Is a career in veterinary academia right for you?

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An associate professor at Colorado State University shares her journey from private practice to academia, giving advice for those interested in this professional switch

Seventyfour / stock.adobe.com

Seventyfour / stock.adobe.com

Any career switch can be daunting at first, but has the potential to be even more rewarding. Kate Vickery, VMD, MS, DACVIM (Oncology), explained how she made the professional transition into veterinary academia after working in private practice for more than 10 years. Addressing virtual attendees during her session at the 2024 American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine Forum in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Vickery said, “To give you a little background of my own professional journey, I discovered my love for clinical teaching during my residency at Colorado State University (CSU). During this phase in my career, I found that teaching students strengthened my knowledge base and encouraged me to stay current. I was also very honored to play a role in the students’ educational journey.”1

“I enjoyed these aspects so much, that, as my residency was coming to an end, I prioritized looking for jobs in which I could continue to provide clinical instruction. I looked at both private practice jobs that had a teaching component, for example teaching externs or rotating interns, as well as academic positions,” she continued. Vickery ultimately went into private practice from 2008 to 2020, but then accepted a position with the Colorado State University in Fort Collins as an associate clinical professor in 2020.

According to Vickery, factors to consider when contemplating a career transition include the following 3 questions to ask yourself:

  • Why do you want to change?
  • What do you want to do?
  • When will this change occur?

Why

Vickery stated it is best to start with the why. Why do you want to leave your current position? This answer could come from a number of reasons. It could be your current workplace culture, lack of professional growth, or “maybe you’re just evolving in your career, and you’re interested in pivoting and changing the primary focus,” Vickery explained.

When contemplating this why, also evaluate your own strengths and possible challenges that may come with a career shift. Vickery explained that she even sought out a career coach for further guidance, however speaking with friends, family, and other colleagues can also help with this decision-making process.

Vickery also recommended trying to experience the new job before officially leaving your current position, to ensure it is the right path forward. This could be in the form of shadowing or exploratory interviews. These opportunities can offer you a way to ask questions to people in the same position you are considering. “This helps in an assessment of the pros and cons of what a transition could look like. With experience, you can also determine if your own values align with the values and priorities of the new institution,” Vickery said.

What

Asking yourself what you want to do, specifically, can help narrow down the choices you have with this transition. If education and teaching is the career path you want to explore, what role would you be interested in? Do you want to be a professor? Academic consultant? Institutional researcher? Do your goals extend further to becoming a dean of an accredited veterinary college or university? These questions can support the overall journey and lead you on a focused path.

When

When are you planning to make this change? With this question, it’s important to remember to set realistic expectations and keep in mind that successful transitions take time. A major career change can take longer than a smaller adjustment in your career priorities.

Once you are in this new career path, make sure you also give yourself a proper amount of time to settle in and understand the new position’s expectations and responsibilities.

A personal experience of transitioning to veterinary education

Vickery shared her personal journey as a faculty member at CSU and explained that 30 weeks out of the year is spent overseeing clinics, 20 weeks per year is dedicated to research and teaching, and 2 weeks is left for vacation time.

Vickery’s responsibilities regarding overseeing clinics involves having 1-on-1 clinical teachings with residents, interns, and DVM students as they manage cases. She also conducts group instruction during rounds and offers mentorship opportunities. The “off-clinic” time includes veterinary continuing education lectures, public lectures to clubs and organizations, committee and volunteer work, and clinical research and grant writing.

Addressing the difference Vickery has experienced with being in private practice versus academia, she said, “People have asked [me] questions like, ‘which is better, which is worse? Which is harder, which is easier?’ The answers to those questions are not simple. Both careers are equally challenging and equally rewarding. It is super difficult to compare the 2 and I often tell people it’s like comparing apples and oranges.”

Her main advice would be to make sure this career path is right for you and your goals. She left attendees with a reminder that, “Success doesn’t mean perfection and mistakes are the best way to learn and grow. I am so honored to be able to contribute to the clinical education and mentorship of the next generation of veterinarians and veterinary specialists.”

Reference

Vickery K. Career transitions: Private practice to academia. Presented at: American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine Forum; Minneapolis, MN; June 5–8, 2024.

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