I have recently graduated from University where I studied Biological Sciences. I had my first day working at a Vet Clinic yesterday and during an operation I fainted. I had feared this would happen and feel I could have predicted it, as I have previously been squeamish. I have seen minor operations before and have been totally fine, but when it comes to seeing my own blood or having procedures myself I get light headed. Studying biology, I have seen blood before and have carried out dissections, so I’m not too sure why I fainted yesterday, but it worried me because it made me question whether this industry is really for me. I think I panicked myself by anticipating that I would feel faint… and it ended up happening. Plus the bright lights and sounds of the operating theatre didn’t help. I feel I won’t be able to set foot in an OR again. I don’t know what to do…and don’t want to seem like a failure after my first day of work. Georgia
So you’ve been training for years looking forward to the moment when you start your working life as a vet, and the next thing you know you’ve fainted the very day you started. I can see how disappointing and upsetting this must feel and how it has thrown you into confusion about your chosen career and whether this is the right path for you.
The first thing to say is that this is not uncommon. A recent study at the University of Nottingham found that 12 per cent of medical students who went into an operating theatre experience syncope (fainting). For some in the biological sciences, passing out is seen as a ‘rite of passage’, so you are not alone with this. That said, your sense that your anticipatory anxiety might have contributed to this happening, is almost definitely right. And it is good news because it means that there is something you can do about it — if you can manage your anxiety better you are less likely to pass out in the operating room.
I think it’s also important to remember that you have conducted dissections without this happening. So perhaps when you are active and involved it is easier to manage your anxiety than when you are an observer. Another key is the setting — operating theatres do have hot, bright lights and require prolonged periods of standing all of which make it more likely that your blood pressure will drop and you will faint.
Here are some tips to avoid fainting in the future:
- Make sure you are hydrated and have eaten before you have to go into the operating theatre
- Try to have a good night’s sleep the night before
- While in there, employ some mindfulness techniques, and breath!
- Tense and relax your muscles — you obviously can’t do star jumps or run around in an operating theatre but you can keep your muscles moving and this will help
However, if the sense that this job might not be right for you persists then talk it over with friends and begin to work out if this is what you really want from life. Good luck!