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Practice support. How to spot the warning signs before you take the job
  1. Harvey Locke


Small animal practitioner and BVA past-president, Harvey Locke, will join recent graduate Stephanie Massey to discuss practice support at this year's BVA Careers Fair at the London Vet Show. Here he discusses what to look for

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THE RCVS recently commissioned a survey of the past five years' UK graduates, carried out by the Institute of Employment Studies, to ask how long it took them to find work, how long they stayed in their first jobs and why they moved on. A worrying finding was that, with the 2012 graduates, over 40 per cent of those who had left their first position did so within three months of starting work. Jacqui Molyneux, the RCVS President at the time, commented: ‘Although the turnover in first jobs seems, in part, due to an increase in temporary posts, I am saddened to see that the most commonly cited reason for new graduates leaving their first job was lack of support from their employers or professional colleagues.’

Having attended many recent graduate reunions at the vet schools over recent years and hearing first hand some of the bad experiences young vets are having in their first year in practice, this statistic is not too much of a surprise to me. Jacqui went on to say: ‘This is an area that we, as a profession, must address. As I have told all the students I have admitted to the college, their first jobs will influence their whole careers and getting adequate support is probably the single most important factor.’

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So are we, as employers, failing our new graduates? Are we so busy in practice that we expect new graduates to come out of university and hit the ground running like we did in our day? Or have we failed to accept that the profession is rapidly changing, graduates do not have the same level of practical experience that was available 20 or 30 years ago, client knowledge and expectations have risen steadily and we, like it or not, are living in a more questioning and litigious society?

I am afraid that, all too often, we hear of experiences from new graduates where the terms and conditions of the job that were promised at the interview fail to materialise once the position is taken up. The concerns that are expressed by some graduates include:

▪ The practice doesn't support me

▪ The practice takes advantage of me

▪ I feel I'm used as cheap labour

▪ I don't get given any responsible jobs

▪ The partners choose all the best jobs

On the other hand, could it be that new graduates are expecting too much in their first job and, as with any career not realising that a ‘practical apprenticeship’ is needed to move from Day 1 competences to Year 1 competences and that, realistically, they will not be contributing to practice profitability for the first few months in their first job.

Both the new graduate and the practice have responsibilities to each other and these should be recognised and addressed. Inevitably, there will be instances of personal incompatibilities, but often it is a lack of awareness of what is required from one or both parties that is at the root of the problem. So, what can be done to help meet expectations on both sides that will reduce, if not eliminate, the waste of time, money and effort that occurs with this high changeover rate in practice? Unlike medical graduates who go through a structured and lengthy preregistration period (during which they are given continuous feedback) that helps ensure they are focused in the right direction, the veterinary graduate, after leaving the protected environment of university, can be thrown in at the deep end often without any suitable mentoring. The practice that takes on a new graduate needs to be organised in such a way that a structured support programme is in place. This requires time, effort and money and it is my view that practices that are not prepared to accept this commitment should only employ experienced vets.

At the BVA Careers Fair, we will aim to help new graduates to spot the warning signs before they take the job.

Stephanie Massey, a 2011 graduate, will be joining me to give the recent graduates' point of view. She will be looking at what constitutes support. Does it go beyond just being there to help answer any clinical dilemma that you may have to showing confidence in you and passing that confidence on to the clients? This is especially important in farm animal and equine practice where the new graduate is usually out there on their own with the client. What are the barriers to providing that support and how can the graduate overcome those barriers, or even identify what they may be?

Looking out for the warning signs starts well before accepting a job offer. Much information can be gathered from looking closely at the job advertisement and then doing your own research into the practice before even applying for a position. Most practices nowadays have a website that will provide information about, not only the facilities and equipment, but also the vets and support staff who are working in the practice. Who are the owners and what are their individual interests? Does the practice already employ recent graduates? Is the practice accredited with the RCVS Practice Standards Scheme? If it is, then it tells you that they must provide job descriptions and employment contracts. They must also carry out annual performance reviews of all the staff and have policies on clinical governance. Equally, if the practice is Investor in People recognised then it should tell you that they take the welfare of their staff seriously.

You need to be able to assess the level of support the practice offers and their attitude to professional and personal development at the interview. During the careers fair, we will also discuss the list of questions that you should go armed with and how to approach the interview – it is always worth remembering that you are assessing the practice just as much as they are assessing you. Among other things to consider would be whether the interviewer will offer you the chance to speak to some of the vets and nurses in the practice without their being present? And will they invite you in to spend a day in the practice before committing to accepting the offer of a position?

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