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Employment of new veterinary graduates

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Ratification Date: 25 Jul 2013

Policy

Veterinary graduates should be given professional support and opportunities for improving their knowledge and practical skills in exchange for demonstrating a willingness to commit to employers, practice policies and procedures, continuing professional development and engagement with their profession.

Background

The veterinary profession shares equal responsibility for the integration of new graduates into their chosen careers with the graduates themselves. New graduates in the veterinary profession are well educated, but have limited practical experience and ability to deal with the immediate demands placed on experienced practising veterinarians. It does not benefit clients, the employer, the employee, their patients or the profession in general if these recent graduates are expected to deal with situations that are beyond their experience. Their first job is formative, and may contribute to the career path chosen by that person.

Graduates must be given as much assistance as possible from employers and experienced colleagues to improve their knowledge and skills, and to interact with other veterinarians.

Employing a new graduate carries certain responsibilities and requires greater input and support from the provider of veterinary services than when employing an experienced veterinarian. Not every provider of veterinary services has the resources to employ and appropriately support a new graduate. Some practices, even with appropriate resources, may not wish to expend the time and effort to employ a new graduate.

Providers of veterinary services must demonstrate a willingness to submit to an external audit to assure new graduates that they can be relied on to provide a level of support, induction, and training that is well above minimum standards expected. Accredited providers of veterinary services may use this to commercial advantage. All employers of new graduates should at least conform to the minimum standards in the guidelines below.

Guidelines

Employer responsibilities
Employment agreement

All employees should have a written employment agreement. Employment agreements should specify responsibilities (including clinical and/or field work), salary, after-hours requirements, designated authority and the amount of support to be given to the new graduate. Veterinary practices must have current professional indemnity insurance and operate from premises that are approved by the relevant registering authority. The agreement must ensure that the employee is adequately covered or aware of all appropriate insurance, including income protection, professional indemnity, vehicle and any other insurance relevant to the particular needs of the delivery of veterinary services.

Support

Practices must take into account that new graduates may not have had the opportunity to develop sufficient competence, knowledge or communication skills to perform at all times to an acceptable standard. Practices must ensure that the inexperienced practitioner is supervised and supported at all times until both graduate and employer feel sufficient experience has been gained.

A new graduate needs immediate access to the advice of an experienced veterinarian for the first several months in practice. This time will vary depending on the new graduate, but will probably be 6-12 months longer in mixed rural practice. Advice may be available by telephone, but the physical presence of an experienced veterinarian is often required, particularly to assist and provide guidance in diagnostic and treatment procedures. In veterinary businesses with only one other veterinarian, arrangements should be made to provide meaningful support for the new graduate when an experienced veterinarian is unavailable (e.g. with a colleague or neighbouring veterinary business).

The principal and staff, including non-veterinary staff, should have a positive attitude to the employment of a new graduate and so provide a supportive work environment. The veterinary business should have regular staff meetings and provide regular opportunities for discussion of cases with peers and supervising veterinarians. There should be adequate supporting non-veterinary assistance for the new graduate from nursing and administrative staff.

When on call new graduates in rural practice should go on calls with experienced veterinarians to common client problems before attending calls alone. Because many calls will be to established clients, this also serves to introduce the new graduate to clients of the practice. This may place an economic strain on the veterinary business, and this burden should be shared with the community through internships, bonded scholarships, or tax incentives.

Experienced practitioners must be available for consultation and practical help when new graduates are on duty outside normal hours or in a sole charge position.

The employer must make time to discuss employment issues with new graduates.

Every effort should be made to involve new graduates in AVA branch activities and to allow attendance at continuing education courses and conferences.

If appropriate, the employer should assist the new graduate with finding suitable living accommodation

Working hours

New graduates should not be expected to perform after-hours duty or remain in sole charge until they are fully conversant with workplace procedure and back-up facilities and have achieved adequate levels of confidence and competence. A new graduate should not be required to attend after-hours calls without adequate support in whatever form may be appropriate for the circumstances. This may involve formal relationships with other veterinarians inside or external to the employment practice.

The new graduate’s working hours should follow current Award and contractual recommendations or better. However, the employer is encouraged to offer optional participation in activities outside formal working hours which may improve the rate at which their employee gains skills and knowledge, and some flexibility in this area should be considered. It should also be recognised that new graduates may perform below their abilities if their inexperience and anxiety about developing skills are compounded by fatigue induced by working long hours.

Safety and health

Employers must ensure that new graduates are adequately inducted and trained in the occupational health and safety policies and procedures of the practice.

Induction program

Employers should have mechanisms in place to induct new graduates into the veterinary business. Induction should cover workplace procedures, customer service, drug prescriptions and staff responsibilities. A template induction program is contained in The Australian Veterinary Association Practice Management Induction Manual that can be adapted to meet the needs of any practice. A manual of practice policies and procedures pertaining to the day to day administration of the practice is to be commended as a basic requirement for ALL employees to follow.

New graduate responsibilities

New graduates should:

  • realistically assess their career needs and interests before accepting employment
  • make a realistic and fair commitment to their first job for at least 12 months, unless unforeseen circumstances arise or employment conditions are untenable
  • be familiar with and appreciate the veterinary business philosophy and objectives (including but not limited to the payment of accounts, treatment of bad debtors, treatment of wildlife, treatment of un-owned animals, dispensing protocols, vehicle usage and dress standards)
  • appreciate and respect the role that non-veterinary staff play within a veterinary business; non-veterinary staff can impart much knowledge and experience to the new graduate, and they should be respected
  • fully understand the employment agreement (including pay, working hours, after hours responsibilities and holidays) before accepting a position
  • appreciate that veterinary science is a profession, not just a job
  • be responsible for ensuring that they are eligible to practice (i.e. that they are currently registered as a veterinarian), and
  • exercise their professional judgment and accept that cases will arise where assistance from an experienced veterinarian is necessary.

References

Australian Veterinary Association Practice Management – Induction Manual – 1st Edition

Date of ratification by AVA Board: 25 July 2013