As this article goes to press, the Australasian veterinary profession welcomes many enthusiastic graduates from the class of 2018. Even though their formal university education has been completed, their veterinary education and development of life skills are really just beginning. Each year VetPrac awards the VetPrac Advanced Clinical prize to a veterinary graduate from Charles Sturt University. This prize can be used as payment for any VetPrac workshop the recipient chooses to attend. Dr Melanie Catanchin was the recipient back in 2015; she has decided to use the prize at the Vetprac abdominal ultrasound workshop in March 2019.

Melanie has packed a lot into her first 3 years of veterinary practice. Despite jumping into an internship immediately after graduation, Melanie has survived the initial challenges of being a new graduate in a busy tertiary referral hospital. She loves working as a vet, but also realises the importance of achieving a healthy balance between work and life.

Let’s get to know Melanie and her insights into the best ways of negotiating the curve balls often thrown to vets in their first few years of veterinary practice.

You graduated nearly 3 years ago. Where are you working?

“I’m currently working at two busy Emergency and Critical Care centres in the northern suburbs of Perth, Western Australia, and loving it!”

How did you find the transition from veterinary student to working as a new graduate vet?

“It was a challenge, particularly going straight from vet school into an internship at a busy tertiary referral hospital.  The most challenging aspect for me personally, was navigating the murky political waters of a large veterinary hospital.  As a new graduate you are busy refining yourself as a clinician and figuring out client communication, whilst working out where exactly you fit in the workplace.   I believe the most important thing is finding a supportive work environment which works for you, suiting your work-life balance and your clinical ethos – a place that celebrates your strengths and nurtures your weaknesses.  Another crucial thing we often forget is that being a new grad is TOUGH, and it’s okay to cry when a case you’ve worked on all week doesn’t make it or it takes you a long time to do a spey because it’s been ages since your last one.  What got me through my new grad year was my incredible support network of dear friends, family, colleagues and my non-vet partner.”

As a new graduate, what are the things you wish you’d paid more attention to at uni which seem so important now?

“Physiology by far! Probably a pretty common answer, but we covered these crucial subjects in year 2 of our 5.5 year degree and I can’t emphasise enough how important they are for every, single day in practice.  If you forget the mode of action of pimobendan, or need to remember what a mast cell tumour looks like, a quick Google or textbook search can get your answer. Renal or respiratory physiology isn’t easy to get your head around even at the best of times, let alone when you have a patient in front of you that needed its treatment plan sorted yesterday!”

Was there anything you wanted more of at uni, but simply couldn’t learn because there wasn’t the time?

“Definitely would have loved more avian and small mammal medicine! Bird and small mammal ownership are on the rise and let’s face it, who wouldn’t want to learn more about these gorgeous critters!?”

Do you feel that you received adequate training at university in building client relationships?

“Yes.  For the last two years of vet school at CSU, the majority of our teaching occurs in a Problem Based Learning (PBL) format.  Each semester we were assigned to groups of 6 – 8 students and were presented with a case to work through in a progressive disclosure format.  PBL fosters team-work, positive communication and building new relationships – some of my best friends from vet school I met through the PBL process!”

What advice would you give final year vet students preparing for practice?

Invest in your relationships – both vet and non-vet – these people will help get you through the tough road ahead.  Do your research on your first job, ask around, ask your teachers, ask former/current employees, or better yet, spend some time there so you get an idea of the workplace culture before you commit.  Finally, have fun and enjoy your time left as a student, soak up as much knowledge as you can and most importantly, remember that it’s just a job.”

If you could ask any 3 questions of any vets of any qualification anywhere – what would they be?

 1. Why vet?

 2. What do you do to help you switch off from ‘vetting’?

 3.  If you could have one wish, what would it be?”

As a recipient of the VetPrac Advanced Clinical Prize, which VetPrac workshop do you plan to attend, and why did you choose this workshop?

“I’m thrilled to be attending the Abdominal Ultrasound workshop in Melbourne next year.  Since starting work in Emergency and Critical Care, I have found ultrasonography to be extremely useful in working up my cases. Unfortunately, I’m not very good at it! I hope this workshop can help me provide a better service to my patients.”

What are your plans for the next 12 months for work and life?

At the moment I’m loving my life in beach-side Perth and enjoying the thrill of the emergency room where no day is ever boring or the same.  My career will eventually lead back to anaesthesia, however, my plan at the moment is to enjoy life, and to work to live, rather than live to work.  You only get one life, so make it a great one :)”

If you’re a new graduate looking to further your professional education, check out our 2019 training schedule. There are online workshops such as the New Graduate Mentoring Program, High Achievers and VetTalk, as well as practical skills workshops in Endoscopy, Fracture Repair and Advanced Stifle Surgery (TPLO).

Written by Alison Caiafa