Overcoming the challenges facing the ‘Covid cohort’

Aimee Hamilton

I still remember the first day of my veterinary career, the butterflies in my stomach, the thoughts of ‘I can’t believe I am an actual vet’, swiftly followed by ‘Can I actually do this?…What happens if I don’t know what’s wrong with the patient?…Will I be able to do the surgery?…What happens if I have to euthanase a dog?…How will the owners be?’ 

So many thoughts rush through your head on the first day, as well as trying to remember everyone’s names, finding your way to and around the practice, and then attempting to use the veterinary software to add in your notes in the only way you know how… to SOAP!

So, I cannot imagine how the current ‘fresh out of vet school’ cohort must be feeling. Having been faced with a global pandemic, you have been denied the final few months of learning and growing with your fellow vets under the supportive and familiar umbrella of your vet school. This, no doubt, will be playing heavy on your mind, along with concerns around finding and securing your first job. 

There’s no getting away from the fact that the current state of the veterinary profession for employment is a difficult one. Putting my employer’s hat on, we still have staff on furlough at my practice, so cannot justify taking on new vets until we have brought back those that we currently employ. If I were to put my employee’s hat on, work days are tough, long, full of patients and clients’ expectations that are creeping back to normality, all of which has to be coped with on slightly reduced staff levels, as who knows when the next wave of the virus will hit? With the prospect of having to shut down whole clinics for one to two weeks, we are all trying to second guess and do our best to have ‘reserve teams’ of employees.

Take your time

I know that when I finished vet school I just wanted to start being a vet. If you are lucky enough to have secured a job before Covid hit, or to have known a practice through EMS, or had an interview in slightly less stressful times, I am sure you will have had plenty of time to think about the job and ensure there is a good support system in the practice. If, however, you are currently on the lookout for your first job, my advice would still be to not rush it! 

'You must still remember to stop and ask yourself whether the practice is right for you' 

I should imagine the demand for new vets might be higher in certain practices if their current team is becoming fatigued, but you must still remember to stop and ask yourself whether it is the right practice for you. As with any first job, you will be thrown in at the deep end, but in a normal year, that wouldn’t be a deep end compounded by a pandemic. 

Don’t be afraid to speak up

No doubt, you will be worried about certain things – perhaps about a lack of hands-on practical skills, or not finishing your EMS. My advice would be that it is ok to tell your employer about your concerns at interview or within your first few days on the job. In fact, raising them early before you find yourself in a difficult clinical position is always better. From an employer’s perspective, I would much rather a vet tell me their worries so I am aware and can balance their workload or the type of cases they see before they find themselves stressed, anxious and burnt out. 

Being capable practically only comes with practice – it is not something that can be read and learnt from a book. Having honest conversations with your new team means they can help you achieve any skill set that you may feel you have missed out on. As an employer, I have found each new graduate to be different. Even without having completed all their EMS, some new grads will still fly and cope, but others may succumb to their insecurities or even imposter syndrome. I was given a useful bit of advice by a vet while I was on EMS – they told me that ‘You know the most you will ever know when you first graduate.’ So, remember, your knowledge will be vast and the practical skills to support that knowledge will come with time. 

How can employers help?

As employers we have to listen! The past few months may have seemed never ending, with worries whether we will even have a business to employ vets in, through to concerns about abandoning our patients if we ourselves get struck down by the virus. Although the worries of our new grads will be different, their worries will seem equally real to them. As our experience grows, we forget the four stages of competency that we have all been through:


Employers can help new grads and themselves by setting up some win-win situations. For example, new grads can help with catching up on the backlog of routine vaccinations that has built up from the period when we were unable to see patients. Also, what about routine neutering procedures? In our practice, we are now being inundated with requests for neuterings, again a backlog from the past quarter of the year. And that’s not to mention the puppy boom that happened over lockdown – in another six to 12 months, many of those puppies will also need to be neutered. 

'The more employers invest in their new grads, the more reward they will get'

One of the best ways to show support is to be approachable and make time for your new grads. It doesn’t have to be hours and hours, but simply a chance to check in. Allow them to tell you about their worries and remember we have all been there. This is a chance to share your experience and enrich their learning. 

There are also programmes out there to provide external support for new grads, such as Grads to Vets, which arranges very useful online graduate CPD days/courses, offers new grads access to a recent graduate mentor from outside their practice, and helps employers train internal clinical coaches for their new grads.

Ultimately, as in any year, the more employers invest in their new grads, the more reward they will get. In developing a well-rounded, confident and self-assured vet, any setbacks of qualifying during a global pandemic will be forgotten in years to come!

Back to Categories