My sister’s birthday was last Friday, which means mine is right around the corner. That tends to make me just a little nostalgic, which is just a little more than the teensy tiny bit of nostalgia I feel at any time. I started to think about other milestones, which is how I prefer to mark the passage of time in my life. It occurred to me that in May, I will begin the 12th year of my professional practice. THAT was kind of a pinch!
I looked back at a journal I kept during my first year out of school this morning. During that year, I was at an internship in Hollywood, Florida. I’ve probably mentioned that before. That year was almost indescribable. The practice had 13 doctors, four of which were board-certified. They saw patients 24/7, 365 days a year. The six interns were responsible for overnight emergencies and walk-in cases, plus regular appointments however they were scheduled. I saw less cases than I do now, but the ones in Hollywood were almost always time-intensive hospitalized cases. It was an experience that was good for me as a veterinarian and a person. We were tested right to our limit every single day. Our limits grew and grew. I stayed on an extra two weeks to teach the new interns and to allow one of my intern-mates to leave a bit early for home and family. It was a very long and difficult year for all of us.
I wrote then:
I can hardly describe the amount of personal growth I’ve experienced in the last year. Though this internship has been abusively difficult, it’s been worth every mental and emotional scar (and a few physical ones, too). I am by no means some sort of veterinary god, but I definitely feel like I’ve grown into a competent clinician. It’s been worth every miserable minute. I’ve learned more than I thought possible, given how frazzled and stressed and aggravated I was on a daily basis.
So, 11 years later, do those words still ring true?
That internship certainly didn’t teach me everything I need to know. That kind of learning never stops. I consider that a job perk. There is always something new and interesting to explore and we get better with each passing day in practice, so long as we continue to keep our minds open.
What it did teach me at that early point in my career is how to be a better person veterinarian. I’ve often said on the blog that medicine is the easy part. That wasn’t quite true back then since I was so green, but it’s certainly true now. The challenges then included people. Those people are still challenging! I’ve learned how to have better bedside manner. I’ve learned how to excuse myself from feeling the fatigue of too many deaths, too many bad decisions, too many ‘I wish you’d come in sooner’ cases. They still happen, but now I know how to keep a clear head and give clients options.
I’ve grown a lot of gray hairs in 11 years. I’ve seen about 35,000 cases. For those of you who are familiar with Malcolm Gladwell, I’ve done my 10,000 hours. I’ve been screamed at and called everything in the book. I’ve had some of the most amazingly humbling things said tome. I’ve had thank-you cards from girl scout troops, students, clients, and other doctors. I’ve had the support of some amazingly talented doctors, techs, and mentors. I’m so thankful that after 11 years, I can say that I know that I’m in the right place. I’m doing what I love to do.
There are still things that frazzle me. I can still, now and then, be pretty aggravated by the situations that clients and pets create. What Hollywood taught me was that the sun is going to come up tomorrow regardless of my struggles and nonproductive feelings. Hollywood taught me, in the words of my boss there, to “find something real to worry about.” I was so irked when he said that because it brushed away some concerns that I had expressed to him. What I didn’t realize was that his tough stance on that kind of thing allowed me to be tougher, too. I use that skill every single day.
While my birthday is approaching and I will probably have a few more gray hairs to count, I would prefer to nudge thoughts into May, and into the milestone of 11 years in practice. I’m thankful for the pets and clients that have taught me what it really means to be a human, and better still, to be a veterinarian.