Friday, October 9, 2015

New Grad Seeking First Job, What Not to Say and Do

OK, this blog needs to start with laying some ground work; the forepart provides credibility, and the second half provides apologies..

I have owned my practice for 10 years. In that decade I have hired 11 veterinarians. I have also  'elected to not retain' all but 4. Now, I am the first person to admit that these numbers are bleak.

Here's my justification for this; I have exceedingly high standards. I am always looking to hire a life long employee. The practice I bought was built on a foundation of this. Jarrettsville Vet has been in existence for almost 80 years. In those 75 plus years I am the third owner. I have a legacy of providing care to generations of families that I hold with great pride and humbling responsibility.

The backbone and ultimate success of providing exceptional care to veterinary patients lies squarely on the shoulders of the veterinarians. The cogs of the practices' engine are powered by the technicians and support staff but the life, death and direction lie in the hands of the vets. My practice is my ultimate responsibility and the amount of trust and liability that is employed by the vets I hire will make or break the practice.

It is a matter of perspective and position.

It is also the preamble to this blog..

I am again in the arduous place of finding a new vet to add to our roster. I have found that this is becoming a more difficult task with each passing year. The list of qualified candidates seems to be dwindling. There are fewer and fewer exceptional vets looking for new jobs. I also know what I am looking for someone who will seamlessly integrate into our existing bustling quirky family. I have gotten much faster at weeding out potential veterinary candidates.

Established veterinarians seek higher paying jobs with fewer hours and more restrictions. Their expertise pulls a higher price tag and a longer list of requirements. Jarrettsville Vet is a place that doesn't turn away pets in need. We are not about the money, therefore, I cannot hire a vet whose primary purpose is monetary compensation. More and more veterinarians are females and more of them have families. They want day work exclusively and in general seem to not want to do much, if any, surgery. I feel obligated to provide evening hours to our clients and we are open 7 days a week. I also want a vet who will be willing to do an emergency surgery when needed instead of punting it to the emergency clinic every single time. I am determined to hold on to a traditional veterinary hospital as we advance our services, reach, and assistance. I am also unwilling to sacrifice exceptional care and medicine. Our clients pay for, trust us, and return expecting these.

When you work as many hours as we do you have to maintain a healthy happy practice. Vets at Jarrettsville Vet have to be liked and likable on top of being intelligent, compassionate, and capable.

So, here I go again looking for a new vet...

There are a few veterinary specific career sites available for posting veterinary openings. This is the ad I posted a few weeks ago;

Small animal, 4 doctor, 7 day/week practice with high quality medicine, equipment, staff, and dedication to caring for our patients and clients. Excellent pay or commission, benefits, and work schedule. Must be proficient in surgery, taking great care of our clients and patients. We provide a happy, healthy, fulfilling place to work, without micro-management. We are a clinic with a big heart and dedication to living by our motto "compassion comes first." Please fax a resume to 410-692-6283, visit, or stop in to say hello. 

This time I excluded "DVM equivalents," a choice I had allowed in previous postings. A DVM equivalent is usually a foreign trained veterinarian. Although I do not question their ability or proficiency I have not found any in our rural area. They are vets who live far far away (often the other side of the country, or another country all together). I am incredibly reluctant to hire someone to have them move to the quiet rolling hills of Maryland when I am not confident they will pan out.

That leaves me to getting applicants who are primarily new graduates within our area.

New graduates have their own set of advantages and disadvantages. They universally lack experience, but they do arrive ready to work hard and with the stamina that youth provides. They are malleable and genuine. They also often lack communication skills and the intuition of a seasoned vet. There is also a huge expectation for a commitment on the practices part to hand holding and mentoring.

New graduates are accompanied by a resume laden with graduation dates and locations. It is a short list of mostly irrelevant skills with no corresponding real-life meaning. A new graduates resume only needs two things for me to decide whether or not I will offer an interview. Location and school. The rest is fluff that will hurt a candidate as much as the candidates mistakenly believe it will help them.

Case in point; The sweetest well-dressed soon-to-be new graduate arrives with resume in hand, demure shy smile on her hopeful fresh face. Her resume has no date prior to her college graduation. She, and her overwhelming desire to be a vet, do not appear to exist prior to May 2012.

