Easing new graduates into their vet careers
At this year’s Pets at Home Vet Group’s national partner conference, Vets4Pets Northampton won the group’s Graduate Practice of the Year award.
The practice takes pride in providing bespoke support packages to help ease young vets into their careers.
Practice owner Jenny Millington is the clinical mentor for new graduates at the practice and explains: ‘I qualified in 1999 and went straight into mixed practice in North Wales. There were no Day 1 skills or a professional development phase then – it was very much in at the deep end. I was fortunate to work in a large team with several other recently qualified vets who guided and supported me through my first year. Luckily, I quickly developed resilience and thrived in the traditional veterinary lifestyle of being on-call after a full day at work.
‘In 2009 I opened Vets4Pets Northampton as a joint venture partner and the practice has grown to become an RCVS accredited hospital practice, which has achieved six outstanding Practice Standard Scheme awards.
‘Things are different now for new graduates. As their mentor I can have an impact on their life and career and I feel privileged to be in such a position of responsibility.’
Graduate Emily examining dog with practice owner Jenny
Sally Courtney, practice manager, has a background in retail management. She loves managing teams and getting the best from them. She says: ‘I joined the team at Vets4Pets Northampton in 2015. Between then and now the landscape has changed, not only in terms of vet recruitment, but also regarding mental health and wellbeing. In 2018 I became a qualified mental health first aider. New graduates are particularly vulnerable to mental health issues, so it’s really important that we understand how to best support them.
‘I can imagine how scary it must be for them on their first day in veterinary practice, being responsible for the care of patients. I am passionate about providing new graduates with an amazing first job – I want to make them, not break them, as vets.’
Approach to employing inexperienced vets
The team has enjoyed having seven new graduate vets over the past few years. They have graduated from various universities from within the UK and Europe – including Greece, Budapest and Spain – and they have all joined with different Day 1 skills.
‘During the recruitment and interview process, we dig down into the level of experience they have, so we can gauge how much support they will need’, says Jenny. ‘It’s vital we know as much as we can about our new graduate before they join the team. For example, can they do a dog castration unaided, or do they need help with placing intravenous catheters and intubation?
‘It’s also really important to ensure that new graduates are right fit for our practice and the practice is right for them too.
‘Once we have offered them a job, we make sure the on-boarding process goes as smoothly as possible. We discuss their start date, ensuring they have a break between graduating and starting the world of veterinary life.
"It’s also really important to ensure that new graduates are right fit for our practice and the practice is right for them too"
Sally explains that the next step is making a formal offer, which outlines the package being offered. This includes details of their salary, holiday entitlement and any extra benefits, such as professional fees, volunteering days, gym membership and so on.’
For new graduates coming from further afield or abroad, the practice liaises with them about travel arrangements and helps them find places to rent and provide employer references for accommodation agencies. ‘We have even booked flights and collected new graduates from the airport, as starting a new (and often first ever) job in a new area or country is daunting. These little touches help to make the transition as smooth as possible.’
‘A well-structured induction programme is key, but it must be bespoke, as there is no ‘one size fits all’. It’s vital to have regular catch ups – we plan these in advance and make sure they happen when they are supposed to. We do four-, eight- and 12-week formal reviews, followed by ongoing monthly catch ups.’
The practice team sets aside time to ask new graduates how they are doing and talk through some cases. Building relationships within the team makes the senior vets more approachable and less intimidating to ask questions of, or to ask for help at any time.
Practice manager Sally (right) with new graduate Emily. The practice’s new graduates say they quickly gain confidence in their skills, and the support they get ensures they don’t feel lost or overloaded
The team recognises that it can be challenging for new graduates to be the least experienced vet in the practice. They might be working with vets who have been qualified for 20 years or more, certificate holders, even advanced practitioners.
‘Let’s face it, young graduates are going to make mistakes, and there are likely to be complaints. The only thing their mentors can do to is prepare them for this is to help them through each challenge,’ says Jenny.
‘Senior vets have been in the same position and experienced what they are going through. It’s important that we share our knowledge, and tell them about they are likely to experience. We can coach them through challenging cases and explain that it’s okay to make mistakes, as long as they learn from them.’
The Vets4Pets Group helps too. The new graduate scheme provides practical clinical CPD each month on aspects of first-opinion work, from dentistry to exotics. New graduates also benefit from CPD on resilience and human behaviour, as well as having fun days out at theme parks and safari parks. ‘This network is invaluable, offering access to advice and a shoulder to cry on if needed.’
‘Our practice philosophy is that nurturing new graduates takes time, effort and patience, but the rewards are keen, bonded vets who we can be proud of, and we enjoy watching them develop into well-rounded individuals.
‘Together with support from our practice team, I think we really do ensure that our young vets develop quickly and feel fully supported and cared for.
‘What’s especially lovely about winning this award is that we were nominated by our two new graduates, Rachel and Emily. It’s nice to know that they think we are doing such a good job.’
Top tips for employing new graduates
- Make time for them
- Provide a good, well planned induction
- Let them do stuff! Expose them to as much as possible while they have the security blanket of an experienced team around them, and someone to help if something goes wrong during surgery
- Have confidence in them and encourage them to push themselves outside their comfort zone
- Provide BVA membership for them. There is a wealth of resources for new graduates, including the Young Vet Network where they can meet up with colleagues in a similar position to their own
- Don’t leave them to get on with things until you are both comfortable about doing so.
- Recommend initiatives such as the Society of Practising Veterinary Surgeons graduate support service