Straight Talk
Article title

Many veterinarians have remarked that the first year out of school is the toughest. Often it has been said that veterinarians learn more during that first year than they will over several years of their careers. Below are comments from a few of the 2010 graduates as they complete their first year.

From Jason Verbeck

“You do not need a PhD to figure out that the transition from veterinary school to being a veterinarian is daunting. Although the learning curve is exponential, I still maintain that my worst day as a veterinarian has been better than my best day as a veterinary student. Thus far in my experience, I have had three main challenge areas: the people, the system, and the pigs. Every producer is different. From the way they send and receive information, ie, communicate, to the way they approach pig management. Understanding how to effectively communicate and work with them to implement effective treatment strategies has been something that requires constant attention and fine tuning. A degree in psychology would help, too.

The system is a whole different story. Coming out of veterinary school into a swine production system presents a new graduate with the responsibility of understanding not only the health, treatment, and medical aspects, but also how that integrates with production, current market trends, and other economic factors. There is both an art and a science to making treatment decisions in which you are confident that it is not only the right thing for the pigs, but also economically appropriate for the system.

Finally, the pigs, which seem to be the most consistent part of the whole equation. When I say the pigs, I mean understanding the pig environment, what therapy is the best first step for the given situation, and having some confidence in how they will respond to treatment. In my opinion, you simply cannot get enough ‘real world’ experience in veterinary school to develop confidence in treatment protocols and then monitor response to therapy.

Overall, it does not matter what you are presented with, you still have to improvise, adapt, and overcome, because at the end of the day, we are responsible and accountable for our decisions – good, bad, or ugly.”

From Jess Waddell

“No matter how well prepared academically, there is always so much to learn about the swine industry. Fortunately, I was well prepared academically during my time at Iowa State University to enter the swine industry exclusively.

Communicating a clear, concise, and consistent message that is easily understood by producers with limited English skills has been the biggest challenge I face working as a technical services manager in Europe. I have found this becomes an exercise in prioritizing realistic and attainable recommendations. This has been made much easier with the help of my mentors and utilizing the AASV Swine Information Library as a reference.

It was no surprise, but a relief, that there is nothing else I would rather be doing. I love being with the pigs and working with the producers to improve their operations.”

From Kyle Flessner

“A few challenges I faced during my first year in practice: first, being the ‘new’ vet! Very, very few clients enjoy seeing the new vet pull into their farm. To the client, the word ‘new’ easily gets exchanged for words like ‘inexperienced,’ ‘oblivious,’ or ‘incapable.’ Clients like seeing the same vet, or vets, show up on the farm because it gives them a sense of comfort knowing that they have built a relationship already with that particular person. When the client gets bumped out of this groove, they become uneasy and therefore much more critical of your every move. In these situations, confidence is key. Most of the time it is going to be a case that you have seen before and have learned about, or at least one that you can logically reason through, so be confident and do what you know how to do. For those cases that you have no idea about – be honest and tell the client that you will use the resources you have in this great profession and find the answer for them. Clients greatly appreciate honesty much more than the new vet who already knows everything!

The second challenge is dealing with different treatment methodologies. What I learned in school on how to treat disease X might be completely different from what my colleagues in the practice learned. Both treatment practices might be acceptable and work well, but the clients may only want to believe that the ‘older’ treatment method is better, because that is what they are familiar with. In some instances, the ‘newer’ treatment option might be more beneficial, or have fewer side effects, so inform the client and you will quickly learn whether they will accept the new method, or want you to do it the way Dr John Smith has been doing it for the last 50 years!”

From Megan Nemechek

“So what challenges have I faced in my first year? Well, is there a word limit to this section? I’d have to say my biggest challenge was surviving an Indiana winter! But as far as the pigs go, there has been no shortage of challenges in my first year out of school. They weren’t kidding when they said that learning curve would be straight up. Here in Northwest Indiana, there is a large show-pig population, and not having a background in show pigs, I have had to quickly learn how to help these clients. It is a whole different mindset to adjust to, and very similar to small-animal medicine. I did not expect to be sedating pigs to repair belly and scrotal hernias and even removing dewclaws when I decided to go into swine medicine. And there aren’t too many show-pig owners who are willing to send in tissue samples for diagnostics, either, so it has been a challenge for me to learn how to work with this section of the industry. As far as commercial production goes, there are so many things we don’t learn in school that seem to be basic principles of pork production. In school, we focus on lesions and diseases, but don’t get into production, ventilation, and nutrition… all things that the average producer would expect their veterinarian to be able to advise them on. Also, in school we learned to treat certain diseases with antibiotics, but did not learn details on which antibiotic, how to administer it, how long to administer it, or how to set up a water medicator. I used to think I was good at math until I had to start calculating how to mix water meds! For 4 years of veterinary school, you try to learn everything out of the book, just to realize that once you get out, nothing goes by the book. The only way to better prepare for some of these challenges, in my opinion, is to spend more time on the farm and less time in the classroom if possible. Spend time with the servicemen and in production in addition to spending time with veterinarians. I have no problem saying ‘I don’t know…let me find that out,’ which I think has helped me a lot this year. Find several good mentors, which is not hard to do in this organization. I feel so fortunate and also proud to be a part of an industry and organization with members who are always willing to help and have made my first year out of school so enjoyable.”

-- Tracy Ann Raef