Employment of new veterinary graduates
Ratification Date: 20 Jul 2023
Note: The following policies should be considered as a group; together they provide a set of principles which underpin the AVA’s wellness strategy:
Great veterinary workplaces (2023); Safeguarding and improving the mental health of the veterinary team (2021); Animal welfare and human wellbeing – vulnerability of clients and veterinary staff (2023); Equality, diversity and inclusion (2017); Employment of new veterinary graduates (2023); Clinical veterinary internships (under review).
Employers of new veterinary graduates should ensure there is a graduate transition framework in place to ensure a successful transition from student to veterinary professional. They should make an active decision as to whether they have the resources and motivation to employ and appropriately support a new graduate.
New graduates are encouraged to make an active decision as to whether the workplace they are interested in can provide the support they need to transition successfully.
This policy provides a set of recommendations upon which to base these decisions.
New graduates are integral to the veterinary profession. A successful transition from veterinary student to veterinarian is in the best interests of the individual, veterinary workplace, the clients and animals we work to help, and the profession.
Transition from university into the workforce is recognised as an important, even a “make or break” period for veterinarians, with the potential to influence their subsequent career path.1,2,3 Transition is a time of great change as graduates assume responsibilities, tasks and expectations consistent with their new role in new workplaces, maybe in new locations distant to their support network. Workplaces also experience change, and potentially stress, as they integrate and support a new graduate.
Negative experiences during transition contribute to poor outcomes all around. The individual may experience job dissatisfaction, low well-being and/or mental ill-health that may culminate in a decision to exit the workplace or the industry.1,4,5. Patient and client care may be compromised by inadequate support.6 Veterinary team members and the profession suffer along with the graduate and may lose the resources (time, money, support) they have invested in the graduate.
Employing a new graduate comes with rewards and responsibilities. New graduates are well educated and bring up-to-date knowledge along with fresh eyes, ideas and enthusiasm. Their practical experience, ability to apply their knowledge and non-technical competencies (such as communication, resilience and business awareness) are variable. Whilst each new graduate has different needs and wants, most require support and training to become autonomous veterinary professionals.2
“A new veterinarian’s smooth and rapid transition from education to clinical practice is critical to their success and that of their new professional homes.”7
The following recommendations form the basis of the graduate transition framework, and support a smooth and successful transition to work.
- Employment agreement
All new graduates should have a written employment agreement that specifies responsibilities, salary, after-hours requirements, and relevant insurances that protect the graduate. The agreement should name the graduate’s primary clinical supervisor and/or mentor and specify the amount of support to be provided.
Minimum employment conditions are dictated by existing statutory and regulatory frameworks such as the Animal Care and Veterinary Services Award 2020 and the Fair Work Act, 2009. These should be considered a minimum, and working conditions should exceed this safety net.
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 graduate 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.
- Induction program
Employers should have mechanisms in place to induct new graduates into the veterinary business. Induction should cover workplace procedures, occupational health and safety policies and procedures of the practice, customer service, drug prescriptions and staff responsibilities. 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.
- Gradual or phased start
New graduates appreciate and benefit from a gradual or phased start to their working life utilising strategies such as shadowing of experienced veterinarians, narrowing the scope of work (eg to particular tasks or clients) and allocating greater time to complete tasks compared with experienced veterinarians. The volume, range and complexity of workload can be gradually increased, in consultation with the graduate, as their confidence and competence grow.2,8
The workload (hours, pace, breaks) of graduates must be closely monitored and managed. The learning curve for new graduates is steep. Excessive workloads have the potential to negatively impact learning, job satisfaction and mental health.9
New graduates’ working hours (including on call) should be monitored and reasonable efforts made to keep actual full-time working hours below 40 hours per week on average, or provide time off in lieu. Working additional hours in busy periods is sometimes necessary but should not be the norm.
Managers should work with the new graduate to ensure that regular breaks are scheduled and taken during working hours.
- Clinical supervision and support
Clinical supervision and support are integral to growing the confidence and competence of new graduates which allows them to assume greater case responsibility over time. It does not benefit clients, the employer, the employee, their patients or the profession in general if recent graduates are expected to deal with situations beyond their experience.
