Even in the best of times, job hunting or opening a practice can be stressful. So what’s it like in a pandemic? Several veterinarians talked to JAVMA News about that very thing, sharing in their own words their experiences navigating this new and uncertain terrain shaped by COVID-19. The following interviews have been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.
Dr. Elizabeth Baker, hired during the summer
I started the job search process using the AVMA Veterinary Career Center. I sent my resume to a company, which had a recruiter contact me for a preliminary phone call. After the phone call, a Zoom interview was set up with management at the local practice. Afterwards, I was asked to come to the clinic for a working interview. During my in-clinic time, everyone wore masks, and we tried our best to social distance.
Overall, the job hunt was easy. Everyone in my area of Michigan is hurting for veterinarians currently. The need has been inflated due to COVID-19 and the usual seasonal increase. I applied and was hired within three weeks by a National Veterinary Associates–owned general practice in Michigan.
This is my second job out of veterinary college. My first interview went a little differently. I still had a few phone calls before meeting in person, but no video calls. Obviously, no masks were involved two years ago. The lack of handshakes with this round of interviews was odd but understandable. Still, the lack of human interaction was an adjustment.
Dr. Nancy Pesses, currently job hunting
The interview process has been via Zoom or FaceTime because of COVID-19, and the open jobs currently are in other states. I did specialty internships in oncology prior to my current job search, so employers asked a good bit about my experience and how I could bring it into their practice, which is a goal of mine, to not lose those skills despite not pursuing a formal residency. In those interviews, a COVID-related topic was what level of client interaction inside buildings are they allowing. I have my own personal feelings about the level of client interaction, but with the right job, I could probably push my feelings aside as long as proper precautions would still be taken during this ongoing pandemic health crisis.
I am interested in small animal general practitioner jobs that would allow me to focus more on the medicine side of practice than surgeries as well as help grow or sustain an oncology-related clientele. Very niche, I realize, and I know I may need to compromise, but that’s what I lead with in the hopes that employers want that, too.
I’ve gotten a lot of interest from employers in many states and even interviewed for those that I thought would be a good fit, but ultimately, the main limiting factor is I want to live and work in or near New Orleans, where I grew up.
Louisiana’s job market is really limited, and then to top it with COVID-19 limitations, it has been extremely hard to find a job in this area.
Normally, without COVID-19, I would print out and drop off my resume at each of the local veterinary clinics in person, hoping to introduce myself, meet people, and put a face to the name. However, with COVID-19 restrictions, that is virtually impossible, so I tried to get creative and email resumes to each clinic’s email addresses, whether or not they had jobs listed online. I received few replies. Those that did reply, it was to say that while there were no open positions, they would keep my resume in mind for later.
Dr. Rachel Herwick, took a job without visiting the practice
I had started job hunting at the end of February and beginning of March, right when COVID-19 hit. I was looking for jobs out of state and had scheduled several trips to visit hospitals and interview. For my current job, I had scheduled an interview weekend—flights and hotels were booked. A few days before the trip, I was contacted by a corporate representative offering to cancel the trip if I was concerned about COVID-19. I said that I was still comfortable traveling. I was contacted the next day and told that the corporation had banned all travel, so my interview would be virtual instead. I had a multihour Zoom interview where I had a tour, met with the medical director, specialists, emergency room doctors, associates, and administrative staff. I like to meet face-to-face and get a feel for a hospital in person before committing. Everyone at the hospital was great about trying to facilitate a virtual experience, but it is just not the same.
I had several other phone and Zoom interviews with various hospitals before signing a contract with my current hospital. It was disheartening because I was able to get time off for visiting other hospitals and job hunting while in a surgical internship, which is difficult.
I took a job as an emergency clinician at VCA Hollywood Animal Hospital, a 24-hour emergency and specialty hospital that also has a general practice associated with it.
This is my first job that is not advanced specialty training. For my internships, I had both phone interviews and in-person visits, but the decision was ultimately through the Veterinary Internship and Residency Matching Program.
I know that virtual meetings and interviews are becoming more common and may be the new normal with ongoing concerns about COVID-19. However, it is very difficult to determine if a hospital is a good fit without visiting in person. Another factor that affected my job decision this spring was licensing timelines. With COVID-19 causing delays and even closures of some veterinary boards in some states, not every state was a viable option.
Dr. Shiloh Landskov Haugen, job plans delayed
I had my first job lined up with a general practice with two great mentors. I chose to stay in Illinois, where I went to veterinary school, versus going home to Minnesota where my husband and family live. Your first job will instill confidence and teach you what kind of doctor you want to be. I did not want to risk not having that experience by going back to Minnesota, where I didn’t have any connections or previous workplaces that I knew would give me what I needed in a first job.
As COVID-19 spread, the availability of taking on more new grads in the practice I was lined up to work in grew unpredictable, as were a lot of other things with the pandemic hitting the profession. When the first opportunity working directly with my mentors fell through, they presented me with several opportunities that they were willing to provide. I’m not sure if this counts as my job falling through because the few moments of despair and worry I felt were followed by my mentors assuring me that they care about my future and will do everything in their power to set me up for success.
From the options they offered, I chose to stay in Illinois and pursue emergency medicine, something I had not imagined I would be doing, especially the first year out of school. But I did it because of the trust I felt for my mentors.
Now that the profession has had time to adjust to the pandemic, I have transitioned to working with the general practice where I was supposed to start. I am working emergency full time and general practice part time while being mentored by many wonderful doctors. I feel so lucky to have been affected in this way by the pandemic, and it is truly the silver lining of 2020 for me.
Dr. Jessa Kocher, opened a small animal clinic
I opened Fox Run Veterinary Hospital in Monument, Colorado, this summer. We see only cats and dogs and an occasional bunny or guinea pig.
Currently, I have two certified veterinary technicians and myself running the show, and we plan to add on a practice manager as soon as we get busy enough to support a fourth employee. A year ago, I was the medical director at a corporate practice, and after four years of working under the corporate model, I felt like I was going to pull my hair out. I quit and started working relief: 15- to 20-hour weeks at a local general practice where about 150 of my clients followed me and 15-20 hours at the new emergency clinic down the street from my house. I also found a business partner, and we started working on buying a lot near my home and designing a building with an architect for a startup.
Four or five months into working at the local general practice, I thought it would potentially be an option for me to buy the GP clinic I was at and move the practice from a leased space into my new building. When COVID-19 hit, the older practice owner panicked, listed the practice, and decided to sell to corporate. I walked away that day and didn’t look back as I already knew that going through another corporate transition would not be good for my mental health.
Within four weeks, I had my own clinic up and running. We are subleasing from the emergency clinic during the day when they are not using the space, and it is working out beautifully. My two favorite CVTs came with me. They have been instrumental in helping me with protocols, equipment choices, inventory, establishing culture, and so on.
Maintaining positive staff culture and helping to make sure that my staff avoid burnout and compassion fatigue are really my only concerns as a business owner.
We are trying a different business model, so we do not plan to hire any receptionists. We are driving a lot of our tasks digitally through our cloud-based software. We think this model will foster stronger relationships between support staff and clients and be more efficient if the same CVT is the one who checks them in and gets the patient’s history, is the one assisting the doctor, then discharges them and checks them out, and makes their next appointment.