Tools for Veterinary Practice Success

Becoming a veterinarian is not simply about one’s passion for pets. Along with gaining confidence in technical abilities and developing client communication skills, once in practice, veterinarians have a responsibility to help improve the well-being of their veterinary teams, communities and the profession as a whole.

So, what makes the transition from veterinary graduate to career success a smooth process for some and not others? We wanted to know – and more specifically, how the veterinary community can help students tackle the parts of practice life that aren’t necessarily taught in the classroom.

In partnership with the University of Minnesota’s College of Veterinary Medicine, Banfield commissioned research that found students, faculty and veterinary hospitals can notably improve and help smooth a graduate’s transition into veterinary practice. In fact, responses revealed successful first-year doctors who started their veterinary careers on the right foot often shared common experiences. These results confirm that achieving success as a new practitioner isn’t impossible—there are a number of ways students, universities and veterinary practices can support new graduates. See our infographic that illustrates our findings.

Veterinary hospitals that hire new graduates, and the schools in which those graduates train, can help polish the skills students need to thrive in practice. But first, we have to understand what they’re up against…

The Road to Success Has its Obstacles

When I was fresh out of veterinary school, I felt a mix of excitement and anxiety like any new graduate would. I felt competent enough treating my first patient, but I was uneasy about effectively communicating with clients. My experience interacting with clients during school was limited. Nevertheless, my first client encounter went off without a hitch, and with every future appointment, my abilities and confidence increased.

Although every graduate’s experience will be different, our study confirmed that those students that had difficulty transitioning into practice lacked adequate experience in three critical areas:

  • Real-world learning opportunities. In teaching hospitals, veterinary students usually work with experienced faculty to provide tertiary care and don’t gain the valuable experience of full caseloads that provide experience delivering high-volume, high-quality care.
  • Communication skills. A veterinary school education doesn’t always offer students a chance to interact with clients – or navigate effective communication with a hospital team. As such, many don’t graduate having practiced discussing diagnoses and treatment options with clients in human terms. Our research showed delegating work to hospital support staff and recognizing the expertise and value of their colleagues can prove challenging in practice as well.
  • At ease in a practice setting. When a new veterinarian comes on board, they need to immediately adopt the processes and tools the hospital already has in place. Lacking flexibility and familiarity with their new environment and process, as well as team working styles, can hinder success.

Though seemingly minor gaps in experience, failure to be proactive in addressing them in a first job isn’t ideal—for the hospital or the new veterinarian. Gaining experience during school can help students in many ways, before and after graduation, including understanding multiple aspects of how their coursework will apply to real-world scenarios.

Experiential Learning Helps Build Well-Rounded Practitioners

Educational institutions can favorably influence the development of “soft” skills – a key factor in successful practice – and give students opportunities to apply their learnings in various settings. Building things like role play, communications courses and budgeting and business-management exercises into required curriculum can help students hone critical skills and increase exposure to the types of situations they’re bound to encounter in practice.

Ideally, hospitals could also play a central role by teaming up with veterinary schools to give students hands-on clinical experience centered on all aspects of patient care before they join the workforce, such as shadowing opportunities. Once on board, new doctors should also work under the guidance of a mentor in the hospital to help them achieve their full potential.

How Students can take Practice-Readiness into their Own Hands

Veterinary students also have a responsibility to advance their education by seeking opportunities to learn outside of the classroom. Extracurricular pursuits such as shadowing and mentorship programs can make all the difference in preparing soon-to-be graduates for every aspect of veterinary care in a hospital setting.

I can’t emphasize enough the importance of looking for opportunities to gain hands-on clinical and surgery experience. Options for veterinary students include volunteering their time with local animal rescue organizations, working in a private practice or participating in externship programs like those we offer at Banfield. Learning to balance the pace and unpredictability of treatment in such settings immeasurably help students enhance in their knowledge and abilities.

Our research also revealed that a number of other jobs can ease the transition from the classroom to the exam room. Working in a service role, such as a barista, waiter or customer service representative, can favorably impact a new veterinarian’s practice-readiness. Interactions with a wide variety of clients in such a position teaches skills like how to adjust communication styles for different clients and how to deal with uncomfortable situations and ambiguity—scenarios that every veterinarian is sure to encounter in practice.

Why Does it Matter?

Banfield and the University of Minnesota have a shared goal: for new veterinarians to enter practice with confidence, ready to provide high-quality care to the pets they treat and able to partner effectively with their clients and hospital teams.

We want every new graduate to feel ready to take on real-world challenges, but we want those challenges to be productive rather than overwhelming ones. By prioritizing development of the skills that are critical to a successful transition, veterinary hospitals, universities and mentors can partner to better prepare veterinary students for success in practice.

Daniel Aja, Chief Medical Officer, Banfield Pet Hospital

Dr. Daniel Aja leads Banfield’s internal and external veterinary medicine initiatives. Prior to joining Banfield in 2014, Dr. Aja served as director of professional and veterinary affairs at Hill’s Pet Nutrition. He brings 26 years of experience in private practice, including 22 years as owner of the Cherry Bend Animal Hospital in Traverse City, Michigan. Dr. Aja earned his veterinary medical degree from the College of Veterinary Medicine at Michigan State University.