At vet school, you learn some basic clinical skills and are taught how to conduct a general clinical examination to prepare you for EMS placements in veterinary surgeries. What they don’t prepare you for is making a complete idiot out of yourself.
Before my first clinical placement I told the vets I would be working with that I had only just finished second year and had no pharmacological knowledge as of yet, non-existent surgical experience and very little understanding of small animal medicine in general.
Luckily, all the vets in the practice were very good at judging the level of my understanding and seemed to find the right balance between patience and pushing me for answers.
Things seemed to be going OK. I’d successfully taken blood samples and started to make sense of abdominal palpation. However, applying clinical skills taught at vet school isn’t necessarily straightforward – cadavers have a distinct lack of weapons in the form of claws and teeth, but I was coping with that reasonably well and taking note of the vets’ advice on particular techniques.
This was until a few days in, when I found myself working with the head vet…
In the same morning, I managed to spray penicillin all over my face while trying to administer an injection, incorrectly insert an endotracheal tube despite being 99% sure it was OK, and cover myself in guinea-pig blood while clipping nails, leaving me to wear the stained tabard for the rest of the day.
To add insult to injury, I later misread the scales and recited the incorrect weight without thinking (it didn’t occur to me that there’s no way a fully grown border collie could weigh 10kg).
Isolated, these incidents might not seem like the end of the world, but when they all happen in the same day in front of the head vet and when one of the clients involved is your neighbour, you do feel like shouting “I am a vet student – honest”, despite feeling like a complete moron.
This was, however, followed by days of mini-triumph, such as inserting an IV catheter correctly for the first time or scaling and polishing a dog’s teeth myself.
The important thing to remember is that you are inexperienced, and you just have to accept there will be days when nothing seems to go your way, get past them and carry on with your head held high – even if it is covered in yellow spots of penicillin.