KICK ASS VETS had the pleasure of sitting down and discussing the ins and out of an Industry role as a veterinarian. As the veterinary climate continues to change, and attrition rates climb through the roof, more and more vets are looking for non-clinical aspects of the career where they can continue to use their skills and knowledge, but not face the compassion fatigue and burn-out they face in clinical practice. Armina and Chantelle both work for Royal Canin and are incredibly happy and feel valued and supported in their positions, and were all too happy to share with us their stories and advice for other vets that are thinking of leaving clinical practice. Armina has been in the role for about 5 years, and Chantelle has just started, so some of the questions were deferred to Armina only, however Chantelle’s perspective as having just left clinical practice is invaluable!
Why did you leave clinical practice?:
Armina was in a supportive and great clinical practice where she enjoyed the work for 4 years. “I left clinical practice because I got to a crossroads where I felt a lot of my learning had slowed down… and it wasn’t fulfilling for me anymore”. Despite being offered a partnership that was attractive and other valuable offers to stay, she thought “ ‘Is this what I want’ and the answer was ‘NO’.” Armina was determined and focused to build new skills, and these skills were ones that just could not be fulfilled in clinical practice. When asked if there was anything that could have kept her in clinical practice, her answer was a clear-cut “No… I wanted perspective and skills that a clinical practice couldn’t offer me.”
As vets graduate and go out into clinical practice, Armina feels that most will feel proficient and confident in day to day work within 3-5 years. At that point a lot of the work becomes slightly routine, obviously with some curve-balls, but most of it becomes slightly routine. For those that can continue to get satisfaction out of the procedures and client interactions, clinical practice is sustainable long term. However for Armina, who has a huge hunger for knowledge, this wasn’t enough. She wanted knowledge and growth on a more significant and more broad scale that clinical practice just cannot provide. She feels that if you, like her, crave that next step, then industry is the place to find it. And, what was supposed to be a 12 month break from clinical practice for Armina with the intention to return to clinics afterwards, has been a now 5 year long journey with no intention in the near or far future to change.
Chantelle’s choice to leave clinical practice was a very difficult one for her. She has a huge interest and desire to learn and progress feline behaviour and medicine and was ramping up into this role clinically, and her job had created a position for her that was fulfilling and made her feel valued where she could focus on these interests. It was a dream position.
When questioned then ‘Why look?’ when this great position was waiting for you, her response was “I wasn’t… I was just looking on Facebook and saw that a role was available. I like being the centre of attention so the public speaking appealed to me, and the boarder audience.” Having a passion for advocating for the welfare of cats and low-stress clinical management Chantelle realized that this position could get her to the same end-goal, but by a different path. “It was an opportunity of a life-time.”
Chantelle points out that clinical options will always be there, but this industry position wouldn’t, and being a ‘yes-sayer’ she jumped on board. Since she did have a wonderful clinic that was supportive the decision to leave was difficult. She was fortunate enough to have a supportive manager that encouraged her to take advantage of the opportunity without guilt. Even so, Chantelle shares “it was tough to walk away from it.”
When pushed to see if anything could have kept Chantelle in clinical practice she shared that “a little bit of the travel with the pulling back from so much constant client interaction” may have swayed her. However, she points out that “there is an aspect to industry, the outreaching, the networking, the conversations, that was something that clinical practice could never give me.”
How did you feel going into Industry?
Armina shares that she was looking for a change, and growth, but really had no idea what she was getting into. “I was so naive going into it. I read the job description and I was like ‘I still don’t understand,’ I went to the job interview and was like ‘I still don’t understand,’ I signed a contract and I still had no idea what my job would actually entail. I just knew it was going to be different, and you had to be a veterinarian to do it, so I thought OK, I’ll give this a go.”
What are the ‘CONS’ of an Industry position?:
Armina shares with us that she doesn’t like the ‘Pros’ vs. ‘Cons’ approach. “With anything there are things you like more and you like less. What I feel I’ve lost is an obvious one. Your clinical skills really deteriorate because you aren’t using them. You don’t use it, you lose it.” She shares a bit of her feelings of ‘oafishness’… “ I just did a shift over Christmas… and I was so happy with myself for getting an IV catheter in.” There is a sense of loss when “you start to feel really uncomfortable in a place that used to be so familiar.”
