BY: Gemma Gaitskell
Finishing vet school can signal the end of a long and challenging journey for many, often leaving people feeling relieved to have finally completed their studies and excited about what the future has to hold. The harsh reality of starting a new job and having to take responsibility for your decisions, deal with clients, work as part of an already established team and act in situations where you feel unsure often sets in very quickly. These challenges can mean that this initial period is a particularly stressful time for new veterinary graduates, many of whom feel overwhelmed with the enormous responsibility and pressure, often leaving people questioning whether they have what it takes to be a vet in practice after all.
Having someone more experienced to support and mentor you, especially during difficult times or complicated cases can make all the difference between a smooth transition into practice and an unpleasant and stressful experience. Several pilot schemes and studies around the world have found that having access to a mentor who can provide confidential support and guidance on personal, professional and career development issues allows for a more positive experience for new graduates and receives positive feedback from both sides. More experienced individuals providing the support feel they have also benefited from the experience; mentoring schemes provide a fresh perspective and insight into the challenges and hurdles facing the graduates of today, as well an opportunity to keep up to date with recent developments in veterinary education.
Setting new graduates up for success from an employers perspective can mean providing additional training and coaching in areas of weakness or to reinforce knowledge, supervision and advice during surgical procedures, a gradual introduction into any on-call or emergency roster during the first few months of employment and ensuring that a more experienced vet is first on call during this initial time to provide support in what are often unexpected situations and sometimes difficult cases. These are all aspects that can ensure a pleasant working experience for new graduates and are highly attractive for people looking for their first job as a vet.
It is estimated that more than a third of vets leave their first job within the first 3-4 years of graduations solely because they did not feel they received adequate support and mentoring. Although this may all seem like a lot of extra and unnecessary effort for the employer it pays off in the long term, fostering more confident, resilient and satisfied staff, that are able to develop to their full potential in addition to a more pleasant working atmosphere and a lower staff turnover. Losing any employee has financial implications for a practice, and these are increased where new graduates are concerned, so the cost of dedicating time and resources to new employees pays off by resulting in a higher employee retention rate.
Enabling recent veterinary graduates to develop attributes which encourage a good relationship with clients and colleagues such as communication skills, is one of the aspects which recent graduates and final year students feel is most important to enable them to cope and be successful in their first position as a veterinarian. Although scientific and technical skills are undoubtedly essential to be successful in the profession many of the skills that people felt enabled them to succeed and thrive were in fact life and interpersonal skills. Many feel that veterinary degrees do not currently prepare them adequately in terms of these skills and until veterinary degree programs address this, support and mentoring in practice is one way of helping.
In addition allowing new graduates sufficient time to attend continuing education sessions, either in person or online is an important opportunity for new graduates to consolidate their knowledge and learn from others. Exposure to other recent graduates in the same position allows individuals to put their experiences into perspective, exchange notes and provides comfort that they are not alone.
All of the above combined with reasonable working hours, encouraging a healthy work-life balance allowing time for other interests and pursuits can also contribute to better mental health and more resilient individuals who are capable of better withstanding the stresses of a pressured environment.
The growing levels of dissatisfaction leading to poor mental health and a high suicide rate among veterinarians as a profession is extremely concerning and a clear indicator that steps need to be taken to combat this negative trend. Clearly a more positive first job experience and less stressful working environment with a strong support system could go a long way to helping with this growing problem.