Why is it difficult to recruit new clinical staff? - Veterinary Practice
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Why is it difficult to recruit new clinical staff?

RECORD NUMBERS OF VETERINARY SURGEONS ARE BEING ADMITTED to the Royal College Register from the UK colleges and their sister institutions across the European Union: so why can’t practices in this country recruit the experienced clinicians that they need?

Delegates at the BSAVA congress in April tackled this conundrum in a panel discussion where they heard that in surveys by the BVA and SPVS, more than 70% of practices reported difficulties in recruiting new clinical staff. That was when the process takes more than three months and, in 20% of those cases, it was taking between six and nine months to fill the post.

In the majority of cases, those practices were looking for experienced practitioners who had been qualified for four years or more. But far from relishing being so sought after, many vets in the late 20s age group have become disenchanted with their careers. Indeed, an alarming 42% of respondents said they wished they had studied for a different degree, the audience was told.

But while there are large numbers of veterinary surgeons demonstrating this dissatisfaction by turning their back on full-time work in first opinion practice, they are not actually leaving the profession.

“The numbers of members who are leaving the RCVS Register is really small. It appears that they are going elsewhere within the profession or they are deciding to go part-time,” said RCVS council member Dr Kit Sturgess.

This latter option is particularly attractive to male practitioners: there has been continued growth in the numbers taking part-time roles at a time when the numbers of women vets in this category has stabilised, he said. The BVA’s junior vice-president, Gudrun Ravetz, argued that the veterinary profession should “stop beating itself up” over these surveys.

“The results are the same in other professions. People look around and they think that the grass is greener elsewhere and there are those that may want to try something else. What is important is that we make it easy for them to come back to the profession when they do decide that they want to return.”

Management’s responsibility

Speakers noted that responsibility for finding a solution to the manpower problems that are affecting first opinion practices lay with their management. The practice owners will need to make the working conditions attractive to experienced vets and also be prepared to help new graduates through their first few months in the job.

Some older members in the audience, however, felt that too much was being asked of the practitioner arm. One argued that the veterinary schools were failing in their duty to train their students in the practical skills that they would need for a career in practice.

Another insisted that new graduates entering the profession have changed over the past two or three decades, and the current crop appears to “need significantly more hand holding than they did in the past”.

Charlotte Bray, manager of the new graduate programme at CVS and responsible for the training of 160 recently qualified clinicians employed by the corporate group, disagreed that today’s graduates were less skilled than in the past.

“It is not a matter of competence, it is a question of confidence,” she said. The purpose of the CVS programme was to support these younger colleagues as they develop the additional skills they need to cope with the demands of practice life.

‘Seeing practice’ is vital

Hannah Hunt, a 2015 RVC graduate, argued that the training received in “seeing practice” was vital for acquiring the practical skills needed by newly qualified clinicians; however, the quality of training received can vary considerably between different host practices.

“In some places, a student is not allowed to do anything other than stand around and watch. Even when you go back there later on in your course, you may still not be trusted to show what you can do,” she said.

Dr Sturgess agreed that the profession has a poor record in mentoring its younger members. This could be exacerbated in practices operating a salary scheme based on contributions to practice turnover.

“Unless you are the owner of the practice, there is no incentive to spending time helping the new graduate when you could be carrying out your own procedures and increasing your own earnings.”

A practice should not expect a new graduate to be an asset in the first few months after graduation, argued Dr Ravetz. In the beginning, it was unlikely that inexperienced vets would earn enough fee income to justify their salary but the practice should see nurturing their career as a valuable investment in the future of the profession.

Professor Stephen May, deputy principal of the RVC, challenged the view that the sole purpose of the veterinary schools was to prepare students for a career as practitioners. All the UK schools have a responsibility to provide their students with a scientific education rather than just a practical training.

This would allow them to use their scientific judgement in whichever branch of the profession that they chose to enter, he said. “That is the reason we were given our royal charter – it was to make sure that we were offering something different to the quacks.”

Prof. May did accept some responsibility for the lack of confidence shown by many new graduates when they have to make their decisions on managing their own cases.

“I think that we, as the experts, give an unrealistic impression of what to expect. Speakers at conferences will describe their cases in a way that new graduates won’t recognise when they have to face the difficulties of dealing with a real life situation, where it isn’t always black and white.

“There is none of the uncertainty, the dead ends and the incorrect tests, which is what actually happens in reality.”

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