Practice perfects new veterinarians - Veterinary Practice
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Practice perfects new veterinarians

CLAIRE MILLINGTON communications officer at the RCVS, talks to two vets about their experiences

THANKFULLY, the new assistant starts tomorrow so you can cross your name off next weekend’s rota. Or maybe you are a newly qualified vet, feeling green as your scrubs and hoping that you won’t become the first vet ever to be struck off on their first day.

With different pressures and expectations, how can everyone make sure that new veterinary careers start out on track? Two vets compare notes.

Stephen Ware, a former RCVS president now retired from clinical practice, recalls his first day: “As I walked through the practice door the principal said, ‘I’ve been working without an assistant for the past three months and am going out with my wife tonight – you’re on your own’.”

Stephen says it “didn’t worry me unduly at the time, and he did say to hospitalise anything I wasn’t sure of for him to look at the next morning. But it could have been catastrophic.”

It probably wasn’t that unusual, Stephen says, and “although veterinary nursing was in its infancy, the practice had VNs and they knew what they were about – and I had no shortage of advice from the principal, and the nurses!”

Stephen knows many recent graduates as he is a Professional Development Phase (PDP) postgraduate dean. Completing PDP is a professional obligation for all new vets that aims to develop their competence from the newly qualified ‘Day One’ level – the minimum required for safe practice – to the ‘Year One’ level where the vet can carry out or manage a range of common clinical procedures without close supervision, in a reasonable period of time, and with a high probability of success. This usually takes about a year. Stephen says that today’s new vets expect – and need – more support from their employers. Why is this?

“Society has become more litigious, with clients gunning for vets in a way they just didn’t before,” he says. “This puts a heavier responsibility on today’s graduates – and practice principals need to guide them.”

Stephen advises new graduates to find out as much as they can about a practice before taking a role, as he still sometimes hears of new graduates “stuck out in a branch on their own”.

Proper contractual arrangements are important too – something the RCVS checks in all Practice Standards Scheme accredited practices – and the BVA Young Vet Network is campaigning for all vets to receive written contracts.

PDP postgraduate deans are also there to support those undertaking their PDP and can help point people in the right direction.

Laura Huseyin graduated in 2007 from the Royal Veterinary College and works at Shrubbery Vets,a large small animal practice in Kent. “Daunting,” is how she describes her first day. “I didn’t really expect to be left to get on with a consult straight away – although people were around if I needed them,” she says.

Getting to grips with new systems, including practice computers, is tough for any new employee, so some thinking about staff inductions can pay dividends.

Laura suggests settling in newly qualified vets with routine work, like health-check consults, for their first day or letting them shadow a colleague. “Even only doing every other consult would give you a chance to check anything you’re unsure about,” says Laura.

The practice has a clinical manager who mentored Laura – which she appreciates. “It’s particularly good if you can talk through at the end of each day the decisions you’ve taken,” she explains.

Useful system

Laura also has support from other recently-qualified vets working at the practice, including helping explain to colleagues what the PDP is. She found the online recording system useful when working out which skills she needed to develop and she emphasises that vets must assess their own capabilities – perhaps seeking less supervision over procedures they find simpler first, and asking initially to assist a more experienced vet with complex procedures.

“You might feel you learn more slowly; however, you will probably end up with a better surgical technique,” she says.

Stephen thinks referral practices seem attractive employers, but new graduates need to make sure they will “get a fair coverage of basic routine work, such as the bitch spays and PET passport documentation, for example”. He also warns that in referral practices new vets may be seen as interns and confined to prepping work for more qualified colleagues.

To gain experience of routine work like neutering, Laura recommends volunteering in a charity clinic, perhaps whilst job-hunting.

She points out the volume and variety of cases seen in her first opinion practice and says, “We have plenty of vets with postgraduate certificates so do work in-house that might otherwise be referred.”

Certification is one key competence on which, as Stephen says, “personal and professional reputation stands or falls – and which vets need to get nailed”. Practices may have difficulty providing certification experience to the new graduate but you need to demonstrate that you have at least discussed the issues with a senior colleague.

Stephen advises thinking broadly when recording some skills, such as bio-security. “It’s about simple things like clean cars and boot washing after a farm visit as much as disease control and barrier nursing.”

He advises new vets to get in the habit of recording their PDP properly, saying that the “mere action of ticking boxes is not in itself a measure of competence: graduates need to fill in the notes and show they have reflected on what they do before they sign themselves off.”

As he points out, “You’re saying you can stand on your own two feet, can deal with the majority of cases without needing to refer to senior colleagues and have a reasonable prospect of success.”

At the end of it all though, as Laura says, getting that sign-off, and looking back at your progress since graduating, gives a real sense of achievement.

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