Columns , Leadership

The road ahead

A support position doesn’t have to be a lifetime job. You have other options in the veterinary field if you’re motivated to do something else.

The road ahead
Regardless of your defined job title, opportunities often are available to expand your role or advance within your practice.

Working in a veterinary practice is an enviable career choice. It is a calling for many of us as well as a profession many are drawn to. The career choice is often reinforced when someone’s reaction upon hearing what you do is “Oh, that’s awesome!” or “Lucky you.”

How many of us can make our noble profession a sustainable, long-term career? Veterinary medicine is not particularly lucrative, is physically demanding and is emotionally draining. It’s the hardest job you will ever love.

What happens when you have had enough, your body has betrayed you or the passion is waning? Is it time to leave the profession and find something new, or do options exist that will allow you to stay? Maybe it’s time to start looking at opportunities within your practice, or outside of the practice but still within the veterinary field.

Regardless of your defined job title, opportunities often are available to expand your role or advance within your practice. Cross-training is not just an efficiency enhancer; it might be an opportunity enhancer.

Whether you started as a customer service representative, pet care attendant, assistant or credentialed technician, you have room to grow. Communicating with practice leaders is essential. Set your sights on where you want to go and make it known. You are more likely to succeed and be supported within your practice if you have a concrete plan for advancement.

Goal setting is an important part of that plan. Set SMART goals for yourself, meaning specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and timely. Advancement within the practice must make sense, so don’t expect to be promoted based on longevity alone. Master your current role and pursue the training and education necessary to achieve the next level. Gain an understanding of the critical steps required to realize that goal.

If you want to be considered for an expanded role within the practice, make the most of the training available to you. Seek additional outside training and education. Personal initiative is crucial. Some positions will require a college degree or certification. Factor in the time and financial commitment as you set your new career goal.

One of the challenges we face in veterinary practices is backfilling a job when an employee advances into another role. Practice leaders might be slow to allow advancement until a replacement is found and is trained to fill your role. Take a proactive approach. If you want new opportunities within the practice, you need to work with the team and train your replacement. Who better to make sure your role is filled by a competent person? Be willing to share what you know.

In short, do this:

  • Look beyond your job description.
  • Let it be known that you are looking for advancement.
  • Seek out learning opportunities.
  • Share what you know.
  • Train your replacement.

Consider the following avenues for career advancement inside and outside of the practice. If all options are considered and no room is available to grow within your practice, you may need to seek opportunities elsewhere.

1. Technical

If your passion is the medicine, you are more likely to seek positions that are technical. The ladder of advancement within your current practice could have many rungs — pet care attendant, veterinary assistant, certified veterinary assistant (CVA), credentialed technician (RVT, CVT, LVT), veterinary technician specialist (VTS) or even veterinarian. Set your sights on the ultimate goal. Gain the knowledge of what is necessary to advance to the next level.

2. Customer Service

It’s not just about the animals in a veterinary practice. Serving clients must be a priority as well. Your desired role may be a customer service representative, client liaison, front desk team lead or office manager.  A career in customer service requires excellent communication and customer service skills. This path is a great option if the physical demands of a technical role are a limiting factor. It also can be a steppingstone toward a higher-level management position.

3. Management

Practice management is becoming a popular avenue for veterinary professionals looking for more. Many leadership opportunities exist within the typical practice, and the need for management professionals is real, from team lead to practice manager and even practice owner.

Management and ownership roles are not for the faint of heart, however. A different skillset is required to manage than to be an individual contributor in the hospital, regardless of your current role. Share your perspective and what makes you think you would be successful in a management role. Remember that you will be assessed on what you have done, not just what you say. The good news is resources are available when it comes to continuing education, advanced veterinary management and management certification. If management is your passion, embrace the role and gain the experience necessary to be successful.

You will earn the respect of the team and find success and satisfaction if you:

4. Consulting, Educating, Speaking and Writing

If teaching is your passion, look for opportunities to share your knowledge and expertise with other veterinary professionals. Whether you work with individual practices or choose a broader reach, the venture can be a lucrative and rewarding. Educators within the profession are generally highly respected and sought after. Advanced degrees and certification are likely going to be a requirement to enter this arena.

5. Pharmaceutical Sales Representative

We all have interacted with the many drug, food and equipment sales reps who serve our hospitals. They have a wide range of experience within the field, and many of them started their career in a veterinary practice. For many of our manufacturer and distributor partners, veterinary experience is a must. If sales is of interest, this is a great direction to go.

6. Government

A job with your local, state or federal government is a viable option. This is an avenue frequently overlooked as a growth opportunity. A wide variety of positions require a veterinary background. Check out www.avma.org and www.usajobs.gov for information on how to find veterinary-related government jobs. The opportunities include but are not limited to:

  • Wildlife conservation.
  • Shelter medicine.
  • Regulatory (inspection, investigation, enforcement and compliance).
  • General health science.

Regardless of the path you choose, stay up to date within the profession and become active in your veterinary community. Join your local, state and national associations. They include:

Don’t ever stop learning. The more you know, the more you grow. Your goal should be to find a position where you can contribute to the profession and enjoy personal satisfaction, whether inside a practice or at another veterinary entity.

Those who find the right advancement opportunity and settle in on the right career track experience higher levels of job satisfaction and lower levels of stress or burnout. We deserve to love what we do and where we do it. Don’t lose sight of the steps necessary to get there.

Getting Technical columnist Sandy Walsh is a practice management consultant, speaker, writer and instructor for Patterson Veterinary University.

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