First weeks of work experience

I’ve seen a few people starting out their journey into veterinary, and that means building up clinic hours! After a few hundred shadowing hours and work, a few classmates and I have these pieces of advice in common and I thought I’d share it for all the people getting their first week of clinical experience.

Watching and helping in clinics can be super rewarding and really get you fired up to be in the industry, but that doesn’t mean you’re completely free of hiccups and embarrassing moments as you find your feet in the hospital.

  • Don’t ever comment on how quiet it is.
  • Get out of the way! You will probably judge an emergency when it happens, and you’re no help fumbling around talking and getting your hands in the middle of it.
  • Don’t pat all the dogs with “oh he’s so friendly”.
    • Everything about that malamute’s body language says “I’m very nervous, I’m leaning away from your hand because I’d rather not be pet” – we all love dogs and kitties, that’s why we’re here, but I’ve watched many newbie students adore all the dogs, regardless of their body language, and it really freaks out the nurses.
  • X rays are super interesting – but don’t talk while the vet is interpreting them.
  • On day 1 familiarize yourself on the location of: E-T tubes, leashes, F10 bottles, the bins and where all the needles/bandages are. You can be the most helpful at fetching these things.
  • Ask questions when the moment is appropriate. Not when they’re in the abdomen of a small dog and they’re nit-picking around a spleen to ask what the surgeon is doing, and not during an emergency.
  • As tempting as “What’s wrong with this dog?” is as 4 people are running around hooking it up to lines and chucking it under surgery, just wait until it quietens down.
  • Try not to take being told not to do obvious things personally. I’ve had: “Don’t talk to the client during consult”, “Do NOT talk during that delicate surgery”, “stand in the corner”, “no dancing while I’m doing this” (I never dance), “don’t touch that aggressive dog”, “We need silence” before I’ve even started doing anything or have said anything. Just remember we do get enthusiastic newbie students that do do that stuff, and even though I felt like they’ve considered me an idiot, I know it’s just them warning before it starts.
  • Don’t carry your phone on you.
  • Don’t take photos (If you get permission adhere to no social media)
  • Sometimes you can be the butt holder where a dog is squirming backwards out the grip of a nurse and you rush down to push that butt back, complete with hock-grabbing. The nurses will thank you.
  • If you are not comfortable with restraining a dog, just flat out tell them.
  • Sometimes if you gently coo at the dog’s face while it’s getting a catheter it will help the nurses.
  • If you’re doing work experience to get into vet, you can ask for explanations on how to draw blood, find a vein, intubate, but it’s rare that anyone will actually let you do it (that’s fine, you don’t need the practical skills at this point).
  • Don’t comment on the clients.
  • Don’t bag out other clinics you’ve been to (listening to this this makes me flinch, allot of vets know each other, they don’t know you, it’s also unprofessional).
  • Be conscious of your first surgery. I came inches from passing out (Dizzy, blocked ears, double vision), tell someone, if you can’t walk sit down, don’t try run out and smash your head. The surgeon cannot help you, and the nurse is unlikely to.
    • Don’t be embarrassed (I know, I know), it happens to so many people. Remember it’s not normal to watch organs and blood fumbling around, you need to adjust.
    • The worst culprit is being hypoglycemic and dehydrated. Make sure you eat and drink beforehand.
    • Don’t hold your breath, suddenly breathing calmly when you’ve just notice you’re not feeling great rarely works and will just slow your heart-beat down too fast and you’ll end up in the same effect.
  • Don’t touch the surgical drapes!


    • I’ve done it, and I watched a greenie work experience student do it – it’s embarrassing, and super serious, be over paranoid about touching the drapes.
    • Cross your arms when you watch surgeries, it gives the nurse and vet peace of mind that you’re not touching anything.
  • When you help flip a dog over on the surgery table, be really careful with the head, don’t move that neck around with the tube in it.
  • Don’t talk in a surgery unless they talk to you, and don’t get excitedly carried away (you will at some point be abruptly interrupted as they are in a surgery) – I did this.
  • All vets are different, and I’ve both heard and experienced a huge variety of personalities;
    • Some vets are friendly and talkative, they generally don’t mind you shadowing and talking, but they are still vets and get very busy
    • Some vets get very stressed, and bustle around and are obviously doing 100 things at once. Just stay out of their way, follow them from a distance, and basically just watch. You can usually catch their mood and ask a relevant question if the situation stops for a moment.
      • They’re generally not huge grumps, they’ve just got tonnes on their plate, and if someone is chatting then they get distracted and annoyed (don’t talk in their surgeries).
    • Some vets act like you’re an absolute bother, and sigh when you ask questions. Not going to lie, these vets suck and you can pretty much just get away with not talking and standing quietly in a corner to watch and getting your enjoyment out of the nurses until your placement is over. Thank god. 
    • If you’re aiming for veterinary science you will inevitably encounter the discouragement vet. Who may or may not go on a 5 minute+ rant about how it’s not worth becoming a vet. Truthfully if this is the first time you heard at least 60% of this information you probably do need to be told. If this is the 3rd time you’ve encountered this vet, in 7 clinics and 400 hours of placements, you can pretty much smile and nod, because you are completely aware of the loans, job hazards, job availability, stresses, pay, lifestyle and you don’t have to act surprised but kind of just agree.
  • If you can freely see it’s a bad practice, you can live out the work experience and raise your standards for where you’d want to work in the future (unless it’s that unbearable).
  • I’ve been to a prac where I was given a list of rules. Most of these rules were pretty much “do not talk, stand near, ask questions, stand in the way, look, breathe near a vet because they are important and almighty and godlike and you are a small and silly child”, as condescending and mildly insulting as it was, it basically means “they are doing a very important job, watch, but try not to bother them if they’re busy”.

To be the fab work experience student:

  • Try to be proactive and engaged, but don’t harass for jobs when you can see it’s super quiet (Don’t ever say that).
  • Be punctual.
  • When there’s hair everywhere and you don’t have anything interesting to watch, ask them where the vacuum cleaner is.
  • Refill bins.
  • Do their laundry.
  • Clean cages.
  • Tidy the ET tubes.
  • Scrub the clipper heads.
  • Stock the syringes/needles.
  • Organize the desk (don’t throw out the notes).
  • F10/wipe dirty surfaces.
  • Go pet that friendly and stressed out puppy.
  • Watch/monitor an animal as they are waking up.
  • If you’re sick, call it a loss and cancel the placement. You’re not getting paid for starters, I know it really really sucks, but literally no one will be happy you’re there, and you will probably be asked to go home.
  • Try figure out If anyone has allergies before bringing in baked goods at the end (even if it means asking and ruining your surprise).
  • I’ve noticed allot of male vets love computers and video games, and they love to talk about other things besides veterinary and usually get quite excited.

But like I said, be engaged, watch, learn, have fun and by all means ask questions, I’ve had some super wonderful clinics that I felt so sad on my last day that I wasn’t coming back. 

And keep a good impression, my work now was actually a work experience placement I did 2 years ago, I mentioned it in my cover letter and it was a huge reason they’ve taken me.