“I didn’t.. totally realise.. how the public’s perception would influence how you feel about the job. Particularly clinical practice, there’s so much. You don’t just be a vet, you have to be a counsellor and a sounding board, and there’s just so much that comes down to the client, and how they treat you as well. And you get these people who are just so unreasonable, but I think a lot of the time you tend to blame yourself, and that’s really hard.
I think that side of things is so different to what I thought – that people would come in and want to do their best for their animal, it’s just so wrong. And i think they just don’t quite realise how much pressure clinical practice can involve.
I think I.. didn’t realise how hard it would be – just the constant decisions. And I think the other thing I found really hard, was that nothing follows the textbook. That just doesn’t happen! You don’t know what’s wrong, and it’s really frustrating, and you just want to give them some steroids, haha!”
“I guess the beauty of StreetVet, which is different to my private clients, is that.. the answer is always yes. Because I get to decide whether I give treatment or not, my answer is always yes. When you’re dealing with a private client they may not want to do something because of cost or what not, but I don’t have to worry about that. And that’s what I really love about it. Money is just not.. at the moment.
Maybe there’ll come a time where there will have to be restrictions on what we can do, in that we have to think about the environment the animals are living in. We haven’t had a diabetic yet, but what am I gonna do if I get one? Those kind of things are just life and there are restrictions.
But in terms of cost or decision making on whether something can have a surgery or not, I’m in a very fortunate position where Sam and I don’t really have to say no, which is great – and long may it continue!
The other thing that is different when we’re dealing with a StreetVet client – I’ve got all the time in the world; I’m not going anywhere. Whereas when you’re in practice you’re under restrictions, you’ve got another person waiting. So I think that relationship makes it different. But in terms of respecting how they’re looking after their animal, I’d like to think there’s no difference.”
“I guess.. when you actually start to dissect it, aside from the personality type, the perfectionism, the inability to cope with failure, or admit that you’re in trouble.. I think you’re also in this little bubble of vet life, then you just get spat out into different parts of the country all alone, with no friends, when you’ve lived in a literal vet bubble.
When I was out in the middle of nowhere doing OOH on my own, you’ve not got that much friends and family for support, you’re thrown into this experience of wanting to fix – that’s your whole being, you just want to fix this animal, but people in the public just don’t see that; or the flip side where sometimes you can’t.
What that does to people emotionally; there’s no other profession where you do euthanasia, and in the medical profession, they’ve got therapy especially if you’re working in palliative care or something. We just go, there you go, there’s a euthanasia, 10 minutes later, you’re cuddling a puppy. There’s no thought for what that actually does to you, mentally. And the emotional rollercoaster that we can go through, day in and day out.
I did 5 euthanasias once in one day, and nobody thought anything about my mental health, except the receptionist, and she came up and said, are you alright? I was like no, really not alright, but y’know, you just.. learn to do it, but it all takes its toll.”
“I now realise how many other things I can do within my profession. I just thought you’re a vet now, you go into practice and that’s it. But now I realise oh my god, so many things you can do with it, that’s just amazing.
So I think we need to bring to people at all those congresses and actually show them what they can be doing. Because sometimes people feel like they’ve failed because they’re not in practice. It’s just not like that at all. Would I do anything else? No. I still love my career, definitely. I’ve had times where I fell out of love with it, but we’ve rekindled of late.
StreetVet. StreetVet is the best thing I’ve ever done. Genuinely. I hate sounding old; but you no longer feel intimidated in practice. And what I mean by that is you know your own mind. You maybe don’t think you’re right all the time, I’m not saying that, but you get a monkey on your back and you feel like you’re doing the right thing. You learn to trust your own instincts.
My practice recently got taken over by a corporate, there’s just been a lot of changes in my career from that point of view. If I was a new graduate or younger, I would maybe feel like I had to do things a certain way and kind of accept that maybe I wouldn’t have a qualified nurse that day, or accept that I do this.
Whereas now I’ve been doing it long enough where I just come out and say no, I’m not doing that. It’s having the confidence in your own self that there’s nothing wrong, I’m going to stick to the standard and I’m going to do it. I think that just comes with doing it for a bit.
