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Helping new grads to fly

10 Mar 2021 | Emily Craven


#GoodWorkplaces make sure anyone new to the team receives appropriate support to carry out their role. This is especially important for new graduates, as this support can affect their entire career. Emily Craven shares her advice for giving new graduates the best possible start.

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The BVA good veterinary workplaces policy position recommends that employers make sure anyone new to the organisation receives appropriate support to carry out their role. This is especially important for new graduates, as the support they receive in their first job doesn’t just impact how well they fit into your team – it can affect their entire career. 

Mentoring new grads is a huge responsibility. We get the chance to bring on the future of the profession, but also have a huge impact on people’s careers.  We will always meet seminal people at various points in our career, but I would imagine most people have fairly vivid memories of their first boss, good or bad! Mentoring isn’t for everyone, but it can be highly rewarding, and I often find I get more of a buzz out of watching a new grad do their first of something than from doing it myself.

Advice for new graduates

I always think passing finals is a bit like passing your driving test – theoretically exciting, but then you get handed the keys and told to go solo, and you find yourself wondering whether you have any skills at all.  The reality is you have plenty, but you also have a lot to learn, including how to apply the skills that you have.  Whilst you may learn plenty of theory at college, there is no substitute for being in that situation and having responsibility for people’s animals and businesses. 

The important thing to remember is that everyone was a new graduate once –even that wise Professor that you looked up to in college wasn’t born knowing everything, and the experienced vet who is your clinical mentor is no different.  We were all new grads once and I’m sure most of us have some vivid memories of standing in front of a client and thinking how on earth did I get myself into this position, and more importantly, how am I going to get out of it? 

Communication is key to your progress, so don’t be scared to talk to your mentor, ask for their advice, and let them know when you need help.

Advice for managers

Times have changed, and so have ideas about mentoring new grads.  There are probably still many in the profession who lived to tell the tale of being handed the keys to the car, given a calving jack and being left in solo charge on call for their first night, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that approach is right for everyone.

There is no one size fits all approach for supporting new grads as they join the team. We are all learning as we mentor, as much as the mentee is learning. Granted there is now more focus on the ‘soft skills’ but a vet degree ultimately prepares you to be a clinical vet rather than all of the skills you later find yourself needing such as being a manager, a mentor, a teacher, a friend, whilst having a grasp of business and finance.  Some days being a vet feels like the easy bit! 

The important thing with mentoring new grads is having a good relationship.  You don’t necessarily have to be best friends, but both mentor and new grad need to have a solid foundation of trust and openness so that communication can happen.  No problem is insurmountable, but something that is immediately obvious to some people is not always obvious to others, be that stress, anxiety, tiredness or more positive feelings such as happiness.  Everyone has different communication styles and needs, but if everyone is open, honest and flexible then usually we can get more right than wrong. 

Support can take many forms and to me is very person and situational specific.  For farm vets it can be being out on farm, being a few minutes down the road ready to drop in at any point or just being a supportive ear down the end of the phone.  Communication is theoretically as easy as it has ever been with mobile phones (provided there’s actual phone signal on that exposed hill) and makes for good case discussion with the ability to take photos and videos but I think sometimes can make us lazier and mean that we still need to make a concerted effort to check in. We try to get a good balance between active mentoring on farm and formal, regular catch ups to discuss cases, celebrate successes and address concerns.  We also have an open door policy, with the aim that advice is available at all times. We don’t get it right all of the time, but we can all do our best. 

Be flexible

I often think of a quote by von Moltke, widely used by the British Armed Forces, and largely translated as “no plan survives first contact with the enemy”. Clearly the new job or the new grad must never be seen as the enemy, but I like the sentiment of needing to be adaptable.

Working with animals and supporting new team graduates requires a flexible approach, in which you constantly plan, implement, and adapt. Through regular communication, feedback and a flexible approach, we can do our best to give our new grads a great start to both their time in our practice and their career, and help build a launch pad from which they can fly.

Mentoring in the future

From summer 2021, RCVS are introducing a new structured programme of support, the Veterinary Graduate Development Programme, or VetGDP. Workplaces wishing to employ veterinary graduates from summer 2021 will be required to have committed to becoming an RCVS Approved Graduate Development Practice, to ensure that graduates receive the developmental support required. More information is available on the RCVS webpages VetGDP - overview of changes, or watch the VetGDP Interactive Workshop


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