It feels like quite a leap to go from being the vet student on EMS to suddenly being the qualified vet out on call with your own budding vet student in the car next to you. In what feels like an overnight change, new graduate vets find themselves in a position of immense responsibility which can bring conflicted feelings, caused by the infamous imposter syndrome along with the excitement of starting out in this rewarding profession after many years of study. That’s where being part of a community can really help to transform an experience from one that could simply be hugely intimidating and scary into one where we feel properly supported.
With the current shortage of vets, what can practices do to develop and retain their new graduates? This is going to become ever more vital for the profession. Nurturing new grads is not just about providing assistance when it is needed, it is also about helping them to identify key strengths and interests that should be developed, recognising that each individual has a unique set of skills that are valuable to the team. By encouraging new graduates to embrace their own career journey, we can make the experience more fulfilling. We aren’t trying to shoe-horn people into roles that don’t suit them, leading to immense stress, but rather are embracing their individuality. That can go a long way in keeping valuable new graduates and future leaders of the profession in practice.
The importance of finding a good fit
Part of the solution might lie in encouraging new vet students to invest more time in identifying the right first practice to give them the best start in their career. Having moved around a lot over the years between South Africa and Hungary, before studying for some time in Glasgow and then ending up back in Budapest for my veterinary studies, I really believe that it’s important to feel at home in your first practice as a new grad. With the current high demand for vets, new graduates can, and should, take the time to find the place where they fit in the most and would be comfortable living. It is OK not to accept the first offer that you get, and to take your time to get things right. My top tip is to go early to a practice that you’re seeing EMS with and look at how people walk in the door and engage with each other, whether they have a smile on their face and a positive outlook.
Where you chose to work will heavily influence what your “average” day might look like, and this is especially true for farm vets. At my practice, we see about 50:50 beef and dairy, and I enjoy having such a big mix of cases. I’m lucky enough to work with a diverse range of clients, from those that have financial constraints to those who are happy to pursue gold-standard treatments. This enables me to be inventive at coming up with solutions to suit the different challenges that this variety presents. It also allows me to perform some interesting diagnostics, and I’ve even been known to X-ray alpacas!
The take-home here is that factors such as geographical location, size of practice, vet rota, client base and in-house diagnostics will all affect what type of vet work you will be able to get involved with. Practices would do best to cater to the individual and be flexible where possible, aiming to establish what each new grad is comfortable with. Finding a practice that meets any of these expectations is just as important a part of the jigsaw as working somewhere friendly and supportive if we want to avoid new grad disillusionment.
I also would urge any soon-to-be graduates not to be limited by any preconceptions, and to talk to plenty of vets in practice to hear about and learn from their experience. A good example of this is that, despite the feminisation of the profession, there’s often a feeling among students that female vets in large animal practice will have a tough time. This can sadly be a barrier to young female vets considering farm animal practice. Happily, this has not been my experience: our clients make me feel valued and respect my opinion.
New grads bring fresh insights
Are practices making the most of their new grads? It is important to remember that although they have less experience than more senior colleagues, new grads bring with them valuable new perspectives and their own set of unique strengths. They help to enrich the practice in their own way.
There are lots of opportunities for training and pursuing your own professional interests. The “Train the Trainer” course I did with XLVets equipped me with useful knowledge about how adults learn, effective communication skills and adjusting training style to suit different audiences. This complemented my natural love of interacting with people and encouraging learning. I particularly enjoy getting involved with client education and I have gradually been able to take over with leading client meetings and courses. As a new grad there is often the worry that clients might not be very open to new ideas but I have generally found my clients to be very receptive to discussing these topics. I also find that they respect my honesty – they know that I’ll call a more senior colleague if ever I’m unsure, but see this as keenness to do a good job for them, not as a negative. Recent graduates can also play a big part in mentoring vet students. As a newer vet, you remember how they feel and it’s important to bear in mind that we’ve all been there, we all learn differently and are all interested in different things. Taking on students can be intimidating at first, but should be embraced as a great opportunity to help you consolidate your own learning. Through explaining things to others, it helps cement that knowledge and understanding and drives us to be better ourselves.
The value of leadership role models
Importance should be attributed to leadership role models. I’m surrounded by fantastic examples of leaders and mentors who work hard to bring out the best in the rest of the team. The shadow of these leaders is a powerful motivating factor in helping new graduates aspire to reach their potential, both within leadership roles but also within other aspects of their career journeys.
The community in which I work is a great fit for me, because I am really excited about the leadership opportunities that I will get to take on naturally over time. Many young vets feel intimidated by the thought of taking on these roles. People often equate experience with leadership aptitude and may not self-identify that they have the makings of a great mentor. Vets also have a predisposition to be highly self-critical and without the proper support and training can lack the confidence to take on these roles. We should remember the value of having different perspectives and personalities in leadership roles in order to help bring about meaningful change in the profession.