I watch all these new graduates, and they’re doing something because they’re being told, that’s the situation that you’re in. You don’t have this, this, or this, today. And I’m going to them and saying no, you’re not doing it. You need to stand up for yourself – I don’t know if I would’ve. But I like to hope that other people start to recognise that. Cos otherwise you end up in situations that are going to put you at risk.”
“If I could teach all the students something… I think what’s most important for me, is that if you have a place that’s nice to come into in the morning, if you have a good relationship with your nurses, bosses, your colleagues, it’s just much easier to cope with all the problems that will definitely hit you down the road.
If you’re in a good clinic, it’s easy. It’s easy cos we all like each other, and there’s no hierarchy. It doesn’t matter if you’re a nurse or boss or whatever, we try and take care of each other.
And if you can take home that message with you, it’ll be easier. Cos you will make mistakes; we still make mistakes! But if you think that you’re covered by your good colleagues, it’s easier.
When I was younger and straight out of vet school, I used to think that I should be able to do everything without making mistakes. I’d make a mistake and think I was really really stupid, but that’s how it is. You make mistakes, just don’t make it twice. And share it. If you feel safe, you can share it.”
“My favourite part of the job? I think it’s this – going around and seeing people who need help, and they’re happy when we come, and they’re often happy when we leave as well. And my colleagues. I really really enjoy my colleagues, and I enjoy not knowing what I’m doing when I get in in the morning, and seeing what they day brings. I really like it.
My daughter comes along with me quite often, and she likes it. I think if she wants to be a vet, that’s fine, if she doesn’t, find something else. But so far, I’ve been really really happy with my job. Am I encouraging her? Not really. But at the same time, I’m not discouraging her.
My mom told me, and I always remember this – she said, you don’t always have to be the best, but don’t be the worst. If I can teach my daughter that, I think she can cope with the stress of vet school. If you think you have to be an ‘A’ student all the time, life is going to be really hard. Do the best you can, that’s all you can do, and try not to make the same mistake twice.”
“I don’t think I was, but my friends say I was always into animals. And when I was a little girl I said I want to be a vet; but I don’t remember it. When I started vet school, I’d never seen a vet before. I had no animals, I lived in the centre of Copenhagen, so I don’t know why I became a vet.
When I had my first two kids, I had some years where I wanted to go out of practice and do something else, because it was really hard work – long hours and stressful. I spent a year out of practice and I missed it, and I came back and I really really liked it.
I think inside of me, I got things right, and I’m more calm. I definitely got better at dealing with the stress. Absolutely. Actually I’m never stressed. I mean, getting older and having kids helped me get things into perspective. What’s important, and what’s not important. I’m here 6 or 8 hours a day, and I do my best, and that’s all I can do.
What I hear from the young vet students when they come on placements, is that they are stressed during study. When I studied in the mid-90s, there was hardly any stress. Of course we were stressed when we had exams and we were busy, but people weren’t.. crashing. What I see with my friends of the same age and work experience – those that don’t like practice and are stressed, they leave it. They do something else and earn some more money and love it; and the rest of us staying here, we’re happy and poor!”
“I find it most interesting when I’m surprised by things I thought I knew. From time to time you run into things that you’ve never seen before. When I was educated, there were just one-man mixed practices. What you see now are larger practices split up into smaller units – doing horses, or small animals.. but in a way, it makes your day more predictable.
Because I’ve come from a mixed background I still find it really interesting to hear what they’re doing in the small animal field; when they find something that I’ve never heard about before. I think it’s a dynamic situation that we’re in because so many things happen all the time.
You’re constantly stimulated by things that are in your head, now you should do it this way and not the other.. I find that really interesting to see that what you thought was science and good practice 2 or 3 years ago, is nothing of the kind today.”
The first job I was in, was mainly in cattle. You see mastitis all the time, and from time to time you see necrotic mastitis. And they are pretty nasty because they stink like hell, and demarcate the lost area, and you have to sometimes amputate the lost part.
When you see a very large quarter of an udder hanging by a string, you don’t think that that area might still be vascularised. So, if you have a quarter of an udder hanging by the remaining part of the artery, don’t cut it with a knife!
