For the majority of veterinary surgeons, entering the profession is a vocational choice, rather than a calculated career move. Most veterinary degrees take five years to complete and once attained, graduates are committed to a lifetime of continuous professional development.
But does the degree course adequately prepare new graduates for what they will find in the ‘real world’?
In November of 2014, a project entitled Vet Futures was launched with a purpose to determine the top goals for the veterinary profession, to be achieved by 2030. To establish a baseline, various surveys were conducted in collaboration with the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) and British Veterinary Association (BVA). One survey found only 17% of vets, five or more years after graduating, thought their degree had prepared them ‘very well’ for the work they were doing. Nearly 90% of vets surveyed in 2014 for the RCVS considered vet work stressful, a telling figure, although over 80% reported job satisfaction (Buzzeo et al., 2014).
So, what are the top stress factors?
Long working hours, out of hours working and insufficient earnings come as no surprise. Recent graduates were more optimistic generally than those who had been qualified for five years or more. However, it also emerged that vets are finding the pressure from the public expectation increasingly stressful and this was a factor the degree course had not prepared them for. Professional isolation is also a key issue as is a lack of career progression, particularly for those in clinical practice. Also, featuring strongly, was the lack of preparedness for the emotional side of interacting with animal owners. This factor appeared both for those working with production animals as well as for companions. For farm animals, where there is an increasing pressure to grow more food at affordable prices, tensions and conflict can arise between vets and owners pertaining to animal welfare issues. For companion animals, vets have to deal with a variety of complex and tricky issues, from the emotional responses from pet owners, such as grief and anger, to dealing with animals who have suffered horrific and catastrophic injuries and also approaching suspected cases of animal abuse.
Having the resilience to deal with these situations is an integral and essential part of being a vet. Surely then, resilience, as a vital skill, should be better incorporated into the degree and become part of the learning process? Whilst experienced gained ‘on the job’ will always contribute to the learning process, perhaps it’s time to give graduates some resilience to build on, before being subjected to the onslaught of ‘the real world’.
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