If We Want A Resilient Workforce Then We Must Grow It

I was recently part of a discussion with a number of practice owners who were lamenting at the lack of resilience in young vets nowadays. As somebody with a foot in each camp – being a millennial AND a practice owner I find these conversations challenging sometimes, so I tried to really understand the problem and sum it up. Here’s what I came up with.

The honest truth is that there are lots of young vets who are absolutely thriving in their work. A lot are putting in the hard yards in internships and residencies. Plenty are taking on the challenge of rural practice, isolated work, and more responsibility than they necessarily should. Others are going into business, some as practice owners and some are breaking the mould with new veterinary services.

There are also those that are struggling – they can’t deal with the owners, can’t deal with failure, won’t dive in and attempt a surgery without a senior vet holding their hand. And there are those who complain about a low wage, but then can’t sell their services, undercut themselves and then complain about how everybody in the world hates vets and we have it so hard. This is why corporate (clinical and non-clinical) is alluring. It is predictable and safe. More and more students are considering a corporate role post-graduation.

Many factors contribute to which of these two ways a graduate goes. Some are affected by our generation – it would be foolish to suggest that the impact of technology and social media are benign influences.

That said, I’m thankful for Google, VIN (Veterinary Information Network), and my online textbooks are always available – they take away the stress of narrowing down differentials from the old textbook which then recommends wacky therapies with obscure medications.

Fortunately, the previous generation didn’t also have a client search Google in front of them and question a decision. Plus, when they stuffed up on the farm (which we have all done!) the worst thing to happen was that your boss might find out. Now, we fear waking up to a scathing review and who knows what else!

Resilience is often touted as being the key trait. And I tend to agree. Yes, you can select for it in undergraduates. Many universities are making moves to improve their application process, and the more involved and evidence-based these become, the better. That said, many of us were seventeen or eighteen when we started studying – we had no idea what we were in for! We hadn’t faced any challenges, and those of us who could afford to go to university had a pretty good early life.

Importantly, the way to build resilience can be taught. An acceptance of failure can be taught. This needs to start well before vets step out into practice! School education, undergraduate, and Vet School all play a part

But as employers, we also need to ingrain this into our practice cultures. How do we deal with failure in our new grads and junior vets? How can we teach them that they need to take ownership of their own growth? Can we give them an environment where it is ok to make mistakes, to stretch without panicking, and to look for growth in themselves and their workmates?

Those graduate vets I mentioned at the start of this article (the ones who can’t deal with clients), many of them have had senior vets who undermine them or override them in front of clients or their boss.

Those who can’t tackle a big dog spey have been yelled at in surgery because they are taking too long (one friend of mine had her nurse taken away and she had to finish the surgery on her own as punishment – she wasn’t put on surgery for a whole month after that).

Those that complain about a low wage but can’t generate an income for the practice – they have never been taught business fundamentals, and they watch their boss give out discounts daily.

There is so much to this problem, and there are no simple answers. What we can do, is have our own impacts.

If we can exert what positive pressure we can on our own workplaces, and in our own teams that would be a bloody good place to start. The culture of an organisation is made up of beliefs matching up with actions. So, if you believe that the veterinary profession should be a thriving and fun career, what actions are you taking to make it that way?


This article was written by Dr Zach Lederhosen. Dr Zach is a small animal clinician and independent practice owner based in New South Wales, Australia. He is one of the guides within the VetX:Thrive community.

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