As veterinary graduates' expectations change, employers need to look at new ways to support, retain and develop them in their careers. Darren McKintosh, senior business support manager at Independent Vetcare, explains why the group set up its Graduate Academy and why he thinks it's important
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THE shape and scope of veterinary practice is changing, influenced by a host of factors; for example, the rise of the internet (online pharmacies, social media, pet care forums and ‘Dr Google’), owners' expectations in the face of increased choice, and the desire to have a better work/life balance, which is not always compatible with practice ownership. Data from the RCVS's most recent survey of the veterinary profession in 2014 identified a number of key trends. Among the findings was that a third of the profession now works flexible hours and that two-thirds of respondents felt that a better work/life balance was needed.
As a group, Independent Vetcare's (IVC's) aim is to employ capable, dedicated and ambitious vets. Each IVC practice retains its own identity, branding, team and values, while benefiting from non-clinical support functions such as marketing, purchasing and human resources through the group, which has over 180 practices.
To support the new graduates who join us, we have developed a mutually beneficial nationwide scheme known as the IVC Graduate Academy. The academy started in September 2014, welcoming 15 newly qualified vets on a two-year placement in our practices across the country. In the second year, the programme expanded to 43 new graduates and there are plans to recruit as many as 60 new vets next year.
Explaining why he joined, Matthew Erskine who works at The Oaks Veterinary Centre in Ayrshire, said: ‘As a new graduate, it is quite daunting to face the daily realities of life as a veterinary surgeon, after years of learning the theory and honing skills in a safe environment. I was drawn to the IVC Graduate Academy primarily because of the ongoing programme of CPD and mentor support – many of my friends starting new jobs elsewhere are finding that level of support is rare.’
Our aim is to create a lasting, rewarding partnership with vets throughout their careers, and the programme has been designed to help graduates develop a range of business and clinical skills in a supportive environment. Extensive research with undergraduate vet students highlighted that the biggest challenge facing newly qualified vets was a lack of support as they embarked on practice life. The ‘it never did me any harm’ approach from some of the profession is neither helpful nor relevant when vets face increasing levels of disillusionment and stress.
The academy's year 1 programme delivers what we feel is exceptional support as well as comprehensive CPD. For example, new vets are exempt from both the clinical rota and out-of-hours rota during the first month of their employment. A quarter of the first month is spent working alongside the veterinary nurse and customer care teams, and at least one fully supported neutering procedure is undertaken each week. On top of that, the young vets receive training and coaching in consultation skills with access to weekend out-of-hours clinic experience. They also receive a competitive salary with additional bonuses and holiday entitlements, plus 12 days' CPD with external trainers and experts.
In the second year of the programme, they are offered quarterly CPD covering clinical specialisms such as orthopaedics and ophthalmology. Aston Ellis has just begun her second year and said: ‘I really enjoyed my first year – I was given so much support and encouragement, and the CPD programme covered a wide range of topics, not just limited to the clinical side of the role.’
Clinical directors of the future
IVC's commitment to the Graduate Academy, in terms of time and resources, reflects our ambition for the academy to sit at the heart of our future plans. Through the academy, we aim to:
▪ Recruit the best vets.
▪ Retain motivated people long-term.
▪ Develop existing clinical skills.
▪ Build complementary business expertise.
▪ Share best practice through coaching and mentoring.
▪ Offer a choice of challenging and rewarding career progressions.
Recruitment makes up a significant part of an average practice's budget, and yet its impact goes beyond the financial cost. Appointing the right vet, not just a vet, is crucial for keeping practice morale and client satisfaction levels high. The Graduate Academy means that IVC participating practices can welcome talented vets who already understand the group's ethos, who are committed to a long-term future with IVC and who are therefore much more likely to fit in.
In any business, the best managers are those who understand the market and have personal experience of the daily challenges of delivering what customers want. Vets who progress their career to clinical director level, having started in the academy, will have an appreciation of every aspect of practice life and, therefore, will be well placed as insightful, effective and expert senior members of any practice team.
IVC believes that its approach will help build a positive future for the vets of tomorrow. More information about IVC's Graduate Academy is available at www.independentvetcare.co.uk
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