In the first 6-12 months, new graduates should always have an experienced vet accessible for clinical and professional information, case discussion and advice, and assistance with procedures they are not yet comfortable with.10 Initially the physical presence of the experienced veterinarian is required. As the confidence and competence of the graduate grows, it may be mutually agreed that telephone advice is sufficient some of the time.
Clinical support is vulnerable to staffing changes and can be difficult in veterinary businesses with only one other veterinarian. In these cases, a conversation between employer and graduate should specify the arrangements made to provide meaningful support eg formal relationships with other veterinarians inside or external to the employment practice.
There should be adequate supporting non-veterinary assistance for the new graduate from nursing and administrative staff.
- Sole charge, after hours and on-call duties
New graduates should be fully conversant with workplace procedure and back-up facilities and have achieved adequate levels of confidence and competence before they are expected to perform after-hours duty or work sole charge. It is expected this will take a minimum of three months.
As new graduates commence on-call work, it is recommended that they attend a range of common clinical presentations with an experienced veterinarian before attending calls alone. As many calls will be to established clients, this also serves to introduce the new graduate to clients of the practice.
As per point 5, experienced veterinarians must be available for consultation and practical help when new graduates are on duty outside normal hours or in a sole charge position for at least the first 6-12 months. Adequate nursing support should be provided.
- Mentoring and feedback
Successful mentoring relationships are critical to smoothing the transition to practice.2,3,7 Graduates require regular performance feedback delivered in a psychologically safe setting to facilitate growth in their confidence, skills, applied knowledge and self-awareness.
Daily, on-the-job feedback is provided by the clinical supervisor. This person, or other more experienced people within the practice, may act as a clinic mentor to the graduate. Graduates are encouraged to also have a mentor external to their practice, for example as part of the AVA graduate mentoring program.
Regular progress meetings in protected time allow the mentor and new graduate to review the graduates’ work and develop an evolving, tailored skills development plan to improve both technical and non-technical skills.10 This takes time. As an indicator, Gates et al (2021) found that individual mentors invested close to 20 hours per month in new graduates initially with this figure decreasing to around 10 hours per month by the end of the first year.2
As a minimum, a planning session should be held at or before commencement of a position to identify immediate learning needs and create a plan to address them. Mentor and graduate should then meet at least monthly for the first three months and every other month until the end of the first year. Meeting more regularly is likely to be beneficial. (These recommendations are taken from the New Zealand Veterinary Council requirements for the support of new graduates in their first year of professional practice.)
In conducting feedback and mentoring meetings, consideration should be given to:
- Checking in on the physical and mental well-being of the graduate. Emotional support and understanding is important to graduates;3
- Ensuring that the conversation is two-way. Graduates should be encouraged to reflect and self-assess their performance. Mentors assist in the formulation and refinement of learning goals and objectives that:
- address both technical and non-technical competencies;
- balance learning from what went well and what didn’t go well;
- balance the learning the graduate wants (ie growth in areas of strength and passion) and what the practice needs (ie improving performance critical gaps);
- Celebrating success and progress;
- Normalising discussion of clinical situations and cases with peers and supervising veterinarians throughout your career.
Training on how to give and receive feedback will increase the effectiveness of supervision and mentor meetings.
- Building personal and professional support networks
Support from family, friends, peers, pets and community is an important resource for new graduates.8 Predictable and reasonable working hours allow graduates time to relax and recover, and to create and maintain social supports outside the workplace.
Members of the veterinary team can facilitate the growth of the graduates’ support network through scheduling, by creating opportunities for work colleagues to get to know each as “people” (eg shared breaks over food, social gatherings outside work) and/or through introductions to local groups in the graduates area of interest (eg sporting club, church).
Involvement of new graduates in the AVA should be promoted. Payment of AVA membership will assist this. Graduates may have an AVA mentor, utilise AVA resources, be involved with branch activities and/or attend continuing education courses and conferences.
