By Rebecca MacMillan BVetMed BSAVA PGCertSAM MRCVS
The veterinary profession has seen many changes in recent years, one of those being the rise of flexible working patterns. Traditionally, practices have been rigid in terms of their rotas and fixed working hours. But now it is much more common to see a mixture of full-time, part-time, and job share employees. In this article, we will look at this, as well as how to approach the conversation with your employer and some of the considerations to make when moving to part-time working.
If you are seeking to make the move to part-time, why don’t you register with The Vet Service for Vet career support and advice.
What’s changed in veterinary practice?
Women now make up 60% of vets that are practising in the UK at the moment, whereas in the past it was a predominantly male profession. With the feminisation of the workforce comes change. Women are more likely to take extended periods off work for maternity leave, as well as request flexible working hours (namely for childcare reasons). This could be one of the reasons that part-time working has started to become much more commonplace.
The other thing that has changed is the focus on mental health in general practice. We are more aware of issues like burnout and the importance of achieving a good work-life balance. Working reduced hours can help us to achieve that more easily too.
Why go part-time?
For most people, working part-time is brought about by a change of life circumstances. Becoming a parent is an obvious example of this, and many people negotiate reduced hours when coming back from maternity/paternity leave. Childcare is a huge constraint, with many nurseries or childminders closing before the average veterinary surgery does. Some people also just want to spend time with their children whilst they are still young if they can afford to do so.
For other people, working part-time may fit in better around caring for elderly relatives or supporting a partner with their career choices. Some vets choose to go part-time to start diversifying into other jobs on their days off, whilst still being able to keep a hand in clinical practice. Finally, some people are just simply reevaluating their priorities, keen to seek a better work-life balance for themselves.
Having the discussion
Whatever your reason for wanting to reduce your hours, you will need to discuss this with your employer. Usually, a request for flexible working will need to be made in writing. Your company’s HR department may have a standardised form for this. If not then follow your government’s guidelines. Think about your ideal working pattern/hours but also how this would fit in with the business. Your request may be declined, or it may be that your employer negotiates with you to find something that works a bit better for the practice.
It might be worth mentioning what you can offer the practice. Perhaps you can do more weekends in return for fewer late evenings, or maybe you’d be happy offering holiday cover from time to time if you are able.
At the moment the job market is such that vets and vet nurses are in incredibly high demand, so many employers will be keen to keep a loyal worker, even on a part-time basis. This should give you a bit of confidence when approaching discussions.
If you are unable to come to an arrangement with your existing job, then it is worth approaching other practices. Again, many are crying out for help right now so will probably be open to part-time workers as well as full-time ones. Sending your CV out to all the local practices may well turn something up.
Locum work is another opportunity to explore part-time work. Being a permanent employee brings security and various employee perks, but locum work may give you the flexibility you desire, especially when it comes to picking and choosing holidays and weekends.
You also don’t have to look so close to home – Check out our current vet jobs including Vet Jobs in The UK, Vet Jobs in Australia, Vet Jobs in New Zealand, Vet Jobs in Canada and further international vet jobs
The realities of working part-time
Part-time working brings about some obvious benefits such as a better work-life balance, more time for family or other pursuits, as well as continuing to work in the profession that you trained for many years to join.
But there are some things to consider too. With part-time work comes a part-time salary. This is quite an obvious point, but one worth making. When deciding what hours you want to work, it is worth running through your budget to see whether you can realistically afford it.
Case continuity is a big issue for some people. It can be quite hard to follow cases all the way through when you are only in the practice a couple of days a week. This could lead to frustration, not just for yourself but for your clients and colleagues too. Communication is important here. Make sure your notes are thorough and you have laid out a clear plan of action for the next vet that comes along. Discuss cases with your colleagues in person too, so you can fill them in on any finer details. Inform the clients when you will be back in and when they can expect phone calls for blood test results etc. It does work, as long as expectations are managed.
The other downside to being a part-timer is losing confidence in your abilities. You may end up doing fewer surgery and case workups than before, so it depends on how you feel about that.
Spending less time with your team can be an issue for some, and feeling like you aren’t ‘pulling your weight’. Remember though, you are all being paid for the number of hours you work, so you shouldn’t feel inferior or like you are contributing any less than your full-time colleagues. Plus, many of these full-time colleagues may have their own periods in life when they want to reduce their hours!
Working part-time in the veterinary industry is definitely possible, so don’t be afraid to consider it as an option. Your employer may be more amenable than you think, so have an open discussion with them and explore how you can both help each other. Hopefully, part-time work will bring you the balance that you desire – best of luck!