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October 24, 2012

Moving on from Practice

6 months after starting at Companion Consultancy, Emily Rackley reflects on her move from practice to ‘industry’ and how other vets can do the same:

I, like some of my colleagues at Companion Consultancy, was at one time a vet in practice. Whilst the life of a practising vet suit some well, the draw of a career in ‘industry’ was too great for me to resist and so I made that seemingly momentous move. The opportunities to engage an alternative way of thinking, be more creative and apply my experience and knowledge to a different set of problems from those seen in practice (although not always that different!) have allowed me to grow in a way that would never have happened otherwise. Whether my growth is better or worse compared to the alternative, I will never know, but where I am today validates my dogmatic dismissal of woeful friends and relatives who just could not understand why I was leaving everyone’s ‘dream job’. Secretly, I think they were actually more upset about the discounts on flea and worming treatments suddenly being taken away!

Despite many of the veterinary degree courses in the UK being very much aimed towards a career in practice, there are many vets, like me, who realise that it isn’t the life for them. This can happen months or years after graduation and holds absolutely no shame. I make this latter point because even now, vets still seem to be under the impression that a move to industry will be perceived by their peers as synonymous to flirting with the devil. This just isn’t true and the ones that do hold this opinion perhaps simply have absolutely no appreciation for how industry and practice rely on each other to exist.

A recent non-official online forum survey indicated that as many as 50% of UK practising vets desperately want to leave practice, but don’t know where to go or how to get there. Many have tried and failed, becoming disillusioned with the idea of ‘industry’ as an impenetrable fortress to all but a lucky few. To hark back to something that many vets will have heard throughout university, (with varying degrees of passion, depending on the views of the person delivering the comment) “You can do almost anything with a vet degree.” It sounds contrived, arrogant even, for the educators of the course to say this, but they are absolutely right.

They key is not a vets’ qualifications or their experience, it’s their mind set. Put aside the degree for a moment – a vet becomes a person again. A person with a wealth of interpersonal skills gained in sometimes the most adverse of conditions, making them all the stronger and adaptable. A person with an enquiring mind, suited perfectly to problem solving and possessing scientific and technical knowledge that far exceeds many other science graduates. A person with an indomitable work-ethic forged through years of out of hours exposure at university alone. Suddenly, this person seems very employable indeed, irrespective of their official ‘title’. Once vets that want to leave practice realise their skillset boasts extend far beyond ‘able to do a bitch spay in 30 minutes’, the world opens up like a flower around them.

So now the picture has suddenly become a lot bigger, where does a vet wanting to leave practice begin to look for their new, exciting role? So many vets fall at this hurdle by narrowing their perspective again. Never mind what is available with the word ‘veterinary’ in the title – vets need to ask themselves a few questions before trawling the job sites. What do they WANT to do? What do they ENJOY? What are they GOOD at? I am a vet that enjoys writing and being creative, but still wants science to feature in my work day, so I ended up doing what I do. Perhaps a vet enjoys the precision of surgery – knowing the rules and expected outcomes and so being part of the regulatory process would suit their exacting mind? Or maybe another vet takes great pleasure in solving people’s problems – would being a technical advisor satisfy their need to help? A gregarious vet who loves interacting with people could be fantastic salesperson… It’s about really drilling down to the things that make someone tick.

After the enlightenment comes the CV. A clinical CV differs markedly from an industry one. Indeed it goes further than that – a sales CV differs markedly from a technical advisor, charity or governmental role CV. It’s like looking at a sculpture from different angles – same imagery, different shapes. It is quite acceptable (and indeed sensible!) for a person to have 4 or 5 versions of a CV to send out, each highlighting a different take on that person’s overall skillset.

Talking to a good recruiter is a simple first step to achieving the right tone of a CV for a particular role. In fact a good recruiter is worth their weight in gold for the advice that they can give. With the BVA launching its first ever careers fair at the London Vet Show this year and many others available (just google ‘veterinary career fair’), the associations really do want to help all vets, including those that are interested in life outside practice.

The point is, leaving practice IS an option for every vet that wants it. It can’t be a push though, it has to be a pull. Yes, there may be dissatisfactions with practice life, but the opportunities, excitement and prospect for development of a new role have to be the driving forces behind a move for that move to be made objectively and be given the best chance of lasting. The phrase ‘out of the frying pan, into the fire’ is a good one to keep in mind.