And so begins her interview;

"So, why did you choose a foreign vet school?" I ask.

"I was getting ready to graduate (from college) and I had missed the fall entry application times for the US vet schools. So, I applied to a foreign school and was accepted."
No qualifications or experience needed. Apply, get accepted, start 2-3 months later. I am left pondering.. Who decides at the end of college that they want go to vet school? Then impetuously decides to fill out an application.... Small road block in timing? It's OK apply to the paid ad that pops up first anytime you type in "vet school". Voila! for profit vet school at your service.

Question number two; "What are your interests within veterinary medicine?"

"I wanted to focus on Zoo Medicine but that takes really good grades. So, now I think I want to focus on physical rehab."
We don't have this at my practice, nor was there any mention of whether or not we might be interested in providing it.

Question number three; "What kind of practice are you looking for?"

"I am hoping to find a practice with a good mentorship program."
Every new vet, especially those without a shred of experience outside the classroom setting, wants and needs this. I admit I was one of these graduates. Any conscientious new vet needs to admit this. I suppose it would be far scarier to have a new vet so cocky that they thought they didn't need coaching? Every time I get an application that says "I love animals" as the 'reason for interest in this position' I want to throw something. "Mentorship" is on par with "I love animals."

As a practice owner I know every new grad need needs to be trained, A LOT. I sat listening to her blossuming excitement to enter a field she appears to know little about, has a path long and bumpy in front of her, and I am still baffled that she never spent a second learning about her career choice before she got herself $200,000 plus in debt.

I offered advice. I knew I shouldn't have, but I was burgeoning with empathy. She probably took it as chastising but this girl is entering a world that can break her heart, or kill her.

I am incensed by the lack of investment and parenting her vet school provided her as they set her out into the real world? It is, in my opinion, criminal.

"Do you have any experience in surgery?" This was a clear requirement in my job ad. There is no mention of it on her resume.

"I have assisted in surgeries, spays and neuters. I am a hard worker and willing to learn anything. I am hoping to find a mentor to help in this area." The overall mood was growing more somber.

"My clients and their pets are a responsibility I hold dear. I am not going to feel right about an inexperienced vet performing surgery on them. I am as worried about your skills as you are." This statement is met by an awed realization.

This is not going well. I cannot lie and assuage her. She was not prepared for honest bluntness. She will either walk away from this interview having learned a few things, and more prepared the next time, or, she will find an employer who knows how to provide alluring smoke and mirrors and make her feel all warm and fuzzy. She will jump on that job, that will either pay her peanuts, which she will now willingly, and knowingly accept, then get dumped on with ridiculous hours without that promised mentor by her side. She will be thrown to the wolves like so many of us are. Or, she will find a practice with other new graduates who will at least provide her comradery amidst the abuse. She will not likely find her utopia.

She will not however be very hard pressed to find, excellent pay, mentorship, and the vital training she needs with transparency. Not unless she works for a family member. No one else can invest the time and attention needed when they are already short handed.

"Do you have any other questions for me?" Our time was running out and the interview was closing.
We had intentionally not talked about money. An employer can tell much about a candidate by omitting key questions. I don't omit to be harsh, I omit to allow her to speak up, stand up for herself, and become assertive. She will need to learn it someday.

"Well, I know I need to ask about salary. Although I know nothing about it." She says, full on smile.

OK, honesty is always the best policy, but, please, don't go to an employer without knowing a few key important facts.

"Here are my concerns. I am assuming that you are in debt from attending the most expensive veterinary college on the planet. For this job to work for you long term you need to know how much you need to make to pay off your debt in a reasonable fashion. If you can't pay your bills you will not be happy here. Do you know what your numbers are?"

Blank stare.

Goodness am I worried about this fledgling.

She departed quickly. We both know that we aren't a good match. I sincerely wish her well.

