Upon graduating from veterinary school I started working as a high volume spay & neuter (S/N) surgeon one day per week. This was probably one of the best (and yet scariest) first steps I could have made. When I graduated from veterinary school, I likely had more surgical experience than all of my classmates and more efficient S/N surgeries overall. Despite that, I had very little experience overall with dog spays, especially large dog spays. I’d done probably 10 or so in total, whereas I had done well over 100 cat spays. I was confident in my ability to spay (& neuter) cats, but I lacked personal confidence in my dog spays.
Starting out in a high volume S/N setting, efficiency is key. I knew the learning curve would be steep, but it was something I needed to do. Despite never having done more than 12 surgeries in a day, I was now expected to do 20-30 surgeries per day. My first day of work I was only supposed to be shadowing. However, the veterinarian whom I was shadowing had an emergency and her dog needed to be euthanized, so she texted me at 8:30PMthe night before saying she couldn’t make it and that I was the surgeon.
The surgery schedule was set for her, one of the best surgeons I’ve ever met. There were only 18 surgeries that day (a 50% increase from the most surgeries I’d ever done in a single day). The first surgery of the day was an eight-year old ~100-pound Rottweiler spay. It was intense. It took me a long time to get through it, all things considered. I definitely felt feelings of stress and doubt about my capabilities throughout the surgery, but I made it through the surgery and the dog recovered marvelously!
No sooner did I complete that surgery than perhaps one of the most difficult spays so far was starting. It was a Dachshund. She had had multiple c-sections in her lifetime and her abdomen was an absolute disaster. In healing from her previous surgeries, her intestines and connective tissue had adhered to the uterus in multiple locations. The surgery was not straight-forward and it was not something that I had been specifically “trained” for, but I worked through it slowly and steadily. Sure enough, just as the Rottweiler surgery eventually came to a close, so did the Dachshund.
I remember driving the two-hour drive home wondering to myself what I had gotten into, whether this was really something I was cut out for. This isn’t what I expected to feel after having completed a new record of 18 surgeries in a day.
Despite everything, I resolved to keep doing the high volume S/N and see how things felt after a few more weeks.
I’m so glad I stuck with it. The next week didn’t feel nearly as stressful. I didn’t rush myself to get through the surgeries, and I felt calm and collected throughout. My third week I did a new record of 33 surgeries in a day. It was a long day, but everything got done!
Over the first few months, because I was only working one day per week, I gradually increased my efficiency. It wasn’t until I started working two days per week that I felt like I was settling into a technique. By six months out, I felt pretty good. Large dog spays were still not easy (they might never be), but I knew I had the skills to handle them and everything would be just fine.
At about six months out, I started working full-time as an animal shelter veterinarian in addition to my part-time high volume-spay and neuter gig. I went from surgery two days per week to surgery four days (or more) per week. I thought when I started my full-time job that my efficiency wouldn’t be dramatically affected.
Boy was I wrong.
One day I decided to take note of the time that I started a spay on a pregnant cat. I was shocked when I finished the surgery and noted that only 8 minutes had passed. I had gone from doing 10 minute routine (non-pregnant) cat spays, to doing 8-minute pregnant cat spays. I was pretty surprised but also a bit impressed. How I had managed to improve so much, but not notice, is beyond me.
The vet I work alongside at my full-time job has been a shelter vet for ten years. She is hands down one of the fastest S/N surgeons I’ve ever met. She did 22 cat spays and neuters in 1.5 hours. When that happened, my mind was blown. I couldn’t imagine ever doing that.
The next day, when I was doing surgery, I took note of the time that I started surgery and decided to see what I could get done in the same amount of time. It turned out that I did 20 cat spays & neuters amongst a few other non-surgery related tasks in the same amount of time. I was shocked! How long was it now taking me to do cat spays, I wondered. Turns out, just five minutes!
While I had noticed a great deal of improvement over the first 3 months, and even up to 6 months, after that point I stopped overtly noticing the improvements I had made. It’s been really rewarding to look back and reminisce about my first day in high volume S/N and how dejected I felt leaving the clinic that day and compare it to who I am now, not even a year later!