We all have our preconceived notions of what the experiences of various careers are like. Our notions may come in part from television, from books we may read, from hearsay, and what we may dream up in our own minds. Veterinary medicine is no different.
As a practicing veterinarian for 11 plus years, I have heard many notions of what people think my work experience is like, and while it remains the most rewarding and enjoyable job I can conceive of and I am thankful every day for what I get to do for a living, I find that people tend to have an over glorified, over glamorous, and idealistic idea of what it is like to be a veterinarian. Since a lot of my fans are students aspiring to be veterinarians or vet techs and because I have gotten a lot of general feedback that such an episode would be fun and interesting for many of you, tonight, I endeavor to outline the typical day in the life of a general veterinarian.
Now mind you, there will be some variation from veterinarian to veterinarian, as not all will be just like me in their daily ritual, but having worked in several facilities during my career and having known a lot of different veterinarians along the way, I have found we that all tend to share some general similarities. Also, I am giving you the perspective of a small animal general practice veterinarian…so bear in mind that the typical day of a large animal veterinarian or specialist may be quite different.
8:45 AM – Morning Rounds.
Rounds is the time when doctors conference with the veterinary technicians who are responsible for treating in-hospital cases and prepping patients for surgery. Technicians will alert the doctor of all vital stats, demeanor and physical examination findings, improvement/worsening of clinical signs, appetite, etc. The doctor with then follow up with a physical examination of his/her own and make adjustments to the treatment protocol, stay the course, or recommend discharge.
Morning drop off surgery cases are examined by the admitting technicians and all recommended pre-operative diagnostics are performed by the technicians, such as pre-operative blood work and clotting profiles, x-rays, EKG and blood pressure. Once all physical examination findings are documented and all test results are in, the technician will conference with the attending veterinarian. The veterinarian will interpret all of the data, possibly re-check physical examination, and then make recommendations for pre-anesthesia injections, induction and intra-operative fluid protocols.
9:00 AM-ish – Surgery, dentistry, other procedures.
Most veterinarians – me included – prefer to perform surgery and procedures in the morning. Patients that are to go under anesthesia or be sedated have been fasted overnight and not fed any breakfast, so it is nicer to our patients to have their procedures done ASAP and not make them linger hungry for too long. Also, since our procedures are elective in nature for the most part. Most general practices are not 24 hour facilities, so most find it medically expedient to have surgery done in the morning so that the patients can be monitored throughout the rest of the day while the hospital is fully staffed.
I will also perform acupuncture and therapy laser treatments in the morning, as well as any time consuming diagnostic procedures, such as ultrasound and non-routine x-rays that require sedation, etc.
Noon-ish – Lunch, lab reports, call backs.
Lunch time tends to be a great deal more than eating lunch for the practicing veterinarian. While a peaceful meal is occasionally an option, more commonly we utilize this time to review outpatient lab work and make client call backs.
Call backs most commonly consist of reporting lab work results, answering questions clients may have about a given set of results, treatment course, or ongoing management of health issues. Having the distinction of being a practice owner, my call backs also sometimes involve disgruntled clients.
Although call backs and eating are the primary goal over the lunch break, lunch time is commonly a time when pharmaceutical reps will wish to come in to educate us about a the launch of a new medical product line, or provide us useful information on updates regarding existing products. Since the reps will commonly bring in lunch for the doctors and staff, such an event is called a “lunch and learn.”
2:00 PM – 5 PM – appointments.
Afternoon appointment slots are for patients who are sick, injured, or are due for their yearly physical examination, stool analysis, heartworm screening, and vaccines. Not every general practice sees urgent and critical care cases, but my hospital does, so emergency visits are not uncommon. If the patients are stable enough to be hospitalized in a non-24 hour facility, then we will hospitalize them. If they are critical or unstable, we will recommend overnight hospitalization at a 24 hour critical care facility. We may still hospitalize a patient if the owner cannot afford referral to a 24 hour facility, but we make it clear that it is a bit of a gamble with no one in the hospital overnight.
5:00 PM – after hours
One day of the week, my hospital is open until 8:00 PM for people who work from 9-5 on weekdays and cannot arrange for their pet to be brought in during regular business hours. The rest of the week, our day technically ends at 5:00 PM. However, since pets do not always get sick or injured in a timely fashion or during business hours, we commonly will take overbooks that will keep us in the hospital beyond business hours. With after hours veterinary care coming at a significantly higher cost than general practice, pet owners are often urgently trying to have their pet seen at a general practice if at all possible.
We will also sometimes approve critical after hours surgeries and other emergency procedures. Although these cases are much more suited to being addressed in a 24 hour facility, we will make the best accommodations we can for pet owners that cannot afford the higher cost of after hours care.
Once all appointments have been seen and procedures completed and/or discharged, the technicians will report vital stats and other pertinent information about in house cases. The doctor will then review each case and perform his/her own physical exam if indicated, then confirm orders for all in hospital patient.
Then we all go home to do it all again in the morning.