Only half of recent graduates say their career has matched expectations

Only half of veterinary surgeons who graduated within the last eight years say their career has matched their expectations, according to a survey that the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) and the British Veterinary Association (BVA) are dubbing a “wake up call” to the profession.

The results form the latest output from Vet Futures, a joint RCVS and BVA initiative that aims to help the veterinary profession prepare for and shape its future.

The online survey gathered views from 892 veterinary students (via the Association of Veterinary Students) and 1,973 veterinary surgeons who had graduated within the last eight years, during May and June this year.

Although 37% of graduates reported that their working lives had met their expectations, and a further 13% said it had exceeded them, this left 50% partly or wholly unsatisfied. Furthermore, 10% said they were considering leaving the profession entirely.

Vets who have been qualified for five years or more were least optimistic about the future, rating their opportunities for career progression less positively than more recent graduates, and were also least likely to feel that their degree had prepared them for their current work. Meanwhile, only 34% of students felt that their degree was preparing them ‘very well’ for the work they wanted to do.

Almost three-quarters (73%) of students intended to work in the UK, with most aspiring to work in small animal/exotic or mixed practice, although one in 10 was as yet undecided. Of students, 45% said they wanted to become practice owners or partners, yet this aspiration dropped to 25% among graduates. In addition, nearly double the amount of graduates said they wanted to work outside clinical practice (18%), compared to students.

When seeking a role, the three factors that both graduates and students agreed would have the greatest influence on their choice of career were intellectual satisfaction, location and a supportive environment.

This last requirement chimes with the fact that among the most popular suggestions for improvement to the veterinary degree were compulsory modules on managing stress, personal development and work-life balance, alongside more teaching of business and finance skills, and extra-mural studies (EMS) placements in a wider range of settings, such as industry.

The results are “a wake up call to the profession”, according to BVA President, John Blackwell, who adds: “The drop off in career satisfaction for vets during this crucial first eight years in practice is something we can’t afford to ignore. It points to frustration over career development opportunities and dissatisfaction with support available in practice. For the veterinary profession to remain sustainable, and an attractive career choice for the best and brightest, we need to address these issues with some urgency.”

RCVS President, Dr Bradley Viner, commented: “We clearly need to address the disconnect between expectation and reality for many recent graduates. Reviewing the educational foundation of the profession is a thread that runs through many of the proposed actions that will be outlined in the Vet Futures report due this autumn. The teaching and assessment of non-clinical skills – both as part of the undergraduate curriculum and within postgraduate education – will be important, as will be the promotion of non-clinical career pathways.”

The survey also covered issues such as students’ aspirations in terms of the type (size, ownership, sector) of practice in which they would like to work, and graduates’ future career plans. It also considers attitudes from both groups with respect to new technology.

The full research report “Voices from the future of the profession,” can be found here.

The Vet Futures report and action plan will be launched at the London Vet Show on Friday 20 November, at 1.20pm, in the Pillar Hall of Olympia London, as part of BVA Congress.

  1. Paul Carwardine
    Paul Carwardine says:

    Response to Vet’s Survey.

    My comments will no doubt be regarded as heresy coming from vet well past his sell by date (1961 graduate).

    The findings in the survey that a large proportion of younger members of our profession were dissatisfied with their careers came as no surprise – having been informed by a member of staff at my old college ( The Dick) when attending a ‘year reunion’ there some five years ago, that a large percentage of graduates left the profession within 5 years.

    My feelings are that the problem lies with the selection of students to enter veterinary schools. This appears to be based purely on academic ability – A level grades – with little consideration of vocational attitude or the ‘practical aspects’ of clinical practice.
    A farmer’s or veterinary surgeon’s son or daughter with poorer A level grades might make a better practitioner than one from an unrelated background with 4A*’s.

    It seems to be accepted that girls tend to gain superior grades to boys in A levels which results in a gender imbalance of graduates – the converse of my generation of veterinary surgeons.

    Family commitments experienced by female graduates during their careers conflicts with their jobs – leading to divided loyalties between their profession and their family.

    Intellectual ‘high fliers’ find it hard to come to terms with the real world of general practice. Finding that time and costs and the lack of the state of the art facilities they have been accustomed to at university, preclude their ability to ‘work up’ cases in the manner in which they have been taught leads to frustration and disillusionment with their chosen career coupled with the fear of litigation when things go wrong.

    It seems to me that today’s graduates may be ‘over trained’ for life in general practice and are more suited to careers in research and commerce. Reports that practices find it difficult to find candidates to fill vacancies would support this hypothesis. Friends still in practice tell me that the main concerns of potential employees are time off, hours worked and CPD allowance.

    The sense of vocation, which allowed my generation to work long hours with limited ‘time off’ because we regarded our profession as a ‘way of life’ rather than a ‘job’ seems to have long gone.

    Perhaps we should consider a ‘two tier’ form of veterinary education. One addressing the requirements of practitioners and the other for the more academic students.

    I was fortunate that before obtaining a place at veterinary school my local practice afforded me the opportunity to experience the less glamorous aspects of veterinary medicine so that I was under no disillusion of what the work entailed.

    Perhaps insisting that potential students gained similar experience before being granted a university place might weed out unsuitable candidates.

    I enjoyed almost 50 years of a very varied and enjoyable career within our profession and I am saddened that it would appear many of those starting out today will not.

    Paul Carwardine.

    • Richard Brown
      Richard Brown says:

      Dear Paul,
      I am with you. Your analysis is robust. I wrote a letter which the VR published last year which suggested that Vet Schools only take on students who have worked for a total of six months in a service industry or similar so that they understand the concepts of serving others. The note of hope I can give you is that vets are now highly intelligent. Thus the penny will finally drop and we will in due time get a very strong “inner college” or “specialty” of bread and butter intelligent practicing vets. Give it a decade or two. Finally my own opinion is that in fact the all round mixed practitioner is the “heptathlete” of our profession and he/she deserves far more kudos than the specialties. Who else can in less than 24 hours, Caesar a cow, vaccinate a horse, spay a cat , lamb a ewe and then still do some consults……………


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