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July 15, 2021

Thinking of a career transition? Assess yourself first

Career development workshops at AVMA Virtual Convention 2021 and elsewhere aim to help job seekers find the right fit
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The biggest impediment to veterinarians making a career change, Dr. Valerie Ragan says, isn’t a lack of skills or a dearth of available opportunities. It’s their mindset.

Job seekers will often tell her they feel that something’s wrong with them for not being able to cope with practice life or for not being happy with their job. They may see others thriving and wonder why that’s not the case for them. Her job is to help them get past that point. “I say, ‘No, you’re just in a bad career fit that doesn’t really suit you.’”

Dr. Ragan is director for the Center for Public and Corporate Veterinary Medicine at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine. Over the years, the center has worked with more than 600 veterinarians on career transitions.

Dr. Ragan says veterinarians change jobs for myriad reasons. Some develop allergies or get injured on the job and can’t go back to clinical practice. Others have to move to a new location for their partners, and the area doesn’t have openings in any clinics. Whatever the reason, they often switch jobs without doing a self-assessment first.

“Why are you leaving? What is it you don’t want to do anymore? A lot of people haven’t taken the time to figure that out and then take a similar job and are back in the soup again,” Dr. Ragan said.

“The other problem is people who have changed jobs a lot, going from clinic to clinic to clinic, so they aren’t being strategic at all. They keep applying for the same things but maybe a different clinic without stepping back and saying, ‘What is it that I need in my life and job?’ and ‘What am I interested in, and will this new place fit those things?’”

Survey and workshops

To better help the veterinarians it serves, Dr. Ragan and others at the CPCVM did a survey of program participants before the pandemic. A majority of respondents were female and employees rather than owners of a practice. They represented 44 states and every U.S. veterinary college that had graduated students in 2020 as well as a number of international institutions. About half had graduated 10 years ago or less, and the same proportion were in small animal practice.

The top two reasons cited for wanting a career change were burnout or not enough time for family. Others cited an interest in another field or wanting to be in a new area.

The top two challenges that participants mentioned in transitioning careers were not knowing how to translate their clinical skills into another career area and not knowing what other areas of nonclinical practice were available to them.

“A lot felt that veterinary college hadn’t prepared them for something besides clinical practice and weren’t aware of other resources to help them,” Dr. Ragan said.

To fill the gap, Dr. Ragan and others have been offering more workshops on career transitions for veterinarians wanting to make a change, usually from private practice. The focus is helping guide them through the process to find a good career fit. Dr. Ragan and her team hosted virtual sessions this past April and in August last year after previously conducting in-person sessions once every few years. In addition, the center is creating online modules based on the workshops that will be available later this summer.

Rebuilding a life and career

Dr. Anthony Madden was done with running between appointments all day. He had worked in small animal private practice for 27 years, including owning a practice for 20 years, when he was ready to make a change. Then his house burned down in the August Complex fires in the Coast Range of Northern California in 2020. His clinic remained untouched, but he figured it was a good time to sell his practice, which he did at the end of the year.

“I did it the way you’re not supposed to do it,” Dr. Madden said. “I didn’t plan for a new career or position while I had my current job. I was too busy in practice and dealing with insurance people,” regarding his house.

Not wanting to retire, he had sent out some resumes and did interviews before signing up for the spring career transition workshop from the CPCVM.

The workshop helped Dr. Madden hone his elevator speech, create a functional resume in which he emphasized his skills more than his experience, and redo his cover letter to be more attractive to potential employers. He said, “I never would have thought of doing a resume that way or tooting my horn that loudly, but it certainly got more interest.”

After starting his job search in March, he took a job in May with Gallant, a veterinary biotechnology firm that banks pets’ stem cells. As director of clinical development, he helps set up clinics with clinical trials and works remotely the rest of the time. He’s relocated to Spokane, Washington, until he and his wife rebuild their ranch.

Dr. Madden said he was vigilant about checking for new job listings on Indeed and LinkedIn every few days and using specific search terms.

“To make a resume, update my cover letter, check jobs, and be ready to talk to a recruiter all took mental energy and time that I certainly didn’t have when practicing,” Dr. Madden said. He also says veterinarians used to looking for associate jobs may not be accustomed to the lengthy interview process for corporate positions, which sometimes involves four or five interviews.

