Being a veterinarian is one of the most important jobs in the world. Veterinarians not only help diagnose and treat a multitude of diseases but also promote animal welfare by educating others and protecting the human food supply chain.
But what happens when these vets become disillusioned with their work? Exhausted by the mental and physical strain that comes from such a responsibility?
In the veterinary profession, every year more and more veterinary graduates are burnt out and disappointed with their jobs. Although 95% of veterinary graduates are satisfied with their veterinary education and training, many are dissatisfied with their work- making it harder for practices to hire and retain staff1 2.
But why exactly do veterinary graduates seem less satisfied in their work, and how can employers improve veterinary grad retention?
Click here to find out why veterinary professionals are leaving the industry.
Veterinary Graduates Don’t Have the Skills They Need
To some degree, every new grad entering the workplace has to deal with the inevitable (and sometimes overwhelming) transition into professional life.
Whilst this period is tumultuous for many, this couldn’t be more true for veterinary graduates. Although vets primarily require a good set of clinical skills to succeed in their careers, non-clinical skills (such as communication skills) are also often required.
Inadequate preparation of students in veterinary school is a major driver for graduate dissatisfaction and burnout3. Many veterinary graduates struggle to manage emotions during client interactions and seek support during stressful periods. They can also find it difficult to bounce back from setbacks and remain calm during pressurized situations.
Additionally, although graduate employers are generally ‘satisfied or impressed by their new graduates’ clinical abilities, many note difficulties regarding their employee’s ability to function within a team, manage stress, and maintain confidence levels in practice (according to a 2019 survey4).
This has major implications in terms of worker wellbeing and veterinary grad retention. If graduates lack the skills needed to cope with the stressors of veterinary life, how can they be expected to remain in the field for the rest of their lives?
Find out the essential soft skills every veterinarian needs here.
Another one of the biggest drivers of poor veterinary grad retention is inadequate training (or lack thereof).
Although it is pretty standard to receive training when taking on a new role (regardless of how senior it is), many vets are thrown straight into the deep end without a life jacket.
Upon completion of a veterinary degree program, many new graduates are assumed to have ‘day one’ competency. This means they are considered to be safe to practice, as long as they have some supervision from a senior member of staff.
However, the reality is that many senior veterinary professionals are overwhelmed. They either lack the time to adequately train staff, or the skills required to do so. This is a major problem for many veterinary graduates and is one of the major drivers of burnout5.
Previous surveys have found that veterinary graduates are typically expected to see consultations and after-hours emergencies (with no support) within their first few weeks of starting their first job6. This may be due (in part) to the ‘teaching fatigue’ many senior vets experience after having to continuously train vets throughout their careers and the lack of free time in the clinic for training purposes.
Generational Divides Between New and Experienced Vets
The generation divide between older veterinarians and younger veterinarians is so wide it is probably better described as a gulf.
Intergenerational differences in work ethic and expectation have been cited as one of the biggest drivers of graduate dissatisfaction in the workplace.
Newer generations of graduates are seen as having lower levels of work ethic, resilience, and willingness to take responsibility for themselves in practice7. Because employers have different expectations in terms of onboarding and training (given their personal experiences in the field when they were young vets) they may be more hesitant to provide the level of mentorship many graduates seek.
This theory aligns with research looking at workplace happiness and satisfaction amongst vets. ‘Happier’ vets tend to be more ‘challenge’ focused than their less satisfied counterparts, who get greater satisfaction from patient diagnosis and treatment8. This makes sense given the wider context, as those who lack support are likely only able to thrive if they can withstand such environments.
Although veterinary grad retention isn’t amazing- it’s not all doom and gloom.
There are several strategies practice owners and managers can utilize to onboard and retain their graduate staff, including:
-Diarizing regular performance meetings.
-Using checklists of technical skills and non-technical skills to guide personal development planning.
-Hosting compulsory career support sessions with experienced veterinarians9.
Although it can be frustrating to take on staff that feels overly ‘needy’ or ‘inexperienced’, have patience and remember- you were in their shoes once!
Your staff are probably fully capable of taking on the job- but just need your gentle guidance and support to help get them there.
For practice owners or managers looking to develop their team’s non-clinical skills, our complementary Thrive Lite course could be of use. The Thrive Lite experience will give you access to the first core module of non-clinical teaching: Planning your Career and Smashing F.E.A.R.
To check it out, click here.
1- ‘Grad Survey Shows Students Getting Satisfaction at Vet School ….’ https://www.bcva.org.uk/news/grad-survey-shows-students-getting-satisfaction-vet-school. Accessed 3 May. 2021.
2- ‘Recruitment and retention: what can be done? | Veterinary Practice.’ 1 Jun. 2017, https://veterinary-practice.com/article/recruitment-and-retention-what-can-be-done. Accessed 3 May. 2021.
3- ‘Experiences of employers, work colleagues, and mentors with new ….’ https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32814498/. Accessed 3 May. 2021.
4- ‘Graduate and Employer Surveys | Veterinary Schools Council UK.’ https://www.vetschoolscouncil.ac.uk/policy/graduate-and-employer-surveys/. Accessed 3 May. 2021.
5- ‘Experiences of employers, work colleagues, and mentors with new ….’ https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32814498/. Accessed 3 May. 2021.
6- ‘Support needs of veterinary surgeons during the first few years of ….’ https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11888109/. Accessed 3 May. 2021.
7- ‘Experiences of employers, work colleagues, and mentors with new ….’ https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32814498/. Accessed 3 May. 2021.
8- ‘New Study Reveals ‘challenge focused’ veterinary graduates will ….’ 4 Jul. 2018, https://www.rvc.ac.uk/research/news/general/new-study-reveals-challenge-focused-veterinary-graduates-will-experience-graduate-will-experience-higher-job-satisfaction. Accessed 3 May. 2021.
9- ‘Experiences of employers, work colleagues, and mentors with new ….’ https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32814498/. Accessed 3 May. 2021.