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Graduates mean business
  1. Mandy Stevens

Abstract

Companion Care is developing its graduate programme, which aims to develop people who will become future partners of the business. Mandy Stevens, HR manager at the company, explains how the programme works

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THE Companion Care Group operates over 100 surgeries and is one of the largest veterinary employers in the UK. From the south coast through to the Midlands, Scotland and Northern Ireland, the network of surgeries is set to continue the rapid growth it has seen in the past three years and is on track to have over 200 surgeries nationwide by 2015. For graduates, this means ever-growing opportunities for jobs and the expansion of Companion Care Vets’ Graduate Programme in 2012 demonstrates our commitment to the next generation.

Veterinary partner Jason Davidson with his dogs Nugget and Chilli

The programme was launched in 2011, and five graduates are now into their second- year placement. Such was the success of the programme that the 2012 intake was doubled, and 12 graduates recently began their two-year placements at surgeries across the UK.

Over 80 people expressed an interest in the programme, which was advertised nationwide. Thirty-five people were put through an assessment exercise, which involved a group task, speed interviewing and a scenario-based exercise from which the final 12 were selected.

The partners of the surgeries who have employed a graduate made a decision to join the group's programme – each Companion Care veterinary surgery is owned and managed by veterinary directors who have full clinical control of the surgery, while support services such as information technology, marketing and human resources are provided by Companion Care Services. None of the partners was ‘told’ they would be taking on a graduate – it was a business decision based on the need for resource and the skill set available in surgery that would enable a graduate to gain the most from their placement. The success of the first intake of graduates speaks for itself. Between September 1, 2011, and May 31, 2012, the gross income generated by the five graduates was just over £650,000.

The 2012 programme

The graduate programme aims to find and develop people who will become the future partners of the business – graduates who are passionate about providing the best level of pet health care and customer service and who have an entrepreneurial spirit to boot!

A big part of the company's scheme is to help graduates obtain and develop a rounded view of the business, exposing them to different experiences and day-to-day work activities, which are designed to enhance skills and develop personal attributes. Our learning and development programmes aim to help graduates develop their veterinary, personal, commercial and management skills.

The placement duration is two years, and each of the graduates is closely mentored and their clinical learning follows the framework developed by the RCVS as part of its Professional Development Phase. Business support is provided through secondment to Companion Care's support services departments and theory-based learning. All graduates are placed in a practice from day 1, building on their clinical experience.

Being a vet affords enormous opportunities to build a successful business that provides satisfaction, financial reward and work-life balance.

Graduates work to their own personal development programme, and in addition to in-practice experiential learning, also complete a number of classroom-based management training courses, helping to develop the specific skills and knowledge that are needed to perform as a vet and to help with their career progression.

Once a graduate has completed the two-year programme, they have the opportunity to take on a permanent full- or part-time position. There is also the potential to open and manage their own practice inside a Pets at Home store or on a stand alone basis.

Taking on a graduate – a veterinary partner's point of view

Vet and partner at the Derby surgery, Jason Davidson, speaks of his experience of employing a graduate: ‘I have been lucky with my graduate in that Natalie is hard working and conscientious. She is keen to learn and work up her cases correctly and thoroughly. She is also not afraid to try new techniques and learn from other team members’.

‘She was employed at a time when we were making the transition from a two-vet to a three-vet practice and as her experience and confidence have grown so has her workload, to the point where the work and income she is generating is more than covering the cost of employing her. The benefit to the surgery is that we now have a fully competent vet on our team and this has enabled the rota to be adjusted so that we all get a half day off every week and a better weekend work rota.

‘Companion Care offers an increased level of support for new graduates and also CPD and training that would not normally be provided in their first year of employment.

‘I fully believe that the success of the placement in our surgery is mostly as a result of Natalie's personality, willingness to learn and work hard. The whole team has supported her and helped her to find her feet and develop her confidence.’

Graduate perspective – Natalie Brown, Companion Care Vets, Derby

Natalie joined Companion Care in Derby as part of the first intake of graduates on the company's graduate programme. She writes

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‘I have found the graduate programme very helpful. It was good to be able to keep a diary of what I had achieved and what I wanted to work on, so that I could let my veterinary colleagues – Jason and Dawn – know the cases and surgeries I would like to observe or do. The people here in Derby have been very supportive and it's an ideal practice for new graduates.

‘When I started in 2011, my day-to-day work was routine vaccinations and puppy and kitten consultations. I started other consults slowly – seeing cases of vomiting, diarrhoea, etc, until I was seeing the same cases as the other vets. It was a good way to learn and get used to the surgery, the price list, as well as dealing with computers and drugs.

‘I started doing surgery straight away and it was a brilliant learning experience. Neutering ops are routine and I was given the odd lump removal or dental to do, until I was doing ops like the other vets. I would still like to do some eye surgery, but I did achieve my goal last year of performing a gastrotomy – a definite highlight!

‘In the future, I would like to develop my interests in exotic medicine and am starting CPD this year. The graduate programme organises CPD for us and hopefully I will be able to do more exotics.’

‘Overall, the graduate programme offers a lot of support and stability, with a varied medical caseload and regularly busy surgery days. There is a lot of contact and communication with the joint venture partners and the support office and it is easy to set and reach new goals in practice.’

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