Career training and coaching for veterinary professionals

Jenny Moffett
How many of us have asked ourselves: ‘Given a choice, would I do it all again?’

It might be a simple question, but it calls on us to examine deep-rooted beliefs about ourselves. For most, veterinary medicine goes beyond being a job that pays the bills. Often, it’s been part of our lives for so long, it’s difficult to separate our work from our values and identities. The things that challenge these beliefs – including ambivalence about our career choice – make us uncomfortable.

As a career coach, I know it’s human nature to try to avoid things that make us feel uncomfortable. In my experience, if the answer to ‘would you do the same again?’ is ‘no’ or ‘yes, but . . .’, the subject gets put in the too difficult box. But, failing to reflect on our career path and check that it remains a good fit, comes at a price.

Avoiding burnout and depression

Studies have shown how long-term job dissatisfaction has been linked to burnout and depression. Even more sobering is a study of Australian veterinarians that indicates that when we believe we have limited options to leave the profession (for example, if we consider our skills are not readily transferable), it can be a factor involved in suicidal thinking.

Helping veterinary staff find work they enjoy is a core mission of SkillsTree, the training and coaching company I set up with my partner in 2015. Our career planning services have been popular with those who either want to move up the ladder or change direction. But it’s also become apparent that many veterinary staff face barriers to accessing coaching.

"Failing to reflect on our career path and check that it remains a good fit comes at a price"

Time is always said to be the biggest issue. Some people are unable to commit to regular sessions because the weekly work rota doesn’t allow them to plan ahead. For others, out-of-hours work, or long days with last-minute walk-in appointments and emergencies, disrupt the time set aside for personal and professional development. Recognising these barriers, SkillsTree released an online career course ‘Veterinary medicine: where to next?’. Because it’s available online, it can help those who are unable to benefit from traditional coaching.

The course is self-paced and designed to guide participants through a series of exercises, which culminate with the creation of a personalised career plan. It’s intended to be a safe place for veterinary staff to untangle and examine their thoughts about their working life – what’s working, what’s not – and then equip them with the tools to make a practical change.

Opening doors for participants

One unpredicted effect of the course that has been fed back from participants is that it’s opened doors for those who may not have considered coaching before. One reason for this might be that veterinary professionals are excellent problem solvers who often adopt a ‘let me try to fix this first’ approach. This translates into a reluctance to involve someone else in an issue until we’ve had a chance to have a go at solving it ourselves. We’ve found the course gives participants the opportunity to try out the coaching route in a self-directed way. For some, a short course is all that’s needed to give them clarity and direct them on a path towards their next career opportunity. Others have more complicated challenges; for example, low self-confidence or conflicting values to work through. For them, the course can be a useful starting point.

Change is inevitable in all aspects of life

Veterinary professionals are also independent and practical people. However, there’s one thing in life that everyone can be sure about and that is that change is inevitable. We change as does our industry. Is it therefore reasonable to expect that our jobs will remain a perfect fit without any planning or thought?

I hope that the question ‘Would you do it all again?’ will become one that we ask ourselves regularly, and that we don’t feel the need to hide from the answer.

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