By Sarah-Jane Molier MRCVS
So, you’ve decided to take on a new graduate vet. You contribute the time and effort to train them, but they move on too soon. Or, sadly too commonly now, they leave clinical practice altogether. While there are many factors contributing to burnout, imposter syndrome, and stress in new graduates, we can (and must) all do our bit to support and ease their transition from student to life in practice.
With the staffing crisis and ever-growing need to retain staff, what can you do to support your new graduate vets? Just as importantly, how can you reap the benefits of hiring a new graduate?
Remember that all new graduates will be different! The transition from vet student to decision-making-vet-in-practice happens seemingly overnight. Some new graduates will be terrified, whilst others may be dangerously overconfident.
During the induction, it’s important that you communicate effectively with the new grad, even if you’ve supported new graduates in the past. Ask them what ‘support’ looks like to them. Then you can offer a tailored support package while maintaining a level of supervision that you are comfortable with. Take surgery, for example. For their first time performing a particular operation, would they like someone scrubbed in, someone watching, or just someone experienced available to them if needed? Remember to keep checking in with them too, since the support they need will change over time.
Cultivate a team player. Consider having the new grad spend the first few days, or even a week, spending time within each of the practice teams. For example, spending some time in reception will not only help them get up to speed with the computer system, but it will also promote empathy for the different challenges the reception team experience.
Design a ‘new starter’ folder, containing key information such as your:
- Vaccination protocol
- Flea and worm protocol
- Neutering guidelines
- ‘How to’: charge, create estimates etc.
Perhaps most importantly, include a welcome note explaining the ethos and values of the practice, so that you are all on the same page.
Again, you will need to tailor these to the new graduate in question, as well as to your practice, but you could consider some of the following:
- Book double appointments initially, providing the new graduate time to learn the ropes.
- Ensure they are always on the rota with an experienced team member.
- Rota them on as ‘second consult vet’, sharing the consults with the primary consult vet. This way they can pick up consults throughout the day without worrying about running late or dealing with emergencies. (Of course, this one is reliant on you having a second consult room free for them to use).
- Create vaccination clinics for a short period of time, while they build confidence examining patients, learning what ‘normal’ looks and feels like, and mastering the computer system. Of course, this could benefit the practise too, as it frees up the more experienced vets.
- Pair them up with a nurse or nursing assistant for consults, who is experienced with the practice systems and who can help with holding the patients, charging, creating estimates etc.
- Block off breaks in the day for them to catch up, ask for advice, consider cases etc.
- Rota on a ‘second on call’ for backup as needed.
The timing and speed at which you reduce these support measures should also be tailored to the new graduate’s needs.
In the UK It is now a requirement of the Royal College that all new graduates be employed in an Approved Graduate Development Practice. This includes having a Veterinary Graduate Development Program (VetGDP) Advisor. The advisor must have been on the UK practising register for at least 3 years and must have completed the online training. The VetGDP advisor must have at least an hour of protected time with the new graduate each week. The VetGDP usually takes around a year to complete, but this will vary between individuals.
Quick weekly catch-ups and longer monthly 1:1s are crucial to ensure that you are offering the correct level of support, and to ensure their clinical progression. Prioritise these catch-ups with blocked-off time, don’t try to squeeze them into those quiet moments that never come! Being specific with feedback (negative and positive) will support their professional growth. While “you’re doing a good job” is always satisfying to hear, it doesn’t promote progression. What in particular are you pleased with? What do you feel they need to develop further?
What other forms of mentorship could you provide?
- Appoint a well-being mentor, solely to discuss mental health and wellbeing in practice. Ensure the mentor creates and holds a safe space for the new graduate to share their concerns (and hopefully their triumphs!).
- Consider what to include in their mentorship. Their clinical knowledge is likely to be the most up-to-date; so consider what isn’t, or can’t be, effectively taught in vet school? Do they need support with client communication, teamwork or understanding finances, for example? How can you help them to optimise the client experience?
- Consider creating a list of required or desired experiences, much like the nursing progress log (NPL). Circulate this to the team, so other team members can try to include the new graduate when a case arises. Tick things off as they gain experience, which has the added benefit of giving a confidence boost!
Don’t forget to use their knowledge too! Their knowledge will be up to date, and most new graduates are eager to share it. Making use of this knowledge not only benefits you but also makes the new graduate feel like a valued member of the team.
Take home message?
Successfully bringing a new graduate on board takes time and patience, but can be very rewarding for the practice, the new graduate and on a personal level. Being approachable and available is key, so it’s important to consider whether your practice has the time and resources to train a new graduate. If you do, then you should! You will be providing the profession with a much-needed service, at a crucial time for clinical staff retention.