Support New Graduates

March 2024 |

Commit to mentoring to encourage and retain the newest members of your team.

How can veterinary practices best support new graduate hires and keep them from getting burned out and leaving? Dave Nicol, BVMS, MRCVS, decided to find out. Through his VetX International organization, he surveyed veterinary graduates entering their second year of practice, asking them which three things energized them most and which three things drained them most. Their responses provided a surprising flash of insight … because the answers were the same for both questions.

Energizers and Drainers

The graduates cited the same three areas in both categories. “It was fascinating,” says Nicol. “The same things that drain us, energize us.” These three areas were:

  • Clients. “This was No. 1 by a country mile,” says Nicol. A full 73% of the graduates surveyed reported that clients were their worst energy-drainer. And on the flip side, appreciative clients were listed as the top energizer.
  • Culture. The next area had to do with practice culture: “whether we set up our systems to allow support, and whether we allow toxicity in our practices,” Nicol says.
  • Schedule. The third area had to do with scheduling—either having (or not having) the time to do the job they had trained to do and help the animals they had signed up to help.

Knowing these three areas can help practices guide their mentoring programs and set up system to support new hires. “We need to look after this generation of graduates,” says Nicol. “We need to put communication skills front and center to help them work better with clients. We need to work on our culture, show up as leaders and not be scared to let toxic people go. And we need to set up systems to give our graduates the time and space to do the things that we were put on this planet to do.”

Mentoring Commitment

Many practices plan to support and mentor new graduates but ultimately don’t deliver, says Nicol. Often, he points out, there’s a tension in veterinary medicine between what’s “urgent” (clinical work, emergencies) and what’s “important” (training, mentoring, business tasks).

“The urgent clinical stuff tends to take over and get our attention,” he says, “but it’s vital that we work on the important stuff too.” If mentoring gets skipped, he adds, people can’t grow in the practice and often become annoyed and discouraged.

Find the Time

It’s vital to carve out the time to follow through on your mentoring promises. “If we make that promise and don’t deliver on it, we’re on the fast track to having that graduate not work for us for very long,” says Nicol.

The key, he says, is “diarizing.” Make formal appointments for training and mentoring. Put them into an official practice diary or schedule, and then prioritize them the same way you’d prioritize time in the operating theater, Nicol suggests.

Realize up front that this approach will cut into your clinical time. “Yes, it will cost you money, because emergencies are going to walk in the door,” he says. “But if you want to get away from the revolving door where a graduate comes, stays for 12 months and then leaves, this is at the core of what you have to address.”

Taking time to properly train and mentor graduates takes more time up front, but ultimately lifts more workload off your shoulders as the new hires become more skilled and confident. “You’re helping them grow their skill set and feel empowered and loved, like they have a place in the practice and are significant,” says Nicol. “That’s the magic machine that gets us off the hamster wheel and lets us build something that we can all be proud of.”

Mentoring Prep

When designing your mentoring program for new hires, start with a clear and honest conversation between the people involved in the recruitment process and the people who will be managing and delivering the training.

Ask yourselves and discuss:

  • Why are we recruiting in the first place?
  • What does that person look like?
  • What skills should they have?
  • What are we expecting them to do?
  • What is this job all about?
  • Do we have clearly defined behavioral standards and objectives of the things we’re expecting those individuals to do in the job?

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