Defining support in practice
When looking for a job as a new or recent graduate, everyone recommends that you find a ‘supportive’ practice. However, I always thought that the term ‘supportive’ seemed fairly vague when describing the type of practice I should look for. Supportive by definition means providing encouragement or emotional help, which I thought could be interpreted in so many ways that I didn’t really understand what it meant.
As a new graduate working at ProStock Vets, a large farm-only practice in South Wales, I now have a greater appreciation of what ‘support’ means and what it looks like day to day, even with the challenges of Covid. Of course, the level of support required will vary depending on the personality of each new vet and their level of experience with cases and procedures. However, I hope that by sharing some of the practicalities of my practice’s support system, it might provide some insights for those who are looking for their own definition of support. As a farm vet, I realise some of this may not be applicable to mixed, small animal or equine vets, but there may be some transferable points for your benefit as well.
Some of the practical support strategies in place at my practice include:
- Induction and introduction to the practice management software. Time was set aside in my first week for me to go through all the paperwork required with a member of staff and to familiarise myself with booking visits onto the online diary.
- Team mentors. I have two different types of mentor at the forefront of my support network. The first is my ‘Litmus’ mentor. This is one of my bosses, who meets with me monthly to discuss my progress in skill development, any general concerns that I might have and how they can help me to reach my goals. My second mentors are my ‘Buddies’, two younger vets who I can turn to for my many day-to-day questions, for difficult cases and for general advice. Of course, I can turn to any vet or staff member in the practice if I have a question I need to ask. However, having designated mentors makes reviewing my progression or calling about a tricky case seem less daunting and more purposeful. My Litmus and Buddies are the cornerstone of my support system. They have already gone above and beyond any of my expectations and I can’t express how grateful I am for their generosity.
- Setting a timeframe for progression. My Litmus mentor and I monitor my online skills sheet – this contains a list of procedures and common presentations that I aim to be comfortable with at three, six and 12 months into practice (the timeframe allocated for learning different skills is linked to how common and how complex something is). This creates a clear direction and, if skills aren’t achieved by the target set, this can be addressed and further training in that area can be supported.
- On-call. Support during on-call is arguably the most vital thing for a new graduate potentially taking an emergency phone call from a distressed client. In my practice, the new graduates are second on-call to a senior vet who takes the phone call from the client, assesses the nature of the call and then, if appropriate, phones the new graduate. The new graduate then heads out to the call with a senior vet following approximately 20 minutes behind. As my confidence and capabilities grow, my senior colleague will wait to hear from me before joining me at a call and I will start taking the phones when I feel able. I realise busy rota schedules mean this may not be possible in smaller practices but having a colleague who is contactable by phone during new graduate on-call periods is another solution.
- Clinical cases. When presented with a sick cow call or another clinical case I have a few support options open to me. Depending on my experience and the type of case, I can either shadow a senior colleague, be supported by a colleague turning up at the visit after a time delay, or complete the visit independently with a vet on the end of the phone if required. To support mutual learning, colleagues use interesting cases they have seen to run case scenarios during a weekly vets’ meeting. Other practice staff have also been immensely helpful booking visits into the diary to increase my exposure to a range of typical callouts and help me develop a variety of skills.
- Surgery. Some practices follow the protocol for developing surgical skills of ‘watch one, assist in one, do one’. In farm practice, where surgeries can be time dependent due to the use of local anaesthetic blocks, moving from assisting to completing a surgery can be a challenge. To accommodate this, colleagues have provided me with the opportunity to practise different components of the same surgery during cases to increase my speed in each element and make a gradual transition towards the goal of completing a whole surgery unassisted in a reasonable time.
- Allowing new vets to take more time. I have found that my team has been very forgiving when I take longer to complete a task compared to more experienced colleagues. The diary always leaves enough time for travelling (and sometimes getting lost) between calls and I tend to know roughly where my calls are likely to be the next day so I can find the farm on Bing OS maps before embarking on the visit.
- Taking breaks. My practice encourages me not to take work home with me and my colleagues recognise the importance of work-life balance. For instance, they have been organising Zoom quizzes to stay in touch with colleagues as much as possible given Covid restrictions. This means I have not only met most of the team from the four branches – albeit virtually in some cases – but I return to work fresh to start the next day.
The overarching impression of ‘support’ that I have taken from my job is that it is very individual. Any new graduate employee should be able to define their own meaning of ‘support’ and set their own pace, while being actively engaged with progressing in a timely manner. My practice has tailored its support system to my individual needs and I now feel comfortable going to calls on my own, with another vet following if required. I cannot be more thankful to have joined such an exceptionally supportive practice.