If you are a new graduate looking for your first job here is my advice;
  • Ask about your predecessor? Ask the boss, the other vets, and the staff. If there is not a consistent answer doubt the bosses perception.
  • If the employer brags about "all of their fancy equipment" consider this smoke. Look for a mirror, they are lying around somewhere. The real heart of a practice lies in the people, not the stuff.
  • Listen and take notes during your interview. I never see a new grad arrive to an interview prepared. They get so flustered and overwhelmed they forget to ask important and relevant questions. We all takes notes during an exam, key pieces of information to formulate our diagnosis, and yet, every candidate I have ever met with sits idly by nodding their heads. Poor SOAP practice.
  • Stay unemotional. This is a big decision. Be objective.
  • Invest time in knowing what you are getting into. It is unimaginable that so many new grads make a decision after an interview and a few hours on a working interview. We advise our clients to spend hours, days, and even foster a pet for weeks, before making a knee jerk decision to buy, adopt, make a life long commitment to their pet, and there we go being just as impatient and uneducated.
  • Don't list other interests that do not pertain to your current job seeking quest. Why would I, or anyone else, want to hire you, mentor you, train you, and then have you leave in a year or two to pursue Zoo medicine, or physical therapy? At least talk to your potential employer about investing in you and a new modality to add to the practices repertoire.
  • If you are graduating from vet school in debt you should have a very good idea of how long it will take you pay that off. There are rumors of federal law changing to require schools to discuss the debt you will acquire if you attend. Much like the reforms made to home ownership and credit cards. Consumers should be cognizant of the financial impact of the decisions they make. I know how blind desire to go to vet school can be. But, you will graduate and there will be a life after school. Five years into practice I promise you will be worried about how you will ever get out of your student debt.
  • Research the vet, practice, and learn as much as you can before you show up for an interview. Google, Yelp and investigate the Facebook page of the vet practice. Sell the assets you share with the practice and the vets who work there. 
  • Remember that a great practice will see you as an incredible asset. You are an investment and there has to be a return on our investment. If you don't fit in it affects the bottom line. If the practice cannot profit from you we will be forced to find another vet.
  • Finding a job is equivalent to being a participant on a dating site. You show me your good side, I show you mine. Except I am, I want a life long relationship based upon trust and knowing each other. Too many new grads unknowingly get wooed into a one year stand with an initial blissful courting period lacking a foundation for a career long commitment. 365 days later those yearling grads are left feeling a little jilted, over promised under-delivered, taken advantage of and left walking away looking for that second boyfriend with the complete opposite qualities that that first boyfriend had. Second jobs are too often rebounds. Spend the time answering the "436 questions to find your perfect match." And, be the smart other half to any healthy relationship, stay out of the minefield of unsupportable debt. Don't want the boyfriend with crippling credit card debt? Then don't be the DVM girlfriend with bankruptcy proof inescapable educational debt.

Important information for new grads.

AVMA guide to Financing Your Veterinary Medical Education.

AVMA Survey Reveals Bleak Situation for New Veterinary Graduates. 2012

Veterinary Practice News, Too Many Indebted Veterinary Chase Too Few Jobs. July 2012

High Debt and Falling Demand Trap New Vets. Ross student owes more than $300,00 after graduation.

DVM 360, Finding Your First Job.

My related blogs;

Too Afraid To Fail. When your fear costs your patients.

My Top 10 Advice to New Vets.

Compassion Fatigue

The Holes In The Safety Net. Suicide in Veterinary Medicine.

I am interested in your thoughts. Please leave a comment about your first job experience, or your thoughts on the veterinary career paths of your friends, I want to hear about your experience.

If you have a pet question you can find me at Pawbly is a free online advisory platform to help people and their pets.

If you would like to know more about Jarrettsville Veterinary Center please visit our website or Facebook page.

I am also on Twitter @FreePetAdvice, YouTube and Meerkat @FreePetAdvice.


  1. Very interesting! Discouraging too, for any new grads. I'm watching the show Vet School on TV right now (I think that's what it's called), and I see their raw enthusiasm. I just hope the grads from Cornell (and all other schools) have their eyes wide open when they interview for their first new jobs. Thanks for the post.

  2. At one time I had hoped that my daughter would choose veterinary school (she chose nursing instead); I now have a feeling that she did herself & her Dad & I a favour by not choosing the career that would leave us all in debt for............ a really, really long time.

    God bless all the great & dedicated vets who indebted themselves anyway.

  3. I would love to visit this blog in future.