Armina discussed how often industry vets intend to keep up with their clinical skills by doing locum shifts here and there, but very quickly the busy nature of the industry job takes over, and with travelling it becomes very difficult to find the time to do clinical shifts. She shares that the trade off is that you become more knowledgeable in skills and information that you would never get in clinical practice. “I feel a know more know but practically [clinical skills] I am fumbling.”
Do you miss clinical practice?:
“I miss the clients. I never thought I’d miss the clients, because you kinda want to get as far away from them as possible when you are in practice somedays… but I miss the relationships with people around their pets.” Armina shares that she misses those times when you have built up a relationship with an owner, and they one day just do what you recommend with complete trust and no reserved questioning of your intentions or skill. She does miss the “magic of those moments”. Armina describes how you do still get a small amount of client interaction in the industry role, when you are helping sick animals with nutrition consults and on public events, but not as much as clinical practice.
Chantelle describes that she misses the direct and immediate education, and the change for that individual pets’ life from your conversation. It’s the instant gratification that Chantelle misses most. She compares this to industry where it is more of a “slow burn.” The trade-off is that the scope and breadth of individuals you are educating is larger. Chantelle describes the slower rate to see the effective change for your actions and work, with the focus being on helping animals over their life-time instead of in that 15 minute consult.
Armina shares on this aspect of the role as well. “In this kind-of role your ‘To-Do’ lists never go away. They just constantly grow and shrink. The way you do make a difference is you, for example, go out and speak to a group of breeders or cattery owners. You help in terms of ‘herd health.’” She describes that “when you can educate 30-40 people at once and they come up to you and say ‘I’m gonna change that… I’m not going to give bones anymore’ .. you walk away from that feeling “I’m amazing”. For Armina, it is this education on a bigger scale that is so profoundly satisfying.
As Armina is the main contact point for students across Australia and New Zealand, she shares that “another great example is where you get to tap into an area where you don’t normally get the opportunity to go such as with the vet students. Sure, when vet students come into your clinic you can teach them things on the go. But the opportunity to actually go to a University as a guest lecturer and be asked to present on small animal nutrition, which is a big gap in the curriculum for many vet schools, and offer information that is going to be practical, relevant, not product related, you aren’t there to sell product… It’s literally just to go there and educate people”. This, for Armina, is what makes her tick, and allows for that feeling of gratification.
Do you feel there is long term sustainability in an industry role? Do you think you will go back to clinical practice?:
Armina shares that she “could 100% stay in an industry role for a very long time. I think it is the type of work, and the pace of work, and the bigger picture stuff really resonates with me.”
Since it is not a clinical role, some worry that in industry you won’t feel like a vet anymore, however Armina feels this isn’t the case at all. “You still get to go out to clinics and visit vets, so you still are part of the industry but… because in the industry role you travel around and visit hundreds of clinics and you go to conferences and talk to lots of people… you get a real sense of the whole industry. It’s kind-of like you are on the outside looking in rather than being stuck in it without being able to see the whole picture.”
She shares that there are so many different opportunities and the scope is so much bigger, and that in the role you are involved with so many passion projects and are in communication with specialists, associates, owners, industry leaders, organizations and governing bodies, that you really get a feel for the industry as a whole. She also is continually using her veterinary knowledge in ways that she never thought possible or expected. Armina shares that she feels it is an incredibly sustainable career option.
How does salary in industry compare to clinical practice?
As salaries for associate vets vary so much, depending on experience, and more often depending on how well you advocate and negotiate for yourself, it is hard for Armina to directly answer that question, however she shares that it is not a pay decrease for sure. “It would be more than average but comparable to some in clinical practice…. It’s definitely not a cut”.
Chantelle shares in the feelings and experience that negotiating for yourself will drastically change your salary. “It took me 8 years to change clinics and value myself enough to ask for what my 2 year out colleague was getting at my previous clinic.” Chantelle was supportive of her younger associate, knowing that she was getting what she deserved, and also shares and advocates for negotiating well when you take a job, because “if you don’t negotiate at the start of the role its much harder to negotiate from within the role.”
