Letters to a Young Veterinarian: What I’ve learned in 20 years of practice


Dr. Shadi Ireifej DVM DACVS
Co-founder and Chief Medical Officer at VetTriage



Veterinary medicine is a tough gig. Four years of undergraduate education, then 4 years of veterinary school, finding your first job, paying your school debt, balancing your personal and very demanding professional life... Not to mention, you will also need to be perpetually learning, staying on top of your continuing education hours, renewing your licenses, managing your staff, combating emotional fatigue, managing your social media, addressing negative online client reviews, and becoming ever more efficient in your workday to handle all this. There is a lot to balance here and it takes many, many years to get it right. As a doctor of veterinary medicine for over 15 years, I still learn new things frequently!

Despite the stresses I mention above, being a vet is still a very interesting and rewarding career choice. With this article I want to highlight some major points that will hopefully help the younger graduates on their journey.

Finding your first job after graduation is a daunting undertaking. There are many factors to look into: the commute, the standard of medicine practiced, the turnover rate at the practice, the species they care for, upward mobility in the practice, the quality and amount of mentorship available to you, and so much more. I couldn’t possibly focus on all these in this article, so I want to narrow in on a very important piece of the puzzle: the contract. Here are some gentle, but crucial, warnings. Just because your employer may be a doctor of veterinary medicine, does not mean they have your best interests in mind! Hire an attorney. Make sure someone with legal knowledge with respect to contracts and the veterinary field examines your contract closely. Find out what veterinarians in that area with your level of experience generally make and what terms they receive from employers. There will be negotiations – do not be afraid of this. Most people do not look like negotiating, and veterinarians are no exception. Also, paying for an attorney can be pricey - but I assure you, it’s well, well worth it.

Maintaining a good balance between your personal and professional life is mandatory for a long, sustainable and satisfying career. Try to develop this habit early! Find ways of making your workflow efficient and go home on time. This involves delegation of responsibilities, improving medical record keeping techniques, updating software, hiring more staff, checking in with the staff with regular meetings, asking for help and offering your help, creating templates for your medical records, remaining on the floor often to address issues quickly, and so much more. Stay alert to when and where you spend unproductive time. The goal should be to make the lives of animals better, ensure a positive work culture for you and your staff and for everyone to go home on time. Also, your personal health is of huge importance to your performance – don’t neglect it! Focus on your physical and mental health. Do not bring work home with you. Do not let the unfortunate events of the day mentally highjack you. Have friends (both human and nonhuman), family and activities available to help cope with the stresses of the day and enrich your life beyond what a career can achieve – you are not your job!

Finally, never stop learning. This is applicable to both the professional and personal. Do not run from difficult cases and new surgeries. Always listen and watch your staff, both support staff and doctors. They have much to enlighten you with. Invest your continuing education hours in those topics that will enrich your own knowledge and the practice. Every community has clientele that seem to have a unique interest in something that varies from another hospital; scoping procedure, reproduction, exotics and pocket pets, and so forth. Do not be afraid to fail. If you agree to pursuing more knowledge and skill, then you will fail at times. That’s part of the process. Personally you need to keep learning as well; music, language, travel, cultures, etc. – make sure you pursue interests and hobbies that will keep you engaged outside of work. These two worlds, the professional and personal, need to be keep separate, and yet their ultimate goals are to be unified in bringing you an optimum quality of life.

Make no mistake: the profession is a demanding one. Nonetheless – and I say this from personal experience – it can be quite fulfilling, with the right mindset. There’s so much to discuss in all these topics, but to summarize what we’ve discussed as the main tips for a recent graduate:

A) Protect yourself when signing on to a new job.

B) Do not sacrifice your personal life for the professional.

C) Always pursue new knowledge because that responsibility is where meaning lives.



About Dr. Shadi Ireifej:

Dr. Shadi Ireifej DVM DACVS is the Chief Medical Officer at VetTriage. He holds degrees from SUNY Binghamton and Cornell University and has practiced as a veterinary surgeon all across the United States. Follow him on Instagram @dr.shadi.ireifej and subscribe to his YouTube channel (Dr. Shadi Ireifej).


About VetTriage:

VetTriage is the world’s foremost provider of veterinary telehealth services. With VetTriage, pet owners have immediate access to triage advice from licensed veterinarians. Follow them on Instagram @vettriage and Facebook (facebook.com/televeterinarian).