We are heading towards that time of the year again (Congrats new grads!) and in the current environment of experienced vet scarcity, practices are increasingly turning to new graduates as the answer to the problem. But there are some deep rooted concerns foremost in the minds of practice owners that need to be aired and addressed as they threaten to derail the working relationship between practice and graduate, and in doing so unwittingly contribute to the ongoing drain of talent from the general practice sector of veterinary medicine. Let’s dive in.
1. "Everyone knows that new graduates leave after 12 months in their first job."
The 2013 RCVS Survey of Recent Graduates suggests the average time spent by a new graduate in the first job is approximately 15 months. However, this is somewhat misleading as it also states that 46% of graduates from 2008-2013 are still in their first roles. Put another way, there’s a roughly 50:50 chance that your new graduate will leave within a year or so. What’s more interesting is why they leave.
Of the reasons given for leaving, roughly 12% do so due to relocation to a place they’d rather live. This is why I left my first role - I met a young lady and moved to London to live with her. Almost 17% moved on to pursue a better opportunity, specialist training or a new challenge.
But the largest cohort by far left because they were not well cared for - this cohort accounted for over 36% of those moving on.
And that is both terrible and awesome.
Terrible because frankly, we should be doing a lot better. But awesome because it means as an employer or manager, you have the power to create a better work situation and retain your talent.
2. "They don’t make any money for the first two years, so what’s the point?"
Actually, what they have a hard time doing, is generating a steady flow of cases to investigate and treat simply because new graduates lack the confidence required to instill trust when compared to a 20 year veteran. Put a case in front of them and, in my experience, graduates do an excellent job of diving into the case thoroughly and billing accurately - certainly more accurately than many practice bosses.
So your main opportunity is to immediately teach your young charge how to build rapport and trust in the exam room. Once they have mastered this skill, the caseload will flow. In my general practice training internships, I have found that without fail, a well trained and supported new graduate can generate 5x their base salary in revenue before sales taxes - the amount widely held to be required for vets to pay their way.
3. "They don’t want to do on call.”
Ok, so firstly, this is not a new graduate phenomenon. No-one wants to do on call, and that gets worse, not better, with time. Being on call is bad for your mental and physical health when combined with a day job. On the other hand, it is also where I and many other vets had the chance to learn skills and take chances I wouldn’t have done during the day as no-one else is there to help in the middle of the night. In other words, on call is a massively valuable learning experience.
So perhaps we need to think about a rebrand of the "on call experience". I believe, if packaged correctly, that a position with on call (I’m thinking more about the small animal world here) could be seen as an advantage. Surely there are vets out there who would want this experience? I did and I loved it.
What we should not expect people to do, is a night shift followed by a day shift and expect them to be at their best. Humans are not put together this way. So adjust your rota/roster to allow for time off afterward to eat, sleep and recover. The reason being on call gets a bad rap, is because our expectations are often harmful. The fact that this generation is willing to say no, is good for them.
4. "They are scared to take risks."
This point I have a hard time arguing with and I believe has a very damaging "down the road" conclusion. The decision-making induced fear and anxiety that accompanies young vets leaving college now is palpable. And it needs to be addressed.
Vets are increasingly scared to take the risks required to develop skills. This is perhaps the oldest ethical paradox/dilemma within the broad church of medicine. In order to get good at anything, you have to gain experience. And that means there are going to be some patients that have a less than perfect experience and outcomes as people develop skills. 'Twas ever thus.
But this is increasingly frowned upon by the professional bodies. Best practice medicine where gold standard treatments are performed by highly qualified vets has replaced on the job training at grass roots level.
Add to this the risk of an angry client dragging your name across multiple social media or review sites with impunity and you can see why young vets are so anxious.
What’s needed is support in the form client communications training and the steady hand of experienced guidance as they build the clinical skills required.
What’s needed is training to teach the skills of emotional intelligence and resilience.
What’s needed is the current generation of leaders to model the right behaviours again and again so the next generation learns how to deal with life and build confidence.
5. “Millennials are lazy”
Profanity warning: I’m just going to call this for what it is… utter bullshit. Much has been said and written about Gen Y and their desire for glory without the hard work. But we must not paint a generation with one stroke so negatively. In my experience, the veterinary graduates of today work just as hard as any other. What they are more aware of is their own health and wellbeing. It’s not that they can’t work themselves into a stupor, it’s just that they won’t. And I believe that to be a strength.
It is not OK that we are still the number one profession to commit suicide.
It is not OK that it is normal for vets and nurses to work ten-hour shifts without breaks as standard practice.
And it is not OK that people go home exhausted with nothing left in the tank for their family.
Wanting a better work life balance and better workplace conditions doesn’t make Millennials weak or lazy - it makes them smart. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that happier people are more engaged and productive which has been shown to add directly and positively to your bottom line performance.
Your move punk
This post started life as a quick tongue-in-cheek five pointer, but as I wrote it became clear that I’d be doing you a disservice by not digging a little deeper to challenge these concerns.
As you might have gathered, I’m a big fan of new graduates and five years ago committed to offering a general practice training internship from every veterinary hospital I operate. That experience has taught me a lot and working with new graduates is always an energising experience that I enjoy.
It is also why I set up the VetX:Thrive Program to help busy practices offer the best level of support a graduate can get. The best investment you will ever make in terms of reaping an emotional return and future financial return is helping others to achieve their goals.
Be safe, be well, be happy,
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