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What I am looking for in a job

“A hospital that offers excellent mentorship and a positive practice culture is certainly a viable option for a first-year veterinarian like me even in the absence of room for advancement.”

What I am looking for in a job
Ross University veterinary student Katelyn Behm is completing her clinical rotations at Cornell University.

Nearing the final stretch of my DVM program at Ross University — my January graduation date is fast approaching — I have been considering career opportunities and employment contracts more critically. As a soon-to-be new graduate, the job market is favorable, as veterinarians are in high demand in the United States and abroad. I am confident in what I bring to the table: a wide array of veterinary experience in Canada, the Caribbean and now at Cornell University, where I am completing my clinical year.

I have worked with domesticated animals and wildlife. I take pride in my communication skills and my ability to explain medical cases to clients. I excel in surgery, a passion of mine. I have a keen interest in business management and finances from my extracurricular work with the Student American Veterinary Medical Association and from my earning a Veterinary Business Management Association certificate.

As I begin navigating interviews and salary negotiations, I think about what I need from a veterinary practice as a budding small animal general practitioner. What aspects of an associate position do I consider negotiable versus essential? Pulling information from business and financial acumen presentations I attended, as well as from conversations with mentors and other professionals, I have compiled what I consider most important as I wade into the job search.

Mentorship

The education I obtained in veterinary school has given me a solid foundation of knowledge, but I inevitably have a lot to learn as far as applying that in clinical practice. One of my fears — and something many new grads seem to carry with them — is whether I will know how to address a case I have never seen. While veterinary school has given me the skills to work up diseases I have never encountered, there is a lot of value in having a senior veterinarian with whom I can discuss the nuances of my patient plans.

For that reason, mentorship sits at the top of my list of necessities as a new veterinarian. The senior veterinarians at my practice must be willing to discuss my care plan for my first diabetic ketoacidosis patient and support me through my first splenectomy. The ideal mentor will have confidence in my ability to take charge of my cases and will be prepared to answer lingering questions.

Hiring a new grad is certainly an investment for a veterinary practice. It’s vital that I find a hospital that will help me cultivate my style of practicing medicine as I continue to learn.

Practice Standards and Culture

A certain caliber of medicine is essential, and I consider certain elements an ethical must. For example, I expect the veterinary team to include registered, certified or licensed veterinary technicians. While this might not be a legal requirement, depending on where I end up, I have tremendous respect for the formal education technicians receive, and I feel confident in their support as team members as I aim to practice my best medicine. Appropriate analgesia and an approach that minimizes patient stress and fear are among the factors I consider important in maintaining a high caliber of care, and they should be standard at small animal practices.

A diverse team in which all members are respected and valued is a non-negotiable component of practice culture for me. As a student, I have had the privilege of working in a variety of hospital settings: low cost/high volume, accredited by the American Animal Hospital Association, non-profit wildlife, high-end general pcractice, single doctor and referral. I have seen the positive and inclusive work culture that allows the team to fire on all cylinders, providing optimal patient care and a fulfilling workday. Something as simple as thanking a colleague for input on a case or telling a work-study student that she did well with a doppler probe goes a long way.

I also have seen the flipside — where communication and collaboration broke down entirely, such as when team leaders failed to treat staff members respectfully and when an individual of a minority group felt isolated from the rest of the team. Prejudice toward race, gender, sexual orientation or religion, for example, has no place in a hospital where I will work. Additionally, I believe we are doing a disservice to clients and patients if we do not foster diversity and support an atmosphere of respect. I want to wake up each morning and look forward to seeing a veterinary team that feels a sense of purpose and belonging.

Further, I want my opinions welcomed at any practice where I work. As a fresh-faced new grad, I recognize that I am not bringing years of experience to the table, but I hope I bring a new perspective as well as experience with the cutting-edge medicine I saw during my clinical year. For instance, I spoke with one of my mentors about bacterial culture and susceptibility testing after my dermatology clinical rotation, where antimicrobial resistance had been discussed at length. Should we, as veterinarians, be diminishing our profit margin on culture and susceptibility testing in the interest of encouraging more clients to pursue this diagnostic tool, and championing responsible antimicrobial stewardship? I would argue that we should and that this might still be a profitable option if more clients would commit to culturing. I appreciated the discussion, and the changes that were ultimately instituted to lower culture profit margins were the cherry on top.

Contractual Terms

I am looking for a full-time associate position in Canada, where I was born and raised. Four-day workweeks are desirable, and I expect to put in up to 56 hours a week. I enjoyed working holidays and weekends as a veterinary assistant, and I would expect to do so again as a new graduate. I will not consider practices that require overnight or on-call shifts.

I have set my sights on some component of production-based pay and practice ownership, which I consider important for my career and essential for repaying my $200,000 student loan debt. However, these factors would not make or break an employment contract during my first year in practice. I am focusing on whether the salary is competitive for the geographical area and practice type, in combination with the fringe benefits offered.

That being said, I aim to incorporate a component of production-based pay into my salary within my first three years in practice, as are many of my student colleagues. Similarly, I would consider a hospital that does not offer practice ownership opportunities to be a steppingstone and not a long-term employer. A hospital that offers excellent mentorship and a positive practice culture is certainly a viable option for a first-year veterinarian like me even in the absence of room for advancement.

The opportunity to develop my clinical interests, likely as a CE allowance, is an important factor for me as well. There are few things I love more than the feeling of needle drivers and suture in my hands. For a while, I seriously considered pursuing board specialization for surgery. Having decided on small animal general practice, I would like to heavily incorporate surgery into my career and am seeking a hospital that values my interest and provides tools to shine. For example, $1,500 in annual CE reimbursement would be reasonable to me as would days off to pursue advanced training.

A specific location is one of the least important considerations for finding a hospital that is an optimal fit. This might be because I drove two hours each way to Vancouver throughout my undergraduate education, moved nearly 4,000 miles away from Canada’s west coast to pursue veterinary school in St. Kitts, and now have relocated to Cornell to complete my clinical year. The geographical location carries little importance compared to the inner workings of the veterinary team. While I would like to work in British Columbia’s lower mainland, I would consider hospitals elsewhere in B.C. and even across Canada.

In the end, intangibles such as mentorship and practice culture, both of which are difficult to outline in a contract, are going to be most critical when I choose a hospital that best suits me as a new graduate. My job interviews will be essential for ascertaining this information, as will any opportunities to observe the hospital team, perhaps in a working interview. Many of my student colleagues hold the same opinion and think that the salary structure and ownership opportunities carry more weight for longer-term placements.

New graduates are meaningful investments for veterinary practices. I look forward to finding an employer committed to mentorship and support.

Katelyn Behm served as student liaison on the American Veterinary Medical Association’s Animal Welfare Committee and is the Student AVMA’s veterinary economics officer.  

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