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Support needs of veterinary surgeons during the first few years of practice: perceptions of recent graduates and senior partners
  1. J. E. Routly, BSc, CBiol, MIBiol1,
  2. H. Dobson, BSc, PhD, DSc1,
  3. I. R. Taylor, BSc, MEd2,
  4. E. J. McKernan, BA, PGCE2 and
  5. R. Turner, BA3
  1. 1 Department of Veterinary Clinical Science and Animal Husbandry, University of Liverpool, Neston, Cheshire CH64 7TE
  2. 2 Evaluation and Assessment Unit
  3. 3 Centre for Careers and Academic Practice, University of Liverpool, PO Box 147, Liverpool L69 3BX


Postal surveys or personal interviews of 76 recent veterinary graduates and their 49 employers were undertaken to establish their perceptions of good practice when integrating a new graduate into a business and their preferred methods of assessment and development. Practice type and location were the main influences on graduates looking for their first job. Interviews were mostly informal. Employers expected basic veterinary competence and candidates expected good quality support. Most graduates (93 per cent) had their own consultations on the first day. During early consultations 2 per cent of senior vets accompanied the new graduate, 95 per cent of practices provided senior back-up either in person or by telephone but in 3 per cent no back-up was available. Most new graduates (90 per cent) were satisfied with their workload. Three-fifths were on-call within the first week, and 95 per cent within a month. Graduates received calls directly in 45 per cent of practices, in 9 per cent seniors screened the calls, and the remainder used a third party. Assistance from experienced lay staff varied greatly. Discussion of problems was mainly informal. There was little spontaneous feedback and problems resulted from inadequate communication. One in three new graduates left their first job within two years, and one in six identified lack of support, heavy workload, stress or clashes with staff as a primary reason. This high turnover was a problem for employers. From the new graduates' perspectives, initial problems included: being on call (59 per cent), financial aspects (47 per cent) and surgery (43 per cent). Communicating with clients and learning to prioritise jobs were also difficult. New graduates took longer over procedures (79 per cent of employers commented) and required extra back-up (91 per cent) both of which reduced income (59 per cent). Nearly all the seniors felt that their current new graduates had coped ‘quite well’, although it was claimed that new graduates lacked the ability to talk to clients at the appropriate level, wanted to bring all their scientific knowledge to bear on every case, and often failed to consider the obvious or to appreciate clients' needs. Only 18 per cent of practices had formal and regular review procedures but all monitored the response of clients and watched the new graduate perform. Feedback to their new colleague was considered ‘adequate’ by 85 per cent of seniors, although 45 per cent of graduates felt they had not received enough. Eighty-three per cent of new graduates felt ‘moderately prepared’ by their undergraduate course, and 76 per cent of senior vets were ‘generally satisfied’. Both wanted improvements in extramural studies and increased exposure to routine cases. Senior partners sought greater commitment in the undergraduate curriculum to financial/legal issues and communication skills. Over a third of employers (38 per cent) had a ‘great influence’ on the choice of continuing professional development courses for their recent graduates. New graduates chose courses to deal with a perceived weakness, or to specialise, and welcomed opportunities to meet other new graduates and share early experiences. It was concluded that turnover and staff problems would be reduced if practices became more effective in coping with new arrivals, especially by supporting their development.

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