I am often approached by parents during a veterinary visit about how their child is interested in becoming a vet. What things they can do to explore the profession? Occasionally high school students “shadow” us, and every year we usually have a few “pre-vet” college students work for us over the summer and during breaks.
Our office is pretty fast-paced, so we don’t really have a lot of time for teaching and sharing with these prospective veterinarians. However, that busy pace gives them a great snapshot of the job and also lets us see if they seem to have what it takes to be a valuable member of a veterinary team. Well, really, any team.
After being in practice for 15 years now, my appreciation for team effort is huge. I work with veterinary technicians (nurses), assistants, receptionists, and kennel helpers and every single one of them is a big part of our team. I can say for sure that what’s happened by the end of the day definitely did NOT look like what was on the schedule that morning. When our doors open, we have to be ready for everything that comes in, emergencies, difficult clients, technical equipment problems. Every member of our team needs to play his or her part.
Over time we see our coworkers less for what their degree says, and more for how they work in our team.
So, kids, your schoolwork is important, but here’s what else you should focus on as you prepare for the work world:
A good attitude. The real world is definitely not fair. People can be rude, tasks can be challenging and overwhelming, and your schedule will change unexpectedly. More important than your knowledge will be your attitude. I simply don’t like working with people who have poor attitudes, regardless of their talent level. If times get challenging, I look for the people I know I can count on to stay positive, energetic, and mature. Work days will sometimes be very hard mentally, so it’s important to have a positive attitude.
Honesty. I need to be able to trust every person that I’m working with. And this isn’t just about handling money or controlled drugs, but about your intentions and interactions with other people. Are you someone who means what they say or are you someone that I can’t quite really believe? I’d rather work with a blunt person who is straight honest than a fun nice person that I’m not sure I can trust. Honesty is a virtue. Work on it and make it a priority.
Reliability. In any job you get, be reliable. Get to work on time and show up when you’re scheduled. Over the years we’ve had people who are constantly late or constantly call in sick or with an excuse that keeps them from coming to work. Of course, you can’t control true issues, but being reliable is important. When you can’t come to work, your absence falls on the team and makes their day harder. Life throws us curveballs, but if you’re a reliable employee, everyone will respect the fact when you really can’t make it in.
Initiative. Many people I’ve worked with just seem to lack initiative. If we are not right there telling them what to do, they are likely to stand around and stare or chat. Taking initiative can be a tricky thing–the new kid should not just start doing things they’re not supposed to. But in most team settings, there’s always something that can be done. Be willing to work and always doing something. If you’re being paid to work, then work! Be helpful.
A good listener. Being smart and having a good attitude are fantastic, but you’ve also got to be a good listener.
Communication in the workplace is sometimes tough. People communicate in different ways, some blunt and to the point and some in a more roundabout way. Your clients, too, may not be clear on what they want or need help with. Listening is a very active skill. I sometimes shut my listening ears off and it drives my staff nuts when they have to repeat things to me that they just told me. On the other hand, when working with clients, by really listening I can usually do a pretty good job of finding out what’s wrong with their pet.
Some parents who are going to hold their teens captive and read this column to them. Eye rolls are sure to occur, but teens—listen! These are the things that people will judge you on when you enter the workplace. People who do a great job with these factors are the people that employers want high up in their team.