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Vet Student:  Are you afraid of performing surgery?

Posted by Cari Wise on Feb 16, 2016 8:00:00 AM


Vet Student, the expectation placed on a newly graduated veterinarian is daunting.   We are expected to hit the ground running with working knowledge of all species, the ability to diagnose any disease, and the skill to perform a myriad of surgical procedures.

We are to jump into all of this without being afraid, right?

At least this is what we tell ourselves.

The experience we receive performing live animal surgery during vet school is minimal. And we don’t all go on to complete internships and residencies to hone our skills. The fact is, the majority of us join clinical practice of some sort following graduation, and the degree of mentoring we receive from our new employers varies greatly.

surgery1.pngWhat’s more, we are not only expected to be the surgeon, but the anesthesiologist as well! If we are lucky we will have a registered veterinary technician to assist us, but even that is not a guarantee.

Either way, we ultimately bear the responsibility of selecting the appropriate anesthetic agents and making necessary modifications throughout the procedure to assure our patient is safe. And don’t forget, we are to manage all of this while performing surgery at the same time.

In reality, as new veterinarians we are terrified, and rightly so!

Rest assured that the fear subsides eventually. With experience comes a certain level of comfort, and the anxiety mellows to a healthy level. You can get a jump on this process during vet school by taking advantage of the opportunities available to you. 

I recommend you immerse yourself in veterinary practice (and not just NAVLE prep) in your “free time”. Find a local practice or two where you can hang out periodically. By watching the way the hospital functions behind-the-scenes you will become more comfortable with the processes.

Consider volunteering at a humane society or high-volume spay/neuter clinic during school. Sure, you won’t be allowed to perform surgery, but you can help with all of the other stuff and learn from how these practices manage anesthesia, surgery and unexpected complications.

surgery2.pngStart looking for your preceptorship (or internship, or whatever they call it at your school) early! Start building those relationships during your first few years, and ask if you can shadow at the practice during school breaks. As they get to know you, you will get to do more. By the time your official preceptorship comes around you will be ahead of the game and will likely get more scalpel time!

After graduation and licensure, become a volunteer!  Humane societies, high-volume spay/neuter clinics and other animal welfare agencies are often in search of DVMs to volunteer surgery services one or two days a week, and many will even pay for your service! Not only does this provide a great opportunity for you improve your surgical technique, but you can serve your local community as well.

Finally, don’t be afraid to ask for help! Some new employers don’t offer assistance simply because they don’t want to step on your toes. Keeping the line of communication open, asking lots of questions, and requesting assistance when needed will go a long way toward building great relationships with your co-workers, and easing your stress level as well.

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Topics: Surgery, Stress Management, Vet School, Career

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