You escape the vet school bubble only to find that the world continued to revolve without you. Everyone on the outside is four years further into their careers and financial savings, and you are just learning to leave the nest for the first time (likely with lots of debt).

Suddenly your decisions go from “How many cups of coffee do I need to make it through this all-nighter of studying?” to  “Which diagnostics would give me the most information for $150?” You spend years sitting on your bum reading, learning, memorizing, and suddenly you are catapulted into the real world. Those first several weeks or months of hitting the ground running as a young doctor are a blur.

I’ll tell you one thing I know for sure, veterinary school didn’t spit me out as a perfectly polished, well-thought-out, medical machine. That takes time. Here’s the no-filtered truth to life as a new graduate and everything I wish I knew before making the leap.

1.) Clients will say the darndest things (and you can’t take it personally!)

The past three years have yielded many awkward moments in the exam room. Sure, we practiced our communication skills in veterinary school such as taking a thorough history, listening attentively to the owner, and giving the owner a quick break down of how the appointment is going to run. But only quick wit and a good poker face could possibly equip us for what follows.

Prepare yourself for countless “you’re too young to be a doctor,” comments and the occasional, “have you ever done this before?” Accept  there will be people who love you and those who don’t care for you. That’s life.

I’ve learned I am much happier when I stop dwelling on the clients who I’ll never be able to win over and instead focus that energy on developing stronger relationships with the clients and patients who accept me for the young, driven doctor that I am.

2.) You’ll feel stupid at first

You’ll feel stupid. Yes, even after all that schooling. Every day you will look things up, consult other doctors, and maybe group text your classmates. This is normal. Rejoice in the small victories.

Learn from your mistakes instead of dwelling on them. It’s inevitable- we are going to make mistakes. We may be doctors, but we’re human. The most challenging part of making mistakes is learning how to react and accept them for what they are. Each mistake brings with it an opportunity to grow and better ourselves as veterinary professionals. Be honest with yourself, but give yourself grace.

3.) Decision fatigue is for real!

Every 15 minutes or less brings a new decision. Which antibiotic to choose? Which diagnostics do I perform? Our mind is like a muscle that tires after repetition. Make 100 decisions and then try deciding what’s for dinner. Ramen. Lots of Ramen.

Help yourself through decision fatigue by reducing the amount of decisions you have to make each day. For example, try picking out your clothes the night before, meal prepping in advance, and keeping a planner. These may not seem like major tasks now, but wait until your decision muscle grows weak and then see how you feel about making dinner. McDonald’s anyone?

4.) You will NEED a hobby

Find two hobbies outside of work: one to keep you sane and the other to keep you fit. Research tells us that people who have hobbies have lower blood pressure, cortisol, and tend to have higher work performance and satisfaction. While exercise as a sole hobby works for many people, not all find it enjoyable. Plus, getting your creative juices flowing will unleash new perspectives and ideas that will benefit your veterinary career as well.

Side hustles make great hobbies because they require creativity and a completely different thought process than what we are used to. Mark Zuckerburg asks Facebook employees what they are building outside of work.

Whatever you choose, allow it to enrich your life and expand your skill set. Don’t have anything in mind? Consider taking a local class in pottery, quilting, fitness or woodworking. You’ll gain confidence as you learn new skills and meet people outside of your usual circle.

5.) Retirement Savings Starts Now

You may think saving for retirement right after graduation sounds crazy. After all, you are just starting your career, and you have your whole life to plan for retirement, right?! Ehhh… wrong.

Have you heard of compound interest? It’s a fascinating finance concept that will allow you to walk away with thousands more by starting to save for retirement in your twenties vs. your thirties.

It’s not about what you make – it’s how much you keep. Having time on your side is the easiest way to accumulate more savings for retirement. For example, a 25 year old and a 35 year old contribute $120,000 over the same 10 year period and stop investing after the 10 years. That’s $1,000 per month every year. After the 10 years, they allow their retirement savings to accrue at a 7 percent annual return. At 65, the younger vet has double what the 35 year old had at retirement, even though they both contributed the same amount of money.

The bottom line: don’t wait for your big break to start saving for retirement. Even if you’re contributing small amounts in the beginning, it’s better than nothing at all.

6). You are NOT alone

Our profession is both a challenging and rewarding one, complete with a roller coaster of emotions. One day we’re feeling on top of the world after saving the life of a patient, and the next day we’re sulking in grief over the loss of another.

As high achievers, we are innately self critical. We need to remember it’s OK to reach out for support. No matter the situation, we likely have ALL been there before. Show your colleagues compassion and love. You never know what someone is dealing with on the inside.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the editorial team.


Hello! I am Kari Jo Kelso, and I am a 2015 graduate of Oklahoma State University. I currently practice small animal medicine in Central Illinois. In my free time I enjoy reading business books, paddle boarding, being outside with my dog Ryder, and writing for my blog