Great expectations


When it comes to a veterinary student's first job, anxiety comes standard. Speculation about life following graduation is also a given.

When it comes to a veterinary student's first job, anxiety comes standard. Speculation about life following graduation is also a given.

So it's not surprising that when polled, third- and fourth-year veterinary students quickly identified five common areas of concern, all related to job performance. They want to know whether they'll be left alone in surgery, how soon the owner will demand stellar job performance and what type of mentoring to expect. Pleasing the boss is an issue, as well as the freedom to feel comfortable asking questions.

When confronted with these findings, practice owners who have successfully hired and worked with new graduates viewed them as natural. Dr. Michael Seimer, owner of Suburban Animal Clinic in Columbus, Ohio, suggests student internships as a means to avoiding workforce surprises. The new graduate's role will be different when hired, Seimer says, adding that he likes interns to spend their first week shadowing more seasoned doctors to learn the hospital layout, its protocols, how to work with technicians and receptionists and what level of surgery they're comfortable tackling.

Important areas include client communications, "especially around fees and charging for services," Seimer says, adding that he reviews travel sheets and client charges so new graduates understand their financial responsibilities.

Seimer enjoys working with new graduates and watching their confidence rise in their roles: "It is important to keep a sense of humor because there will always be misunderstandings, sometimes funny ones, as the new doctors begin seeing clients." New people make mistakes; it's how they learn and grow, he says.

Dr. Nan Boss, owner of Best Friends Veterinary Center in Grafton, Wis., says she would never hire a new graduate unless he or she spent at least one full day working at the hospital. For her practice, the ability to fit in is important. "I always send the job candidate to lunch with my staff so that everyone can get to know each other because they all have to work together," she says. New doctors at Best Friends Veterinary Center spend 30 days learning the hospital's standards of care, systems and procedures, including how to talk to clients. "We set a high bar on medicine and communication. It is important for the new doctor to learn how we do things here because it is what our clients expect," Boss says.

Her new-doctor training regimen includes learning how to create estimates to work up quotes. Only then does a new hire start to see cases in the exam room.

Shadowing Boss during exams also is a must, she says. At this time, Boss introduces the practice's new veterinarian to clients. The pair later reverses roles and the new doctor takes the lead. Finally, when new doctors are seeing patients on their own, Boss asks them to record themselves during client conversations. This method helps build communication skills, Boss says.

Dr. Lee Nelson ran a Banfield hospital in Minneapolis for four years and hired and worked with new graduates there before becoming the Midwest region's medical director. Today, she hires new graduates for the entire region. Banfield uses a structured approach to usher their new doctors into practice, which involves mentoring during an eight- to 14-week period. Banfield's mentoring program is a two-way street, Nelson says. "The new graduate is expected to ask questions and let his or her mentor know if they are not getting enough experience in an area, such as surgery or working with sick pets," she says.

The new doctor's caseload is progressively staged to build during several months; Banfield does not expect new graduates to do everything at once, Nelson explains. In the beginning they would see a light load of wellness patients, followed by sick pets, simple surgeries and later, more complex cases with the goal of seeing a mix of 15 cases and surgeries per day.

Nelson says she enjoys the energy and enthusiasm new doctors bring to a practice, and owners should be careful not to dampen it.

"New doctors, like any other new employee, will make mistakes. It is important to let them know that if they do, it is not the end of the world," she says.

What students want

Students closing in on their first jobs in practice have their own ideas on ways to become successful DVMs. Amy Graham, a fourth-year student at The Ohio State University's College of Veterinary Medicine, plans to spend as much time as possible at the hospital she is considering to ensure her first job is a good fit. She seeks a collaborative environment where practitioners work together, regardless of experience. "I want to tackle a full range of cases and surgeries, and I want to be able to ask questions and have support from more experienced doctors, if I need their help," she says. "I don't want it to be a short-term thing. I want that to be the culture of the practice."

Other things important to Graham include working with a staff that accepts new graduates and regular performance evaluations.

"I need to know what I'm doing well and what I need to work on," she says, adding that she has worked in the same veterinary hospital since high school. "It's a fantastic place, but I want to get out and see some other practices."

Marc Seitz, a third-year student at Mississippi State University's (MSU) College of Veterinary Medicine, says prospective employers should equate new graduates to an Independent Retirement Account (IRA). Exploiting the potential return requires commitment to make contributions while the IRA is young. "New graduates are like that," he says. "They are a wealth of knowledge and potential but lack clinical wisdom and prowess." If veterinarians are willing to commit a little time, guidance and mentoring to a new hire, Seitz says it will allow new graduates to become more confident and productive veterinarians.

"I don't know what practice I will be joining yet, but I will be looking for a multi-doctor practice that is committed to high standards of care and continuing education," Seitz says. With close to $100,000 in educational loan debt, Seitz would like to start a family and save for retirement. It will be important that the practice he joins provides an opportunity for him to earn enough to achieve these goals and retire his student loans, he says.

Multiple externships are valuable because they expose students to different animal care approaches and aid in cementing first-job aspirations. As a MSU veterinary college senior, Seitz plans to spend at least 12 weeks on externships. He hopes one of the externship hospitals might provide employment following graduation. If invited to interview, Seitz says he'll seek advice from experts to tackle whether the practice fits well with his career and life plans

Pearls of wisdom

To ensure a good fit, Boss encourages graduates to ask for what they want. Yet when faced with an owner's unpopular decision, employees can react several ways, starting by enthusiastically backing it. They can also disagree but go along with the decision, silently disagree and ignore the issue or complain and gossip about it.

Professionalism is important, especially in challenging situations, Boss explains. "The right thing to do is to respectfully speak with the owner to resolve differences and never gossip with the staff," she says.

Nelson contends that a new doctor's competency grows faster than his or her confidence. He expects it takes almost three years for a recent graduates to feel confident in most practice scenarios.

Preparing to leave veterinary school's nest begins well before graduation, so start early. Explore different practice opportunities while in an educational setting and put part-time experiences to work to gain knowledge.

Ask faculty for help finding a practice with specific areas of interest or expertise. It's up to the student to ask for the job, or just a chance to volunteer. An early dip into practice life broadens a student's perspective and grants new graduates the tools to succeed as competent veterinarians.

Karyn Gavzer is an independent practice management consultant and a speaker and writer. She works with practices to help them go and grow through marketing, training and ideas.

Gavzer is an officer in the Association of Practice Management Consultants and Advisors (AVPMCA), a certified veterinary practice manager and an ad hoc faculty member with the American Animal Hospital Association.

Related Videos
Related Content
© 2024 MJH Life Sciences

All rights reserved.