“It’s not going to be an overnight success. I got rejection letters. I wasn’t used to that, but it happens,” he said, adding that it takes patience and perseverance to find a different career in veterinary medicine, although the opportunities are out there. If the job doesn’t seem like the right fit, whether because of the people or the position, don’t feel obligated to take it after the interview.

Dr. Madden said the CPCVM’s career transition workshop proved motivational, too.

“Having so many speakers and others in the same situation helps motivate you to take more initiative,” he said.

In-person workshop
Dr. Valerie Ragan, director for the Center for Public and Corporate Veterinary Medicine at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, and others at the center have worked with more than 600 veterinarians on career transitions, mostly through in-person workshops like this one. The center will soon offer online modules based on information from the workshops. (Courtesy of Dr. Ragan)

A career path for everyone

Dr. Ragan says career transitions are an important part of conversations on wellness. She’s gotten the sense that more people are starting to reflect on what’s important after the pandemic.

“They want to start to address some things and understand that it doesn’t have to be the way it is if they’re unhappy,” she said. “I’ve had several people from the last two workshops saying they were relieved knowing they’re not the only one and to have a process because they felt lost.”

Dr. Ragan will give two presentations at AVMA Virtual Convention 2021, one on July 30 titled “The First Step in a Career Change—A Deep Dive into the Development of Self-Assessment Skills” and another on July 31 titled “Veterinarians Interested in a Career Change—Who, Why, and Resources.”

Often people don’t know where to start, and Dr. Ragan’s answer to that is a self-assessment. People may superficially do one, but they need to do a more in-depth one and use it to translate what they learn about themselves to finding a new job.

Dr. Ragan says the key is teaching veterinarians how to examine personality traits and identify personal and career interests. Then they can use those traits and interests to search for jobs. For example, introverts may be well served by searching for terms such as “independent,” while extroverts should search for terms such as “teamwork” or “public interaction.” Veterinarians should think about things such as whether they want to travel for work or have a job that takes place outdoors, whether they have a particular species or area of interest, and what their preferred way of working is.

Finally, Dr. Ragan said, “It’s taking your skills and learning to translate those in another environment. That part takes some thinking and development, but once you’ve got it nailed, you’ve got it.

“I’m convinced there is a job in veterinary medicine for everybody out there. It might not have the title of veterinarian. It may be public health administrator or researcher. There’s a whole plethora of titles they can find if they look properly.”

A number of presenters at AVMA Virtual Convention 2021 will discuss how job seekers and others can better hone their skills to find a new career, take on new roles at their existing job, or think about what their next step should be.

On July 29, Dr. Douglas Aspros, chief veterinary officer for Veterinary Practice Partners, will talk about how effective leadership arises from a leader’s behavior, not their personality, and how making good hires is a key element of building a sustaining practice culture and driving success. Drs. Maggie Canning and Emily M. Tincher will give the presentation “You’re Not Alone: The Early Career Slump,” discussing this common phenomenon and providing tangible ways to prevent or get out of the slump. And Louise Dunn, founder and CEO of Snowgoose Veterinary Management Consulting, will cover how to develop a successful program for new hires by using technology to make the process efficient, creating a training plan and setting up teachers from within the staff team, and involving the entire team with getting the relationship off to a good start.

On July 30, Dr. Valerie Ragan from the Center for Public and Corporate Veterinary Medicine will give a virtual talk on developing self-assessment skills and how doing so is used as a first step to finding new careers. Christine Crick, director of specialty veterinary technicians in the medical operations department with VCA Inc., will present in the Veterinary Technology track on “The Midlevel Professional: Finding the Right Fit for Your Career.”

On July 31, Dr. Ragan will present again, this time on veterinarians interested in a career change. She will discuss the drivers for interest in a career change in veterinary medicine, results from a survey of CPCVM program participants, resource needs for a career change in veterinary medicine, and resources available.

Finally, on Aug. 1, licensed veterinary technician Aggie Kiefer will present in the Veterinary Technology track on “Understanding Your Personal Strengths to Build Your Career and Team: Parts 1 and 2.” The first lecture introduces attendees to the concept of a strength-based strategy, a scientific assessment to help individuals understand their strengths, while the second session will build on the information from the first part to learn how to further one’s goals and improve team dynamics.

The Center for Public and Corporate Veterinary Medicine at Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine offers resources on career transitions. The AVMA offers a members-only toolkit for veterinarians thinking about a career change.