What can we do to improve retention in equine practice? - Veterinary Practice
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What can we do to improve retention in equine practice?

Delegates came together at the American Association of Equine Practitioners’ annual convention to discuss issues surrounding recruitment and retention of equine veterinarians

british equine veterinary association (BEVA) logo

Recently (on 18 November 2021), we celebrated the 60th birthday of the British Equine Veterinary Association – a significant landmark and clear evidence of the benefits of working together and the sharing of information, for the greater good of the equine veterinary surgeon and therefore the horse.

During this time, certain individuals have contributed a staggering amount of information, development and education, thus leading to immeasurable changes in equine veterinary medicine. Sadly, we lost one of these pioneers in recent weeks: Dr Peter Rossdale. His ability, kindness and enthusiasm were clearly demonstrated by the countless messages of condolence passed on to his family via the BEVA office.

Earlier this month, I travelled (with some COVID-19 trepidation) to Nashville in order to attend the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) 67th Annual Convention. Each year, the BEVA president attends in order to facilitate the strong working relationship between the two countries. I was truly amazed at the commonality between the countries and the organisations. Take away the Stetsons and the cowboy boots, and we are one and the same. The scientific programme could easily be the one I would choose for our 2022 congress in Liverpool. Further, our educational publications Equine Veterinary Education (EVE) and Equine Veterinary Journal (EVJ) are cornerstones of their educational offerings. The social interactions between the equine vets were both visible and palpable. The equine veterinary community is a family, and I found the warmth and genuine personal interest very reassuring. We are facing difficult times, and this commonality and sense of symbiosis is our best opportunity for success.

Workplace retention and recruitment

This year’s central theme at AAEP was “workplace retention and recruitment” – a clear change from the past, where orthopaedics or medicine would be expected to take centre stage.

Dr Amy Grice has led the understanding in this field. Her work studied the differences between the generations – from baby boomers and Gen X, to millennials and Gen Z.

Studies have demonstrated clear differences between the priorities within these groups. “So what?” you may say, but the key to the current situation does indeed stem from here. The veterinary managers have different priorities to their employees. Understanding and embracing these differences is key to the successful navigation of the potential industry leavers.

So, what is it that science tells us about the cohort types, or generations, in a word:

  • Baby boomers (post-WW2 to mid-1960s) – legacy
  • Gen X (mid-1960s to early 1980s) – level
  • Millennials (early 1980s to mid-1990s) – impact
  • Gen Z (mid-1990s to early 2010s) – customise

In addition, it was clear that Gen Z want to align with ethos and type, and millennials want more feedback. Understanding and embracing these “types” is the starting point in the solution to retention.

Reasons for leaving the equine veterinary profession

A panel of recent industry leavers discussed openly their reasons for departing equine practice. Each and every one stated clearly at the beginning of their presentations that they truly loved working as an equine vet and would dearly love to return, “but…”.

Here is a list of reasons which were discussed, and some of the following will disturb even the toughest of personalities:

  • Financial – average debt of $250,000 on graduation, and equine salaries 30 to 40 percent lower than those of companion animal colleagues, with interns often earning $30,000 (AVMA, 2021)
  • On-call expectations – especially interns. Vets often have less than two nights a week off duty, leading to a sense of permanent exhaustion
  • Childcare – one vet was emotionally stressed as she had to get her young child out of bed to take on calls with her every time she was called out at night if support wasn’t available, immediately excluding single mums from our population
  • Another female vet informed the practice manager of her third pregnancy and was asked if she was going to get an abortion!
  • Several vets were not eating properly and drinking too much alcohol
  • Some panellists were on long-term anti-ulcer and anti-anxiety medication

Clearly, the system is broken. This is not the profession we are proud of and we must fix it. These individuals want to be equine vets but they just can’t make it work.

So, what are the solutions?

  • Communication – consider the type and frequency. Short communications are best: the essential information should be no more than eight seconds! After this, interest levels decrease; this has been shown to be particularly relevant for Gen Z
  • Appraisals – these should be changed to “stay interviews” and conducted every three months, with an open invitation for employees to request extra interviews as required. These will be particularly useful for millennials who want regular feedback
  • Encourage newer employees to emotionally invest in the brand. Promote the practice ethos and delegate managerial ownership of areas of the business to them. It has been shown that Gen Z want to align with ethos and type
  • Listen to new ideas even if they have been discussed and rejected previously. Take the time to understand the new concept and look for key differences this time around
  • Support employees during challenges from clients. This was found to have a very strong positive reinforcement. Employees feel undervalued and less invested when a complaint is not investigated properly and appropriate support not given
  • Manage maternity leave constructively. Engage regularly in advance so that every employee is clear that you are supportive and want them back. These are key workers in your practice, already fully trained and ready to work
  • Embrace technology to gain efficiency. Generally speaking, let the Gen Z and the millennial employees lead on this. They have a much greater understanding of use and application of new tech, and baby boomers need to resist shying away from this due to a decreased familiarity and understanding

As always, there is never a single solution that will solve all the problems. However, I think the above demonstrates great adaptability and a continued commitment to evidence. Mirroring our clinical disposition, we are engaging with experts, gathering data and creating useable frameworks to facilitate improvements.

If anyone reading this item is considering leaving the equine profession, then please do not hesitate to contact the BEVA office and we will do our very best to support you.

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