “Well, if it isn’t Doctor Deerin Headlights!”

“Hey, Greenskin! I almost didn't recognize you without a beer in your hand!” A few more jabs about the good old days of scandalous vet school parties and relationships follow.

Deerin goes on to describe the ups and downs of his new life as an equine veterinarian. His bosses, four business partners who started Lucky and Fellows Equine Hospital in 1979, are the only equine hospital within their adjacent six counties and business has boomed for them. Having hired two surgeons and an internal medicine specialist, they have created a name for themselves and have worked hard to make it happen. As a successful equine practice, they’re bombarded each year with internship applications from eager new graduates looking forward to a long and fulfilling career in equine practice. The group has turned out dozens of interns over the years, the majority of which have moved on to thrive as small or mixed animal practitioners.

But Dr. Headlights goes on to describe the long working hours, constant on-call duty and sparse support staff that define his life as a new equine associate. He’s had to man a full hospital barn by himself on occasion and has little to no backup for problem cases on the overnight shifts. The whole scenario sounds dangerous and difficult to Greenskin, who begins to think she has it “easy” with her cushy hours and full, experienced support staff at her companion animal hospital.

As the two young veterinarians exchange stories and ideas about their budding professional careers, some common themes emerge. To start, they fully acknowledge the sacrifices made by those who built their practices from the ground up, and they’re grateful for mentorship and being hired. They consider themselves lucky, but they worry for some of their classmates who haven’t been so fortunate. Like Dr. Rock, who moved to Hardplace, California, where the job she was promised turned out to be much less desirable than what was originally advertised. Now she’s stuck until she can save enough for moving expenses for her family to find a better situation. Or Dr. Flounder, who has already left two different jobs because of “philosophical differences” and is now facing long-term unemployment. 

They also worry about their own long-term opportunities, given increasing competition between clinics in the more sought-after locales for veterinary jobs. And with armies of new veterinarians coming down the pike who are willing to accept lower starting salaries, Drs. Greenskin and Headlights feel some serious pressure to start making their mark somewhere—and soon. They can’t help but feel that their current situation is vastly different from the conditions their mentors encountered so many decades ago.

The transition to the real world has been harsh to say the least—but these two young doctors are definitely up to the challenge. 

To be continued! 

Are you having a tough time adjusting to your old crotchety employer? Is your new inexperienced associate just not fitting in at your practice? Please send stories, ideas and comments to dvmnews@advanstar.com. All emails will be kept confidential, but the scenario may be featured in an upcoming installment of Old School, New School.

Dr. Jeremy Campfield works in emergency and critical care private practice in Southern California. This series originally appeared in Pulse, the publication of the Southern California Veterinary Medical Association.