Female vet walking in cattle farm

Seven-year itch: vets who make the move to non-clinical work do so after seven years

With widespread concern about the recruitment and retention of vets, new figures from the British Veterinary Association reveal a mix of “push” and “pull” factors in vets’ decisions to leave clinical practice.

The vast majority of the vets polled who are now in non-clinical roles (92%) had worked in clinical practice in the past and, on average, these vets decided to make the move to non-clinical roles seven years after qualification.

Finding a new challenge was the most popular motivation for making the career change. The figures from the BVA Voice of the Veterinary Profession survey, which are being published ahead of this weekend’s veterinary careers event, Vets: Stay, Go, Diversify LIVE!, showed that 43% of vets who had moved were looking for a new challenge through a non-clinical role.

Where did they come from, where did they go?

Nearly three-quarters (73%) of those vets who had moved from clinical to non-clinical work had worked in mixed practice at some point in the past. Nearly half (49%) had worked in companion animal practice and one in three had worked in production animal practice (33%). Around one in eight had worked in equine practice (12%) at some time during their clinical career.

The survey showed that nearly a third (32%) of working vets who are not in practice are in academia. Commerce and industry was also a popular non-clinical role with one in five (21%) of vets in non-clinical roles choosing to work in these fields.

Reasons for leaving

Vets most commonly gave positive reasons for making the move to a non-clinical role, with 43% citing that they were looking for a new challenge as one of the reasons and 33% saying they were looking for a different type of work.

Vets also based their decision on improving their work/life balance, with a quarter saying they wanted a role with no out of hours work, 14% saying they wanted more flexible working hours and one in ten reporting that clinical work was incompatible with family or outside commitments.

More than one in five (21%) cited difficulty in progressing with their clinical career as a reason whilst just under one in five (19%) were looking for less stress at work.

Gender differences

There were some differences between men and women in the timing of their career change and the reasons behind it. Women tended to leave clinical practice earlier in their career; an average of 6.5 years after they qualified compared to 8 years for men.

Reasons related to working hours and flexibility were more prominent motivations for women to move from clinical practice (54% of female vets compared to 31% of male vets). On the other hand, male vets were more likely than female vets to cite reasons related to a desire to do a different type of work (44% of male vets compared to 24% of female vets).

Vets: Stay, Go, Diversify LIVE!

This weekend (28-29 April), the event ‘Vets: Stay, Go, Diversify LIVE!’ will celebrate the range of roles that vets can take on throughout their careers, providing insight and advice on the different options out there and how to negotiate the move.

BVA Senior Vice President, Gudrun Ravetz, will be touching upon some of the gender issues at play in her talk on the current UK workforce crisis, whilst BVA Junior Vice President, Simon Doherty, will be contributing to the session about veterinary roles in charities. Both Simon and Gudrun will be taking part in a session about what BVA is doing for the profession.

BVA Senior Vice President, Gudrun Ravetz said:

“These figures show that there is a sizeable percentage of practising vets who are making the move into non-clinical roles and that there are a variety of reasons behind their decision. There is a huge diversity of career paths open to vets and it’s important both for those who are already in practice and for those considering a veterinary career to be aware of all the options available.

“I have had a portfolio career myself that involved clinical practice in all different business models including charity practice and industry and I know that the most important thing is for vets to feel fulfilled in their chosen roles and understand that there is a wide range of opportunity available to them.

“However, we also know that practices are seriously worried about being able to recruit and retain staff. Looking at the reasons for leaving – including a desire for more flexibility, a better work/life balance, and concerns about stress – this has to be a wake-up call to all employers to think about whether we can do things differently to support our colleagues.

“BVA has a role to play too and many of the Vet Futures actions are designed to address these issues, including the workforce study commissioned by BVA, the development of a careers hub, and our support for the Mind Matters Initiative led by the RCVS, amongst others. These are issues that the profession must tackle together.”

Dog in waiting room

BVA welcomes first ever protocol for animals in health care

The British Veterinary Association (BVA) has issued a warm welcome to the launch of the first ever nationwide protocol for animals in health care.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has launched the protocol, ‘Working with dogs in health care settings’, in a bid to encourage more hospitals to explore animal therapy.

A recent RCN survey found that nine out of ten (90%) nurses believe animals can improve the health of patients with depression and other mental health problems, and 60% said the presence of animals could speed patient recovery.

