Back to the Future for New Vet Grads?
By Missy King, VMD
When I graduated from vet school 9 years ago, everyone I spoke with seemed to have a first-year-out horror story. Stories abounded of new graduates taking a job only to find their bosses quickly skip out for vacation or announce retirement. Equally as common were the stories of new grads being scheduled to perform surgeries they had never done before. They were advised to have the technician flip the pages of Fossum as they read how to perform the procedure.
Nine years later, with complaints to state boards continually rising and lawsuits and negative social media reviews at the forefront of all of our minds, many owners and medical directors seem to understand that this old way of “onboarding” a new grad is no longer appropriate. It’s too risky. At the same time, new grads are now actively expecting some form of mentorship in their first jobs.
So, while we’ve identified what is not appropriate (trial by fire) and what would be the ideal (clear mentorship) for our newest colleagues, we are still a far way off from solving the question of, “What do we do with new graduates?” We know what they want. We know what they need. However, we haven’t evolved as a profession to a place where we know how to reliably provide them these things that they and their patients are deserving of.
Barriers at play are multi-factorial. In order to be able to properly mentor a new vet, you have to be willing to step away from your own cases and slow down quite a bit. Given that so many in our profession work on some form of commission, slowing down and stepping back effects your paycheck. Most vets are not in a financial position to be able to do that, even if they want to.
And, if we assume for a moment that a vet is in a position to take a pay cut, we need to consider that she is already likely stretched too thin. As a profession, we are often pulled in 3 directions at once, understaffed and overworked with a pile of callbacks to make before the night is over. How can we expect our associates to take on the large and time-consuming task of training and mentoring as well?
It’s true that some new grads get lucky and find a position with an owner who is an amazing mentor. However, that is sadly the exception and not the rule. The common theme is that many are looking towards internships because they simply don’t feel ready to be out on their own in practice yet.
While I could argue that perhaps this model is appropriate as it seems to work in the human medical profession, we are leaving out the all-important factor that so many vets don’t consider (or understand) clearly enough. Our debt-to-income ratio is rising to insurmountable levels. Adding on another year of training working 60-80 hours per week at what ends up classifying as poverty-level income, is trading in one problem (not feeling ready for general practice) while enhancing another (getting even more mired in debt). At the end of the day, we are failing our newest colleagues by allowing them to graduate into a profession that has no clear place for them.
At Indevets, we are attempting a completely novel approach to help bridge the gap. We are launching a first-of-its-kind rotating mentorship program within our company where we pair our new graduates with several of our vets to move through various clinics together, initially as a team.
This program progresses over the course of several months, beginning by working together as a unit and then slowly splitting into two. It allows a new graduate a guaranteed partner, whose sole purpose is to be there with them and for them. It allows an extra set of hands to scrub into surgery and teach techniques and offer pearls of wisdom. Perhaps most importantly, it provides better quality of patient care, as our hope is to help our new graduates avoid the mistakes and pitfalls that most of us succumbed to.
Our hope is that as a profession we can agree that allowing new vets to graduate into old times is far from appropriate and arguably detrimental to their well being and the care of their patients. At some point we need to make the conscious decision to advance from old to new and embrace a model of support and guidance instead of sink or swim. Too many of us are drowning and the water is only getting rougher.