Sage advice for new and recent grads

Whether you’re a new graduate or a seasoned professional, there is always something to learn

Whether you’re a new graduate or a seasoned professional, there is always something to learn. Be ready to share what you know and, in turn, listen to others. PHOTO COURTESY SERHIIBOBYK / ISTOCK / GETTY IMAGES PLUS
Whether you’re a new graduate or a seasoned professional, there is always something to learn. Be ready to share what you know and, in turn, listen to others.

What do you wish someone told you when you first started in your position? What advice would have made a big difference in your career? What advice would you give your young self, or a young colleague?

We asked veterinarians and nurses in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, and at different career stages, what advice they would give to their colleagues—young…and not so young.

Best advice for doctors

Several pieces of advice revolved around being humble:

  • “Not being the smartest person in the room is an advantage. It means you have someone to teach you something new or share a different viewpoint that may not be obvious to you.” ~Nurse Alice
  • “Accept the fact your nurse might be right and you might be wrong. This has no bearing on your ability as a veterinarian. Your nurses spend far more time with your patients than you do. If a nurse has a concern or a suggestion, consider it seriously.” ~Nurse Katherine
  • “There will be times where it’s in the patient’s best interest for you to check your pride. This may mean referring the patient to a specialist, or not performing a surgery you have never done before, or refusing to perform something you deem unethical. Most clients will appreciate you being candid with them.”~Dr. Phil

We also received some great advice about where to find the knowledge you need:

  • “When you search for a job as a new or recent grad, make sure you receive the mentorship you need and deserve. Be honest about your starting point. Be direct about what you will require from your employers.”~Dr. Nikki
  • “It is not your job to know everything. However, you do need to know how to find the information. Research your cases and ask questions of the right people. Use the specialists in your local area or at your laboratory for input.”~Dr. Tracy
  • “Open your mind to new ways to do things you may not have learned in school. It’s no secret once a technique or a protocol is established, someone might prove there is a better way. What you think you know now is likely to change in the near future.”~Nurse Taylor
  • “The way a condition is described in a textbook may not be how it presents in real life. Case in point: a lovable, active, otherwise healthy pit bull with a bout of diarrhea may not have dietary indiscretion, but intestinal lymphoma.”~Nurse Alice

At the same time, don’t agonize over every medical decision:

  • “Don’t constantly second guess yourself. Sure, double check information, but trust the knowledge you know you have. If you have letters after your name, then you deserve to be where you are, and you are good enough.”~Nurse Alice

Financial wellness is just as critical:

  • “Seek financial advice sooner rather than later in order to be able to pay off your student loans as soon as possible and plan for retirement.”~Dr. Christine

Quality of life—for the entire team—was also a common theme:

  • “Take a deep breath. Whether a patient is not doing well, a client is screaming, or you started the day spilling your steaming hot coffee in your lap, this awful moment will come to an end.”~Nurse Jennifer
  • “Be aware of the workload of your nursing team. They are dedicated and will skip bathroom breaks, go 12 hours without eating and drinking, and come in on their days off for the benefit of your patients. Don’t give them a hard time if something was delayed or forgotten, as they might have been asked to do 10 other things by other people without your knowledge.”~Nurse Stephanie
  • Set boundaries early on. You are important. You are enough. You are entitled to bathroom breaks, drinking water, and eating real food. Carve out personal time, where work does not have access to you. This does not mean you are not committed. It is necessary for your longevity in this field to have boundaries and a work-life balance. The earlier you set boundaries, the better. It is much harder to stop doing something you’ve started.

This advice was mentioned in various ways by multiple colleagues. Believe them!

Best advice for nurses

Pearls of wisdom started with medical advice:

  • “Don’t trust machines. Monitors are wonderful, but regularly check your patient yourself. Watch them breathe and listen to their heart.”~Dr. Phil
  • “Just because you have been doing something the same way for years doesn’t always mean it is the right way. Things are constantly changing for the better and it is wise to adopt new protocols.”~Nurse Jessica

There was also some advice on the theme of learning and communicating:

  • “Push through your self-doubt. Confidence and skills will come with time. The only way you get better is by physically doing the things you are not good at, until they become second nature. Every time you have the opportunity to do something hands-on, take it.”~Nurse Stephanie.
  • “Do not let doctors or technicians intimidate you and force you to do something if you are not ready to do so.”~Nurse Melissa
  • “Don’t expect a doctor to always see what you’ve noticed. Always speak up and share your observations.”~Nurse Amy
  • “Don’t take clients’ anger personally. It will eat you up if you let it. Let it roll off your back and focus on the patient.”~Nurse Melissa
  • “Never say, ‘There is nothing to do.’ There is always something to do or learn, or a patient to cuddle.”~Dr. Amy

Remember self-care

Self-care and work-life balance are as just as important for nurses as it is for doctors:

  • “Self-care is critical. You need to make time for your basic and emotional needs, so you can be your best self for the animals.”~Nurse Jessica
  • “The hospital will always be busy and there will always be stressful events. Take a minute here and there to truly enjoy each patient.”~Nurse Allie
  • “When times are tough, remind yourself why you are here: to help the patients.”~Nurse Nicole

Phil Zeltzman, DVM, DACVS, CVJ, Fear Free Certified, is a board-certified veterinary surgeon and serial entrepreneur whose traveling surgery practice takes him all over Eastern Pennsylvania and Western New Jersey. He also is cofounder of Veterinary Financial Summit, an online community and conference dedicated to personal and practice finance (

A.J. Debiasse, a technician in Blairstown, N.J., contributed to this article.

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