I looked like hell, and there was blood all over, it was like trying to catch a water hose, and it looked like a slaughter. The farmer was there, and he was almost as red as I was. Afterwards he asked me – did you expect that? No, I would have done something else if I did!
“I graduated in ’82. I didn’t hear much about it in younger persons, but in older persons like me, some of them decided to say goodbye on their own terms because they have access to some substances which make it very easy. I knew a veterinarian he ended his life by his own hand. I think he was kind of depressed, but yeah.. I don’t know. I think he was working in a one-man practice, and he ended up being old, shutting down, and not having any colleagues.
I worked in a two-man practice when I started, and my boss had a very serious back problem, and left me to do all his work after 2 months I think. So I was kind of thrown into the deep end; not all survive, but I did.
I think what has changed very much, a big difference from my time.. In my time, it was like the wild west. We just went out and did it, and we were not put in front of people afterwards, where we said that’s bad and you should have done this. So the kind of things you run into, legally, very quickly in today’s situation.. that was not an issue at the time. We were kind of happy-go-lucky, much more than today, and I think what has changed, and I can see it in my daughter’s generation.. They are so keen on being correct in all they do.
I think that in our field, is that we need to be so certain, and we’re so afraid to make mistakes. But in our field, we need to make mistakes – because if you don’t do anything, it’s worse than doing something. And I feel sorry for the new vets, because they are so afraid to make a decision and be sure of themselves that it’s good enough for that situation, because they did the best they could. And that’s more that enough. That’s more than enough. But I don’t think they feel the same. I still see a lot of my fellow students once a year in September, and we have done that for years, about 15-20 of us, so one-fifth of the class. And it’s really nice to see them. We’re still talking about what we started with, it was totally the wild west compared to what we’re working with now. And that makes it really difficult for the new graduates to get adjusted to practice and FEEL that they’re doing alright. Because we were working on a much lower level. It was not that go
I think I deal in different ways. I look at it from a theoretical perspective. People go to me and say, oh isn’t it really hard when your patients die, pass away, come to the end stage. And yeah, it is really hard, because when you’re dealing with a lymphoma patient, who’s on a CHOP protocol, and you’re seeing them almost every week for 20 weeks, you get invested in the family, the parents, you build that emotional attachment with your patient. I almost think of them as my dogs, because I’ve lost my dogs, they’re becoming my dogs.
And it is. It’s really heartbreaking. You bond with them, you cry with them once they’ve left. But you also live with that.. memory, that you’ve given that owner an extra 6 months or 9 months with their animal, that they otherwise couldn’t have had. And they’re so thankful and grateful for that. And it’s just so heartwarming. It’s just so heartwarming that you’re a part of that journey with them, to be able to give them that extra time. So yes, it’s hard, but it’s also satisfying.
It’s because I love my patients. People go oh I love my patients, but I, I LOVE my patients. You’ve seen me with them; they come in and I’m like hi!!! And they get a rapport with me, they know the room, they know what we’re going to do.
I’m all about it needing to be positive reinforcement, it needs to be fun and inviting. It has to be good for them. Because if it’s not good for the animal, I mean, it’s not fair, if it’s not what they want to come and do. Cos they don’t have that choice. So I have that responsibility to make it the best possible experience for them, that I can give them. And for the students – if you can see how involved and how much I love seeing my patients, you can only hope that some of that rubs off on you guys.
It’s so varied as well – I’m not just sitting here giving chemotherapy every day. There’s radiation therapy, I get to ink all the tumours, keep the soft tissue tumours, I get to follow them through. Like Caesar, who was an osterosarc, he’d come through, we’d stage him, we get the CT and surgical input, and I still look after him as he goes through surgery and his amputation, I’m still his nurse. And he leaves, and he comes back for chemotherapy, and I’m still his nurse. So he learns to love me, and his mum’s got that constant contact with that one person, and it just works so well.
I always get the warm fuzzy phone calls, after I’ve been with a client for so many months, going thank you so much, the whole team at Massey is awesome, they can’t speak highly enough of the students and surgeons. But every now and then, I just love it when they go, but you, you’ve been amazing. You’ve just made it so easy for us, and it’s been so nice to have somebody to talk to.
