Podcast #17

What to look for in your first Job:
Congratulations! You are now ‘Doctor’! Excited? Scared? Nervous? If you are like most new graduates in the veterinary profession, you are all of the above!
Now that you have your degree, the next step is to get a job. You have been told over and over that your first job is important, that it will shape who you are as a veterinarian. So, how do you pick the right clinic? What do you prioritize? How do you know what clinic will be best for you?
Yellow door in a hallway of identical white doors.
KICK ASS VETS will help you pick the best clinic, out of a list of endless options that all seem the same.
This blog will go through our top recommendations when looking at your first job:
Organizing a working interview for 1-2 weeks duration is the MOST IMPORTANT thing you can do when deciding on a clinic. It gives you the opportunity to meet and work with the staff, see how the clinic runs day-to-day, assess the type of cliental, assess your boss, etc. Organizing a working interview, and paying attention to all aspects of the clinic and work culture, allows you to avoid most of the terrible clinics. I recommend at least 1 week because any clinic can fake it for a day or two. You don’t see a clinics true colours until the end of the week!
Smiley Faces, Monday happy progressing to Sad on Friday.
Any clinic can fake it Monday and Tuesday. KICK ASS VETS recommend at least one full week working interview, as true colours come out Thursday and Friday.
You should also do working interviews at a few different clinics, even if you have a job ‘lined up’. Interview at various different ‘levels’ of clinics to get exposure to how the different medicine is performed. You might find you love the ‘cow-boy style medicine’ of that country clinic, or that you really do want to be in a clinic that allows you to get definitive diagnoses on everything instead of ‘guessing’. You won’t know until you try, so get out there!
A working interview is also your time to prove to your employer that you are AWESOME. It will give you power during your negotiations, because the clinic will already feel comfortable with you, and see you have VALUE. This also means you need to KICK ASS during your working interview. Make sure you are ACTIVELY ENGAGING during the whole week. Show your skills, work hard, show your confidence. Be ‘ON’ the whole time! That week of work could mean a difference in $5,000-$10,000 in your starting salary, so it’s worth it!
1. Always do a working interview, at least 1 week duration
2. Interview at a few different clinics to get exposure to different styles.
3. Treat the whole week as an interview, actively engage, and KICK ASS!
When picking a clinic you will be deciding what is most important, salary vs. location vs. experience. Especially in your first job, prioritize experience. Pick the clinic where you feel you will get the best mentorship, the best exposure to diverse cases and proper case management, the best access to diagnostic tools so you can use all of your knowledge. This will be more important than 15min more of driving each day, or a slightly higher salary. If you need to move cities or states for a year to get the exposure and experience you feel you need to become the vet you want to be, then move. A year or two of investment into your career is worth it!
Treat your first year out like an internship, official or not, and prioritize experience and learning. Travel if you need to!
Everyone is different in terms of how much ‘hands-on’ work they want to do, and the level of medicine they want to provide. Some of you will want to be performing ‘Gold Standard’ medicine for every patient, and others will be happy doing vaccine appointments all day. At the same time, some of you will want to never clean another dirty cage again, and others are happy sitting by a patient feeding it, cleaning its bum, etc. Determine for yourself what type of veterinarian you want to be, and how ‘hands-on’ you want to be with patient care. During your working interview, pay attention to the level of medicine performed, the level of patient care provided, and how ‘hands-on’ the vets are. Pick the clinic that best aligns with your wants and needs.
Pick a clinic that has the level of medicine, level of patient care, and level of ‘hands-on’ experience that you want!
Clinics that are constantly understaffed, or have high staff turn-over, typically have worse working environments and that’s why staff keep leaving. Pick a clinic that has appropriate staff for their business demand, and a clinic that has some staff that have been at that clinic for many years. These clinics are more likely to have a positive working environment, opportunity for growth (academically and financially), and an organized and efficient work day. Also, you will be much less likely to be left ‘sole charge’ when you aren’t yet ready.
If salary is your main driving force however, these clinics will likely be more desperate, and you might be able to negotiate a much higher salary. Is it worth it? That’s for you to decide.
Clinics that can show you where you would slot into their schedule, and have a schedule prepared that you can rely on, are typically more organized and are better at staff retention. Even if there are gaps in their schedule, if a clinic can show you what you will be working, and will prioritize their full time staff in making the schedule, this is a sign of good management. So, ask to see the schedule. Also, during your working interview, pay attention to when the vets are leaving work? Is it on-time or are they staying late every day? This will not only let you know what you need to discuss/address in your contract, but also give you insight into the clinic’s organization and efficiency.