Armina goes on to share that “in the pet industry, whether it is pharmaceutical or industry, veterinarians are highly valued. And it isn’t just because you know some science and stuff but you have this broad perspective, and communication and influence. So because you are highly valued, you are appropriately remunerated wherever you may be.”
What recommendations do you have for those thinking of taking a non-clinical job?:
“Just do it” is Armina’s enthusiastic response! “Put your feelers out and let us know you are interested.” She recommends individuals to “contact companies you have worked with that you like and respect.” For those that are hesitate she shares “yes you will be out of your comfort zone 100%, but it actually doesn’t matter because you will take your veterinary skills and do a great job regardless.” She also discusses how the popularity of industry jobs have changed as well. Previously positions sat vacant for months with very few applicants and over the past 5 years she has seen a switch to multitudes of applications to every industry job.
Armina also shares her disappointment in fellow vets as she discusses how she faced some scrutiny and judgement from colleagues and classmates regarding her choice to go into industry. Comments or feelings of “oh you couldn’t hack clinical practice” are disheartening. Armina however was happy in her position and didn’t allow those comments to deter or devalue her! She does share that she felt disappointed that other vets would make comments on her decision to improve her own personal happiness and career choice. She also finds it humorous that now so many colleagues that previously cast judgement are now looking for these same roles.
Chantelle shares the ‘magic’ and ‘beauty’ she feels is present in clinical practice, and feels that all new grads should do a few years of this clinical practice. “Don’t miss out on the beauty of clinical practice,” she advises. Chantelle feels there is a wonder of being a clinical vet that would be a shame for any new grad to miss out on, and recommends to appreciate clinical practice for what it is, and what it isn’t. She advocates that once you have experienced clinical practice and made it to that “let-go moment and feeling”- then consider a different role.
Chantelle also shares with Armina’s sentiment that it will be uncomfortable to go into a different role. She also shares the wise advice that “development never happens in a comfortable space.” These are words we can all live by to try to prevent us from being stagnant where-ever we are in our career!
A comment on ‘Work-Life Balance’:
As we were discussing this quest for vets to find happiness and sustainability in work, the term ‘work-life balance’ came up. Armina started at this and shared her feelings… “Work-Life balance, it’s such a term isn’t it, always thrown around. What I would challenge on it is you’ll never get your balance around work and life. Work is part of life, it’s a big part of your life, we all need to work, and I think one thing that I’ve learned is that I’m not striving for work-life balance. Now I’m just striving for work that fits in with all of the life that I want. It’s not about ‘I work this many hours so I’m going to have this much time to do yoga’, NO! It’s actually ‘I enjoy work so much it doesn’t detract from my life’. So I’m not about the work-life balance.”
Chantelle agreed with this sentiment about work-life balance and wanted to take it one step further. She recommends “not letting work be the drain that you then have to balance in life. It’s about managing your energy at work, and GETTING some energy from work.”
KICK ASS VETS shares that since taking a stand to not be abused, to have self-value and not allow clients to shift blame/guilt, the ‘drain’ that is felt has been significantly minimized. When we allow negative or abusive comments to slide, we loop on it later, and let that feeling of being disrespected and unvalued linger. Stopping this cycle and lingering feeling in its’ tracks, by ensuring you are valued and respected at work, is one way that we as individuals in clinical practice can decrease that energy drain.
The other big aspect to harness energy, and create a positive energy work-space, that Armina, Chantelle and KICK ASS VETS all agree on, is that new graduates are incredibly valuable. The energy and excitement that they bring to a clinic feeds the rest of the clinic. If managers are able to harness that energy and support it, they can flip from an energy drain work-place to an energy-positive work-place. Armina shares that “[New graduates] aren’t the drain on resources that [the clinics] are making them out to be.”
KICK ASS VETS thanks Armina and Chantelle so much for taking time out of their busy, and happy, schedules to meet with us and share their stories, experiences and feelings. They have provided incredibly useful and in some aspects unexpected insights into working as an industry vet! We hope that this information has been helpful for any of those thinking of possibly jumping into an industry role, whether it is short or long term, and also gives clinical vets an insight into what our industry vets are doing to try to better the profession for all of us!
Thank you again Dr. Armina and Dr. Chantelle!
Written by Dr. Ann Herbst BSc, DVM
Published May 22nd, 2020
Advocate for yourself, you are the only one that will!
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