Simon Doherty, BVA Junior Vice President, said: “This new protocol highlights the importance of the bond between humans and animals. It also serves as a welcome reminder at the start of Mental Health Awareness Week of how caring for and interacting with ‘man’s best friend’ can help to relieve stress and enhance wellbeing and a sense of companionship.

“It’s positive that the working group consulted with a wide range of organisations on welfare and safety considerations in developing this protocol, as ensuring the wellbeing of both humans and animals in these settings is paramount. As a fellow member of the UK One Health Coordination Group, BVA is very pleased to see a joined-up and forward-thinking approach to this important area of work.”

The ‘UK One Health Coordination Group’ (UKOHCG) was established following the launch of the BVA/RCVS Vet Futures Action plan. The UKOHCG exists to improve liaison and collaboration between the UK veterinary, medical and environmental professions towards One Health aims in order to foster and facilitate the approach whereby professionals “think globally and act locally”. The founding members of the UKOHCG are: the British Veterinary Association (BVA), the British Veterinary Nursing Association (BVNA), the Veterinary Public Health Association (VPHA), the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH), the National Health Service (NHS), the British Medical Association (BMA), the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), the National Trust, and the Wildlife Trusts.

VSGD logo

RCVS supports new veterinary career diversity event

Representatives and staff from the RCVS attended the inaugural Vets: Stay, Go, Diversity (VSGD) Live! event in April to showcase its work on leadership, innovation and mental health.

The VSGD event – inspired by the Vet Futures project – took place on Saturday 28 and Sunday 29 April at CodeNode, a community events venue in the City of London, and with an estimated 250 delegates in attendance, as well as online delegates, to discuss veterinary career diversity.

Members of RCVS Council and the RCVS Officer Team took part in a number of talks and workshop/ panel discussions. On Saturday:

  • Niall ConnellRCVS Council member and Junior Vice-President elect Niall Connell (pictured right) gave a talk called ‘Discovering life after ill-health retirement’ about how he has continued to work in the veterinary sphere after his multiple sclerosis diagnosis in 2010.
  • RCVS Senior Vice-President Chris Tufnell, who runs our ViVet innovation project, gave a presentation entitled ‘Playing our part in world progress through science, innovation and caring’.
    Rob Pettitt, Senior Lecturer in Small Animal Orthopaedics at the University of Liverpool, delivered a talk on behalf of our Mind Matters Initiative titled ‘Mind over surgical matter’ in which he spoke about his own experiences of mental ill-health.
  • Chris Tufnell joined RCVS Council member Danny Chambers and the BVA’s Simon Doherty and Gudrun Ravetz in a Q & A panel session titled ‘What have the RCVS and BVA ever done for us?’

On Sunday:

  • Professor Stuart Reid, Chair of the Mind Matters Initiative, joined RCVS Council member Jo Dyer in a workshop titled ‘We are all human: healthy minds for medics and vets’.
  • Chris Tufnell took part in a workshop called ‘Practice makes perfect: Starting a veterinary business’.
  • And finally, Chris and Danny held a panel discussion titled ‘Advocating for the profession in practice’.

Ian Holloway, RCVS Director of Communications, said: “We were delighted to be invited to attend this new event which has grown out of a very popular Facebook group in which vets of all stages of their careers gathered to share stories and ideas on how to make the best of their veterinary education and experience.

“As well as taking part in many of the talks and workshops the College we also had a stand at the event where we promoted our ViVet innovation programme which aims to ensure that the veterinary profession is at the forefront of technological and business innovation in the animal health space.

“Furthermore, we were very pleased to be promoting the new RCVS Leadership Initiative which aims to instil everyday leadership for veterinary professionals at all career stages through a massive open online course on leadership development inspired by the NHS Leadership Academy.”

For more information about the event, including recordings from the day, visit the VSGD LIVE website.

The health and wellbeing of veterinary professionals

Mary is a veterinary surgeon working in Devon. She graduated from the University of Glasgow in 1998 and has eighteen years of experience, working in various roles in mixed practice, for an out-of-hours clinic, for a large group practice and as a government veterinary surgeon.

In 2014, Mary became a Postgraduate Dean for the RCVS, supporting recent graduates through their Professional Development Phase (PDP) and speaking to final year students and recent graduates. In 2015 Mary joined the board of Vetlife (previously the Veterinary Benevolent Fund), the charity that supports the veterinary community.