As a new graduate, you will start off wanting a lot of help help with a lot of your cases. Very soon however, you will want to be able to manage your cases how you were taught in school, and how you feel is best practice. Sometimes, this is contrary to how your boss would manage a case. Discuss case management in your interview. Ask about how much freedom you will have with cases. Will your boss support you and allow you to perform medicine the way you feel is best? Does the clinic refer cases? Will you be pressured to either refer a case you want to keep, or keep a case you want to refer?
Kitten in cage looking at parrots outside of bird cage.
You don't want to feel trapped, unable to perform the medicine you feel is right. Make sure you pick a clinic that promotes and supports freedom with case management.
During your interview process, make sure you have some ‘uncomfortable’ conversations and see how your boss responds. Whether it is questioning the management of a particular case, discussing salary, or another topic, you and your boss should be able to have a mutually respectful conversation. If your boss gets defensive, angry, shuts down, or has a different inappropriate response, be very cautious about working at this clinic.
Let's Get Personal
One Wednesday of a week-long working interview in my final year of vet school, there was a planned C-section for a Shar Pei. I asked the supervising vet about their anaesthetic protocol and the plan was to mask down the bitch. I replied ‘In school they are suggesting we use Propofol or Alfaxan, as gassing down can cause more hypotension and increase the risk to the puppies. Is there a reason you are using Isoflurane instead?” (asking as a question and playing dumb helps when people are defensive, as I had already suspected this vet was).
The supervising vet then went and got the propofol, THREW it at me, and said ‘Fine, you do it’. At this point I said OK, let’s get an IV Catheter in (they weren’t planning to place an IV for the C-section). The nursing staff failed to place an IV. The supervising vet then proceeded to say ‘F$&K it, we are just gassing’, without even attempting to place an IV, and they proceeded with the C-section, no IV access.
This was a clinic I was seriously considering for employment until Tuesday afternoon of my week with them.
The word ‘mentor’ gets thrown around a lot, and is a common recommendation for your first job. What people often don’t discuss is what makes a mentor ‘good’. The answer is that this will depend on YOU. Sit down and think about how much mentorship you want, and how much you need. Do you want someone that will sit back and only help when you ask for it? OR Do you want someone checking over every single case you see? Do you want a structured and systematic ‘mentor’, or a more go with the flow approach? There is no right or wrong answer to this, but there is an answer. Determine what you want, and then make sure there is someone at the clinic that can fulfill this role. During your interview process discuss your mentorship needs, and ask your boss if they are able and willing to fill this role. (See our blogs on How To Be A KICK ASS Mentee, How to Be A KICK ASS Mentor, and Four Mentors You Need. )
Just as you boss will ask you for references to ensure you are who you say you are, your skills are as you state they are, etc., you should be getting references from where you are working. Sometimes this is informal in just asking the current staff during your working interview, and sometimes you may know someone that used to work for that clinic. However, sometimes you won’t know anyone, and getting an opinion from a previous staff member can be helpful. Also, you can simply ask your boss for references of previous employees. Showing your boss that you are concerned about picking the best fit will show confidence and increased value, so don’t be shy!
Always, ALWAYS, negotiate your salary or contract. When you assess your contract make sure you are OK with the schedule, working hours, compensation, etc. Discuss any points that you feel are inadequate or arbitrary/unclear.
When you negotiate your contract, not only will you almost always get a higher salary if you push for it, but more importantly it shows CONFIDENCE! This will come across to your boss as a positive that you will then be confident when talking with clients, are more likely to charge appropriately, and therefore will be more VALUABLE to your boss!
Always have a PERFORMANCE REVIEW added into your contract as well. As a new grad, consider having a review at 3 months, 6 months, and 1 year. You will be amazed at how quickly you become independent, and you should be discussing a pay raise at each of these performance reviews.
Negotiate a salary at the END of your working interview! You want them to realize how awesome you are before hand, and you want to gather information during your working interview week that you will either have written into your contract (ex. Overtime hours compensation, schedule, etc.) or will use to justify a higher salary.
What you need and want out of a job and clinic will vary person to person, however if you factor in the topics addressed above and prioritize and judge a clinic based on your personal desires, you will have a much better chance at finding that perfect fit!
Written by Dr. Ann Herbst BSc, DVM

Published September 3rd, 2019

Advocate for yourself, you are the only one that will!

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