- Normalise and encourage help-seeking
Professional emotional support (psychologist, counsellor, coach etc) should be made available and accessible for graduates without fear of career detriment. Early discussion that normalises help seeking and demonstrates its benefits, helps to reduce the recognised stigma which works against help-seeking behaviour in veterinarians.8
Resources include AVA telephone counselling, the workplace employee assistance program and relationships between the workplace and providers of psychological and coaching services.
- Workplace Culture
There is ample evidence that positive workplace relationships and systems contribute to employee satisfaction, motivation and retention.9,11,12 The benefits may be amplified for new graduates.
Engagement with AVA policies [such as the Great Veterinary Workplaces policy (when ratified)], programs such as AVA Employer of Choice and attendance at veterinary business group events, assists with the creation and maintenance of a supportive and positive culture.
- Dispute resolution
Workplace relationships are strengthened when employees can have open and honest conversations with their employers. Where the psychological safety needed for such a conversation is lacking, graduates are encouraged to take an alternative path to address their concerns. They may consult:
- A trusted peer or colleague
- Their AVA mentor
- The AVA HR advisory service
- The Fair Work Authority in their respective jurisdiction
- Gilling ML, Parkinson TJ. The transition from veterinary student to practitioner: a "make or break" period. J Vet Med Educ. 2009;36(2):209-15. doi: 10.3138/jvme.36.2.209. PMID: 19625670.
- Gates MC, McLachlan I, Butler S & Weston JF. Experiences of employers, work colleagues, and mentors with new veterinary graduates and preferences towards new graduate support programmes, New Zealand Vet J 2021, 69:1, 38-50, DOI:10.1080/00480169.2020.1805373
- Reinhard A.R, Hains KD, Hains, BJ, & Strand EB. Are They Ready? Trials, Tribulations, and Professional Skills Vital for New Veterinary Graduate Success. Frontiers in veterinary science, 2021, 8, 785844. https://doi.org/10.3389/fvets.2021.785844
- Heath T. Longitudinal study of career plans and directions of veterinary students and recent graduates during the first five years after graduation. Aust Vet Journal 1998,76, 181–6
- Platt B, Hawton K, Simkin S, Dean R, Mellanby R. Suicidality in the veterinary profession: Interview study of veterinarians with a history of suicidal ideation or behaviour. Crisis: The Journal of Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention, 2012, 33, 280-289
- Mellanby RJ, Herrtage ME. Survey of mistakes made by recent veterinary graduates. Vet Rec. 2004;155(24):761-5. PMID: 15637999.
- Freeman D, Hodgson K, Darling M. Mentoring New Veterinary Graduates for Transition to Practice and Lifelong Learning. J Vet Med Educ. 2022,49(4):409-413. doi: 10.3138/jvme-2021-0036.
- Allister R. Veterinary Transition Study - investigating the transition from veterinary student to practising veterinary surgeon: prospective cohort study. 2020 http://dx.doi.org/10.7488/era/551
- Wallace J. Burnout, coping and suicidal ideation: An application and extension of the job demand-control-support model, Journal of Workplace Behavioral Health 2017,32(2), 99-118, DOI: 10.1080/15555240.2017.1329628
- Gates MC, McLachlan I, Butler S & Weston JF. Experiences of recent veterinary graduates in their first employment position and their preferences for new graduate support programmes, New Zealand Vet J. 2020, 68:4, 214-224, DOI:10.1080/00480169.2020.1740112
- Moore IC, Coe JB, Adams CL, Conlon PD, Sargeant JM. The role of veterinary team effectiveness in job satisfaction and burnout in companion animal veterinary clinics. J Amer Vet Med Assoc. 2014,245(5):513-24.
- Kersebohm JC, Lorenz T, Becher A, Doherr MG. Factors related to work and life satisfaction of veterinary practitioners in Germany. Vet Rec Open. 2017;4(1):e000229. doi: 10.1136/vetreco-2017-000229.
Schull, D., King, E., Hamood, W. and Feakes, A., 2021. ‘Context’ matters: factors considered by employers when selecting new graduate veterinarians. Higher Education Research & Development, 40(2), pp.386-399.
Date of first ratification by AVA Board: 25 July 2013
Updated and re-ratified 20 July 2023