5 things that all veterinarians wish they knew before graduating from school

For a couple of years now, veterinary education in Canada has met a fresh desire to change. Some schools have already transformed their academic curricular while other programs are initiating a reform of their own. The Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges had already stated in a 2008 convention the need to update the North American veterinary medicine programs, bringing different schools to start a refurbishment of their programs. The consensus: less long oral presentations by the teachers to allow more time on helping students prepare for the real world and to give them tools to be independent.

The faculty of veterinary medicine at University of Calgary has substantially changed its curriculum for future students over its 2016 reform by promoting innovation more and drawing away from traditional teaching methods. The Ontario Veterinary College from the University of Guelph has built an innovative educational program, earning the first place in the best Canadian veterinary medicine institutions ranking. In Quebec, the University of Montreal will give birth in 2019 to its first group of graduates who started the program reform back in 2014.

The reality of veterinarians is constantly changing and their training must reflect the current state of the profession. Too often, veterinarians are faced with situations and challenges that give rise to the question: “Why didn’t we address it more in school?”.

We therefore want to present you our (abbreviated) list of what most veterinarians wish they knew before graduating from school. The Oxilia Team wants to mention the precious help of Dr. Angelique Perrier-Edmunds, veterinarian since 2010 and vice-president of the VMAQ (Veterinary Medicine Association of Quebec in small animal practices).


A deeper knowledge about money on many levels is what new graduates cannot count in their work arsenal. Any new veterinarian will confirm it pretty quick: one has to be able to speak about money with clients. And it’s a hard truth for everyone starting a career in that field: more than half of the time you’ll spend working will be spent talking about money. You’ll soon realize that services must be offered depending on the budget of each client.

Newcomers must learn how to create an adapted budget plan. They need to identify what is the best treatment to apply and what are the ones that can be put aside. Basically, it’s about doing what’s best for the animal according to a given budget.

Clients don’t have the same understanding of costs attached to a veterinary service. Some may think that the amount that is charged is directly used to pay the veterinarian’s salary. One has to explain in a nuanced manner the implications of costs of machines, drugs and other supplies. But how do you prepare students for such situations? With a series of practice cases, with fictional budgets and costs for each treatment. Money management really is a major part of a veterinarian’s routine and students must be made aware of it.


“I am no manager, but I’m managing all day long”, has pointed out Dr. Perrier-Edmunds in our recent phone conversation. It is very clear that not all veterinary medicine students want to own a practice one day. However, having more classes about finance management and resource handling would allow more future veterinarians to better understand the implications of running a practice. Specialized workshops, mandatory classes or even an entrepreneurial branch in the program would give interesting options for students having an interest in business management or for the ones who plan to work as associates.


Many veterinary students are still convinced that the biggest part of the job in a practice is working with animals. They
will be surprised to learn that working with humans takes the same time, if not more, than working with patients. Just like explained above with the money talk, it’s always the pet owner who decides. Therefore, maintaining a good communication channel with your client is a must. They will expect you to present them the differences between one drug and the other, what steps does it entail, for what effects and for how much.

Preparing yourself to deal with negative feedback is another major thing. All pet owners don’t consider their pet the same way, which reflects on how intensely they will argue with your recommendations. Tactfulness will be essential. What you think is the best treatment for the pet won’t always be considered by the client, depending on the client’s perspective on his animal.

Adding up to clients, a veterinarian must learn to work in tandem with other staff members like animal health technicians, receptionists, other veterinarians and also the practice owner or manager. More than knowing who does what, new veterinarians have to know what tasks can be delegated to colleagues. The way to practice those reflexes at school would be to give students made up cases where they have to collaborate, interact in a diplomatic manner and divide the workload.

Newcomers will also be surprised that delicate social skills will be needed outside of work shifts as well. One has to know how to deal with this aspect of the job. “You have to learn to set your boundaries because it really can get annoying. To a point where people come to you with tons of questions on Facebook. Dealing with this side of my job is something that I haven’t quite managed to seize just yet”, explains Dr. Perrier-Edmunds. People will feel the need to express their passion over their pet if you tell them what you do for a living. New veterinarians have to be prepared for it and know their limits.


“Student internships go really fast”, adds Dr Perrier-Edmunds. “Students observe, they don’t have to deal with anything and they’re obviously not as invested emotionally as you can be in a real situation”. A veterinarian’s daily routine is a rollercoaster of different cases. There’s a particular challenge given by the contrast between some situations. You might have to announce the necessity to euthanize an old dying dog while doing the annual check-up of a cat in perfect health. Tears mix up with laughs. Veterinarians learn early on that dealing with their own emotions is a major part of the job, and it can be a challenge. “Switching modes or mindsets is a necessity when you deal with multiple clients at a time”, specifies Dr. Perrier-Edmunds.

Also, veterinarian’s guilt is threat that needs to be known at school. The point is, the finality is never up to the veterinarian. It’s simply part of the job.

The non-stop rhythm of work shifts added to the heaviness of cases can create major stress and even depression. A solution would be to work on one’s ability to be resilient in front of daily situations. Stress management and life balance workshops are great examples of tools that can be used to raise student awareness on the health implications of those aspects of a veterinarian’s career.


When getting their diploma, graduates will have the choice of the practice in which they want to start their career. It is important for young veterinarians to make a decision according to their values and vision. A practice’s policy will often depend on its location. If you choose a practice in rural area, policies and rules will be fairly different than what is done in big cities. If the practice authorizes convenience euthanasia, will you be ready to do it? If your practice manager asks you to treat an exotic animal when you usually treat small animals only, how will you deal with it? Geographically isolated clinics can face those kinds of situations. How about offering new graduates a guide with suggested questions to ask themselves and to ask a practice, in order to establish if a practice is in line with their personal philosophy?

Given the constant evolution of the job, veterinary school programs will always be in need of a reform. That being said, a better and broader awareness on the current reality of the job is what schools need to have if they want to keep their programs up to date. Building school curriculums grounded in reality will enable students to take advantage of a strong toolset to enter the veterinary world.


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