Mary Thomson

Mary Thomson

It was with some trepidation that I attended the first Vet Futures Action Group meeting earlier this year. A bit like the first day in a new job. Will the others like me? How will my background equip me for the work of the Action Group? But these worries were short lived. I’ve enjoyed every minute of our meetings and have met some fantastic people.

My primary area of work with Vet Futures is health and wellbeing. Fortunately, through my roles in general practice, as a director of Vetlife and as an RCVS Postgraduate Dean, I am in regular contact with people who are experts in this area. I hope that, with the help of these contacts, we have created an Action Plan that will be embraced by the profession and will truly make a difference over the next few years.

As a practitioner I was particularly concerned that health and wellbeing should not just become a tickbox on a practice standards list. Through Vet Futures I am committed to taking positive steps to improve the health and wellbeing of the whole veterinary team. As a profession we are responsible for setting and upholding standards of animal welfare. We can only do this if we look after our own wellbeing and look out for our colleagues. A change in culture resulting in a more confident, resilient, healthy and mutually-supportive veterinary team will not happen overnight, but is essential to ensure a bright future for our great profession.

So what have I been doing so far? At our first meeting we hit the ground running, considering each of the recommendations of Vet Futures – Taking charge of our future and looking at where there were areas of mutual interest. So, for example, some of my health and wellbeing objectives have common ground with careers and education. We also identified some of the organisations and individuals who are likely to be key to progressing the work of Vet Futures.

The second meeting was an engaging day of presentations from August Equity, Defra, VSC and VDS. Representatives from each organisation gave their thoughts on the Vet Futures recommendations and suggested areas where they could develop ideas further and implement actions. Our discussion lasted well into the evening and we agreed that, while we might not have all the answers by July, we will certainly have a framework for action which will develop the answers.

Between the meetings I have been talking to many individuals and organisations, and, as meeting number three drew near, I began to feel the pressure a little. With the Vet Futures Summit fast approaching a tough morning was spent trying to thrash out how best to structure the big event. This gave me much food for thought and to be honest I have met so many people who would make excellent speakers that I have had a difficult time with the decision-making process.

I hope the wellbeing section of the Action Plan reflects the fantastic input from many willing volunteers keen to improve the future of our profession. I would like to thank everyone who has helped so far. It is never too late make your contribution to the future of our great profession: many hands make light work and the more we all get involved, the bigger the difference we will make.

Guest blogger urges the profession to be more open about mental ill-health


This month, we are asking members of the profession whether they would recognise mental health problems in their colleagues.

The question is posed in relation to our second guest blog which, this month, is written by Rosie Allister, the Chair of the Vet Helpline and a Director of the Veterinary Benevolent Fund. She argues that members of the profession need to be more open about the mental health challenges they experience and not be afraid to seek help.

Rosie, who is also a researcher at the University of Edinburgh specialising in veterinary wellbeing, writes that members of the profession should be more willing to open up about their own mental health problems and intervene by talking and listening to colleagues who may be suffering from mental ill-health.

For example, she says: “Looking to the future, we need to better understand who is most at risk, how to reach out to them, and how we can start to change our culture so that it is OK to ask for help.”

She also proposes that, due to the caring nature of the occupation and high client expectations, members of the profession routinely put work and animal welfare ahead of their own needs and that, in order for there to be wider cultural change, individuals need to change their own attitudes towards asking for help. This includes the discussion of ‘taboo subjects’ such as suicide.

“Perhaps all of us have to start trying to change our culture to one that is more accepting and supportive and looks out for those in need even when they aren’t able to reach out themselves”, she writes.

She writes following the December 2014 launch of the RCVS Mind Matters Initiative, which aims to change the culture of the profession by reducing stigma surrounding mental ill-health and encouraging more open discussion.

This month’s poll asks: “Could you recognise the signs of mental ill-health in a colleague?” and we would encourage members of the profession to take part in the poll so that we can better understand attitudes towards and experiences of mental health issues.

Meanwhile, December’s poll had asked “Do you think your veterinary education prepared you for running a business?” for which the majority (84%) said “no”, with just 3% saying “yes” and 13% saying “partially”.

For confidential support members of the profession can call the Vet Helpline on 0303 040 2551 where calls are answered 24-hours a day by trained volunteers who have experience of the profession. Alternatively, they can use a confidential email service which can be accessed through the Vet Helpline website.