Welcome to Our Newest Colleagues!
Being an academic, one of the most satisfying moments for me comes each May when our faculty attends the convocation ceremony that anoints our new graduates with their degrees, then gently nudges them out of the nest. As we observe the excitement and optimism on your faces as you walk across the stage, know that we wish you all the very best.
The other item that I appreciate about convocation is that it serves as a reminder of the Veterinarian’s Oath that you will all recite (https://www.avma.org/resources-tools/avma-policies/veterinarians-oath). Some years ago, Dr. Carl Osborne, a much beloved professor at the University of Minnesota, wrote of the solemn importance of the veterinarian’s oath, and of practicing veterinary medicine ethically and conscientiously (https://www.dvm360.com/view/are-you-practicing-veterinary-medicine-conscientiously). In the end, he distilled it down to the following simple advice: “If we, as veterinarians, accept the Golden Rule as a guide for our conscience, and take the lead in applying it, we likely will be able to fulfill our promise to practice our profession conscientiously. In context of ethical interactions with our patients, clients and associates, the ultimate test of our conscience is the conduct that it dictates or inspires.” I would encourage you all to make it a habit of periodically reflecting on the Oath, and on Dr. Osborne’s words, throughout your career.
If you are about to graduate, you have probably already experienced the “Oh S#*t!” moment of panic. This usually occurs in January after completing board exams, when you realize there is still so much left to learn, and so very little time in which to learn it. Well, guess what! You don’t know it all now, and you never will. No one ever does. The first six months of practice will be a steep learning curve, followed by an only slightly less steep curve during the second six months, and so on. Being a veterinarian means being a lifelong learner. But, along with the occasional periods of anxiety that come from not knowing everything, you will also feel the tremendous fulfillment that comes from helping animals and people. When I entered practice, I quickly learned that, while I liked the animals, what I most loved was interacting with the producers. I hope you have the same experience.
In spite of the many successes and rewards you will achieve, you will also make the occasional mistake. We all do. When this happens, be kind to yourself, reflect on and learn from these failures, then move on. Similarly, you’ll be faced with many questions and challenges that you do not know the answer to. Get comfortable saying “I don’t know….but I’ll find out and get back to you.” And, if you’re stumped, need information, a second opinion, or assistance with a procedure you aren’t yet comfortable with, don’t be afraid to reach out to your colleagues to ask for help. Set up a weekly clinic rounds session on Friday mornings at the local café. Reach out to your old professors or drop an email to a “guru”’ halfway around the country. More times than not, they’ll happily offer assistance.
I would also encourage you to build your network through AABP and regional veterinary associations. Join the AABP mentorship program and be matched with an experienced mentor who will provide ongoing guidance (http://aabp.org/jobs/mentorship/). Or, more organically, form your own peer-group of recent food animal graduates practicing in your area, and meet for dinner every couple of months to enjoy comradery as you share experiences, ideas and challenges. Take advantage of the AABP Recent Graduate conference, the Annual conference, or the many great workshops, podcasts and webinars, both for great CE as well as to build your network. And, please get involved with AABP. This is your organization. A great place to start is by volunteering to serve on a committee that interests you (at http://aabp.org/ click on the Committees tab).
Finally, take care of your mental and physical health. The work will always be there. Throwing yourself into it without creating limits will eventually catch up with you. Work cannot be all you are, nor can it fill the hole. It will never be enough. So, learn to create boundaries when you turn off and unplug from work, then develop hobbies or other outside activities, and cultivate your personal relationships. If you do find yourself struggling, please never hesitate to reach out to family, friends or colleagues. Mental health is one of AABP’s priorities, with the Mental Health and Well-Being Committee developing numerous resources available on the website, and wellbeing support groups available through the Veterinary Hope Foundation (https://veterinaryhope.org/).
While I have tried to share some limited advice in this article, the collective wisdom of the AABP membership is a far more powerful thing. I encourage you to grab a cup of coffee then read the many well wishes and excellent words of advice offered to you this spring by our members (and a big thanks to all who contributed!). Again, congratulations to the class of 2023! This is such an incredibly rewarding profession, with so many different paths to fulfilling the purpose of helping animals and people. We are honored and excited to have you join the profession of bovine veterinary medicine.
Dr. Sandra Godden