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For veterinarians wanting to expand their horizons beyond clinical work, there are plenty of other challenging and exciting avenues to explore. By Deepa Gopinth
When most aspiring veterinarians envisage a future in veterinary medicine, they imagine being elbow deep in a cow’s reproductive tract, a dog’s abdomen or a horse’s mouth. A 2017 survey conducted by the Australian Veterinary Association revealed that 78 per cent of Australian veterinarians were working in clinical practice. But what options are there for veterinarians who decide that the clinician’s life is not for them? Veterinarians can move into scientific support roles within the animal health industry, academia, graduate education, writing and publishing, pet insurance and government, to name a few.
Case study #1
Dr Radha Ravi was drawn to her role as early talent manager for the VetPartners group by her passion for improving support for recently graduated veterinarians. An integral component of the role is the overseeing of the Graduate Mentoring Program, which Dr Ravi was involved in developing. “I love being able to help clinics and their grads to leverage available opportunities and support them through this formative time,” says Dr Ravi.Support is also offered to recent graduates through a graduate-specific continuing professional development (CPD) program and the fostering of a graduate community. “The impact the program has on these amazing people who are just starting their career is wonderfully rewarding.”
Dr Ravi started her career with the company as a regional operations manager after 12 years in small animal clinical practice in Sydney. “I loved being a clinician but wanted to explore different ways to apply my knowledge and degree,” says Dr Ravi.
The option to work from home is a definite perk, but the flexibility of her current role is accompanied by challenges. “The capability to work from home means that the lines between home and work can easily get blurred. In clinical practice, it was easier to get a clear demarcation and a day off was rarely ever interrupted.”
Case study #2
Dr Joanne Krockenberger is a part-time editorial assistant for C&T magazine, a publication of the Centre for Veterinary Education, The University of Sydney. She is tasked with finding content, working with authors, editing manuscripts and working with the greater C&T team to produce each issue. When not at the CVE offices, Dr Krockenberger works in small animal clinical practice in Sydney.
For Dr Krockenberger, the partial shift out of clinical practice was motivated by health concerns. “I’d had a few episodes of debilitating back pain and was worried that I may not be able to continue to retirement with all the lifting and bending that you have to do in practice on a daily basis,” she says.
The balance between clinical and non-clinical work has proved to be a successful one. “I still get to see my clinic ‘family’ every week along with many long-term clients. On a day that includes puppies, kittens and the weird and wonderful, such as a dog pooping out a strange foreign object, you just can’t beat it! At the same time, I don’t have the very large amount of stress that can be faced by full-time vets in a busy period,” says Dr Krockenberger.
“I also love my ‘office’ job and my newer colleagues. The flexibility to be able to take a sick day if needed or have time off to look after a sick child and still get paid is great.”
Case study #3
Dr Vidya Bhardwaj is the director of Berrimah Veterinary Laboratory, a part of the Department of Industry, Tourism and Trade in the Northern Territory. She has previously served as head of microbiology at a veterinary laboratory in Hong Kong, as well as helped establish Hong Kong’s first and only veterinary degree program.
After eight years working full-time in small animal clinical practice, Dr Bhardwaj knew that it was time for a change. Working hours that were not conducive to a social life and offered limited options for career progression in clinical practice were among the factors which drove the change. “I felt very unsupported by the industry, despite having some excellent employers.”
Dr Bhardwaj explored her career options and eventually decided to undertake a PhD in the field of veterinary bacteriology and bacterial immunology at The University of Sydney. “I felt a PhD would enable me to obtain a variety of skills that I could later apply in a range of possible career pathways,” she says.
While enjoying the benefits of a non-clinical veterinary career, Dr Bhardwaj recognises similar challenges to Dr Ravi in her non-clinical roles. “In the clinic, you finish your tasks for the day and leave, handing over your patients to the next vet,” says Dr Bhardwaj. “Here, my work never finishes. I had to learn to make mini targets to complete daily, so I felt less anxious about leaving work when there was still so much to do!”
Making the move
A veterinary degree and clinical practice experience equip vets with skills that can pave the path into a number of non-clinical roles in the veterinary and animal health industries. “A vet degree teaches technical skills as well as soft skills like time management, problem-solving, interacting with people, managing difficult people, resilience and coping with stress,” Dr Bhardwaj says. “The challenge is to recognise these skills and put them in a format that recruiters are looking for.”
For those veterinarians looking to make the shift into a non-clinical career, there is some general advice. “Keep your contacts, don’t burn bridges, and let your passion drive you,” Dr Ravi suggests. “Look for opportunities and be willing to take steps that may not be directly associated with your end goal.”
Dr Bhardwaj feels deep inward reflection may help when deciding which pathway to pursue. “Develop a true understanding of your likes and dislikes about your current situation, your strengths, goals and dreams. A career coach may provide some clarity. Leaving clinical practice is not necessarily ‘moving over to the dark side’. There is a lot of light here!”