My Concerns For The New Vet Graduates Of 2021 & 2022

Updated May 26, 2022

Right now the Australian veterinary world is going through an upheaval like I have not seen in 30 years. And into this come the new crop of veterinary graduates, straight from university. To say I’m worried would be putting it mildly.

The Background

For almost my whole career, there has never been an excess of vets looking for work. In fact, at times the supply has been very tight. Yet, we more or less got by.

The reasons for this are up for debate but one of them is not too few veterinary students. Instead it’s that not enough of these vet students end up having long careers.

I’ve talked before about working conditions inside the industry, and the pressures placed on young vets by the public. Into this we can add COVID-19.

It’s quite likely that the crisis we’re in would still have happened without it, but COVID stopped vets migrating to Australia and only made it worse. It’s done the same for vet nurses and the employment market as a whole.

The Current Situation

Veterinary practices around Adelaide are rapidly falling into one of two camps: either adequately staffed or chronically understaffed. Earlier in the year we saw two country branch practices close and I don’t think we’re far away from this happening in the city too.

But this isn’t my concern.

What worries me is the desperation any practice will have for a vet, any vet. Yet these environments are possibly the very worst in which to put a new graduate. I’m not confident that either employee or employer will always foresee the problem before it happens.

In other words, we could end up burning out young vets at an even faster rate.

What New Graduates Need

A vet fresh out of vet school is not the same as a doctor in the same position. They have much less practical experience, and still require 6 to 12 months of on-the-job training. Therefore, in my opinion, they need two things:

  1. Continuous support from experienced vets present in the clinic
  2. A low workload that can grow in keeping with their skill acquisition

Don’t think they aren’t already great, by the way. I always say a new grad is at least as good as an experienced vet as long as they have enough time and support.

The Opposite Scenario

Today’s vet graduates risk being placed into practices where:

  1. There is no experienced vet available, or only part-time
  2. There is a high existing workload
  3. Experienced nursing staff are in short supply
  4. There is poor morale

I don’t blame the practice owners for hiring them. After all, they either do this or consider closing down. But I hope the young vets get a very realistic view of what they face.

To put this in context, when I graduated. I benefited from (almost) always having someone to answer questions, and very good nurses who could also teach me a lot. I also went into a practice that was expanding. So rather than replacing a missing vet and having to pick up the existing caseload, it grew with me.

The Consequences

My view is that the first 6 to 12 months of a vet’s career are make or break. It’s here they will learn the resilience we all need to draw on in a tough industry.

If they lose their confidence early, it’s very hard to get it back. If they don’t get taught the right way, they learn bad habits in how they think, what they do and how they cope.

Of course, I generalise, and many vets have become highly successful from isolated beginnings. But to me, the risk is too high. These are people who have dedicated their lives to being a vet, and we should do nothing to put that at risk.

The Future

Maybe I’m an optimist, but I actually see a bright future. If this crisis is not the stimulus we need to look at our situation with fresh eyes, then what is? In the short term some practices may close, but what should remain is a world where young vets are nurtured and conditions for everyone improve.

Have a safe Christmas and New Year. If you can, spare a moment to tell the young professionals around you how much you’ve appreciated all they’ve done. Let’s just say that when the nurses tell me there’s an email waiting for me, my first thought isn’t, “oh good, some more praise!”.

Have something to add? Comments (if open) will appear within 24 hours.
By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. Meet his team here.

4 Replies to “My Concerns For The New Vet Graduates Of 2021 & 2022”

  1. Hi. I’m not a vet or vet nurse but I am a customer. As a recently retired hairdresser this story resonates strongly. Same situation, different career.
    As a cat owner and customer I agree with all you have said. I have no problem going to any vet within the practice knowing that Wilson’s notes are there for referral and having first hand experience with round table/lunch room discussion about her condition. For Me this ensures a broad font of knowledge available for us to access. I do hope that new vets are given their opportunity to grow and shine. It’s a tough job. All the best.

  2. Hi Dr Andrew,

    Valid concerns. I graduated in feb 2021 from uni of Adelaide. By feb 2022, I had left my employment (mutually agreed). Not that there wasn’t enough support – someone was always there to answer my questions or help me with surgeries. It was the sheer amount of workload, many expectations placed on me, stressed employers yelling and being overly critical, having to work with new nurses and training them. I’m not saying the expectations were unrealistic, it’s the fact that I had to juggle inexperience, employer expectations, client expectations, and working with other stressed staff members. I tried to voice this concern on meetings but they were dismissed as excuses.

    I’m very disillusioned at the moment and I cannot bring myself to apply for another job. I feel that I’m not good enough, may never be good enough for anyone, and I really don’t want to feel mentally beaten up every week. I hope my confidence would eventually recover.

    Thank you for reading this far 🙂

    1. Thanks for writing in. I’m honestly not surprised to hear of experiences like yours, and I’m really sorry that it’s happening. One look at the number of job vacancies listed both for vets and vet nurses tells you just how desperate things are at the moment, and I can imagine the stress that the remaining workers are feeling in some clinics. However, let me say that it is certainly not all clinics.

      Firstly, it’s definitely not you and it’s got nothing to do with your abilities. No one can fulfil client expectations in the Internet age straight out of university. Every single graduate from the University of Adelaide is excellent if they are given the time to develop. You are definitely no exception.

      My advice after all you’ve done to get this far is to not give up yet unless you feel you are at risk. Employers are so desperate right now that they will be willing to accept pre-conditions if you make them. Tell them exactly what you need, especially how much time you need and exactly how much work you can cope with before it is too much. Set clear boundaries with new employers – you have that power in the current climate. If necessary, consider working only a few days a week, and be prepared to leave other jobs if they aren’t sufficiently healthy working environments.

      My view of is that there are some practices that are relatively stable, and others that have gone into a vicious circle of a high rotation of stressed and overworked staff due to repeated staff losses. Only look at the stable ones if employers are not prepared to accept that you can’t do all of the work required in these understaffed practices.

      P.S. I had not thought of the contract problem – bear in mind that there are plenty of non-corporate vets who will be happy not to have one – generally I have never asked vets to sign contracts as after all they have all the power in the current situation anyway!

      1. Thank you for the reply. With my next job, I would be asking for a 3-6 months trial period as a casual before signing a permanent contract. It wasn’t easy for the clinic to juggle new grad training with the influx of clients. No time to spare. All the best with your practice and your new grad!

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