And you normally get those phone calls on a really rough or down day, and it just lifts you – it absolutely lifts you, and you’re walking on a little bit of a high thinking, I’ve really made a difference for somebody who’s gone through this tough experience, and we’ve managed to make it just a little bit nicer.
I am a veterinary nurse, of 22 years, and currently my role is the oncology service coordinator. Why oncology? I’m really lucky, because the nurses originally used to rotate, and we were finding that that wasn’t working, because the different services would get somebody different every few weeks, and it just wasn’t cohesive and consistent, it was difficult for the students. So to make that better for the clinicians, and for the nurses to get some job satisfaction, we were lucky that they put forward these coordinator roles.
We got to put forward our interests in each role, to see who was going to get what, and my interest has always been oncology, even from when I first started here and I saw them doing chemotherapy 10 years ago. It’s always been my little niche that I always looked after, so when the oncology service grew enough for there to be a full time oncology nurse, I was like yes, this is it! This is my chance to fully immerse myself in oncology, and learn so much more as well. Cos it’s a passion; you always want to be able to continue your learn. And if you stop learning, I seriously think, why are you in your role? You need to keep learning to get better.
I was lucky enough to get the role, and I’ve been in the role since November. And I have to say, I’ve finally got job satisfaction again. Finally, in my little niche – I love it.
G: I’m Greg, I’m a psychiatrist.
H: I’m Helen, and I’m a vet.
G: We’re together, we have a child, and I have additional older girls. I work at the local prison, I see some private patients, and I write reports about mental illness and people problems.
H: I’m a small animal vet in the Hawkes Bay. I’ve practiced in Hawkes Bay for 5 years, I previously practiced in Auckland, and a little in the UK, and I mainly do small animals. I’ve practiced for 15 years since I graduated right now; doesn’t seem that long ago.. It’s changed quite a lot. You’ve no idea when you’re a kid. I think the biggest thing for me, was that I always thought that being a vet was being like James Herriot. That it would be tough at times, but you’d always know what to do. I think I had no idea that sometimes you don’t actually know what’s wrong with a patient, that you have no means of finding out, and you become quite accepting of that. But James Herriot always knew what was wrong with the animal. Even though sometimes it was bad news, but he always knew what was wrong, and what to do.
If that was the case, being a vet would be so easy and so straightforward. The public has a high expectation of you knowing what to do, and sometimes you just see a case and you just don’t! You either don’t have the money to find out what’s going on, or the resources aren’t available, or the only way to find out is to do a postmortem on the animal, which is obviously not the point of the whole thing. You just need to get by and do the best that you can, and try and make sure to do everything that is reasonable to do, at the same time explain to the owner that even though you don’t know what’s going on, you’re doing everything that’s practically possible. but that’s a very stressful situation to be in.
I think you need to take risks too sometimes. Which is something that’s unpleasant. You’re in situations where it’s damned if you do, damned if you don’t. So either way, there’s a risk, regardless of which option you choose.
G: In previous jobs with liaison psychiatry, where you provide psychiatry services to people in a general hospital – often you’re called in because the person is stressed or have ...
“I’m retiring from vet work, but I’m not retiring from work. I’m still quite capable of working. I need to, but I’ve got no idea what I’m going to do. I don’t want to work full time, I want to do something quite different, something that I don’t have to train to do. I had a shoulder injury before Christmas, a badly dislocated collarbone, which is why I’m not doing any clinical work. It’s coming right, but not enough for me to go out on farm. It’s held me back a little bit, because I wasn’t quite sure what I’d be capable of doing.
It’s been interesting with my injury though. I’ve been able to do lots of updating and management work in the daytime, instead of in the nighttime when I was doing clinical work. Not going out to do clinical work for 2.5 months has helped lead me in to it, gradually.
I’m not saying I won’t miss the place, but it actually prepared me better in some ways. It’s not going to be all of a sudden, hang up my gumboots and overalls and go. I also made the decision to get out, because I had enough as well. 41 years since I graduated, 1976. I turned 65 last Sunday. You spend 5 or 6 years doing the degree, so it’s been 47 years doing vet.”