Great expectations

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Great expectations

What employers seek from new graduates fresh on the job
Apr 01, 2006

When it comes to a veterinary student's first job, anxiety comes standard. Speculation about life following graduation is also a given.

So it's not surprising that when polled, third- and fourth-year veterinary students quickly identified five common areas of concern, all related to job performance. They want to know whether they'll be left alone in surgery, how soon the owner will demand stellar job performance and what type of mentoring to expect. Pleasing the boss is an issue, as well as the freedom to feel comfortable asking questions.

When confronted with these findings, practice owners who have successfully hired and worked with new graduates viewed them as natural. Dr. Michael Seimer, owner of Suburban Animal Clinic in Columbus, Ohio, suggests student internships as a means to avoiding workforce surprises. The new graduate's role will be different when hired, Seimer says, adding that he likes interns to spend their first week shadowing more seasoned doctors to learn the hospital layout, its protocols, how to work with technicians and receptionists and what level of surgery they're comfortable tackling.

Important areas include client communications, "especially around fees and charging for services," Seimer says, adding that he reviews travel sheets and client charges so new graduates understand their financial responsibilities.

Seimer enjoys working with new graduates and watching their confidence rise in their roles: "It is important to keep a sense of humor because there will always be misunderstandings, sometimes funny ones, as the new doctors begin seeing clients." New people make mistakes; it's how they learn and grow, he says.

Dr. Nan Boss, owner of Best Friends Veterinary Center in Grafton, Wis., says she would never hire a new graduate unless he or she spent at least one full day working at the hospital. For her practice, the ability to fit in is important. "I always send the job candidate to lunch with my staff so that everyone can get to know each other because they all have to work together," she says. New doctors at Best Friends Veterinary Center spend 30 days learning the hospital's standards of care, systems and procedures, including how to talk to clients. "We set a high bar on medicine and communication. It is important for the new doctor to learn how we do things here because it is what our clients expect," Boss says.

Her new-doctor training regimen includes learning how to create estimates to work up quotes. Only then does a new hire start to see cases in the exam room.

Shadowing Boss during exams also is a must, she says. At this time, Boss introduces the practice's new veterinarian to clients. The pair later reverses roles and the new doctor takes the lead. Finally, when new doctors are seeing patients on their own, Boss asks them to record themselves during client conversations. This method helps build communication skills, Boss says.

Dr. Lee Nelson ran a Banfield hospital in Minneapolis for four years and hired and worked with new graduates there before becoming the Midwest region's medical director. Today, she hires new graduates for the entire region. Banfield uses a structured approach to usher their new doctors into practice, which involves mentoring during an eight- to 14-week period. Banfield's mentoring program is a two-way street, Nelson says. "The new graduate is expected to ask questions and let his or her mentor know if they are not getting enough experience in an area, such as surgery or working with sick pets," she says.

The new doctor's caseload is progressively staged to build during several months; Banfield does not expect new graduates to do everything at once, Nelson explains. In the beginning they would see a light load of wellness patients, followed by sick pets, simple surgeries and later, more complex cases with the goal of seeing a mix of 15 cases and surgeries per day.

Nelson says she enjoys the energy and enthusiasm new doctors bring to a practice, and owners should be careful not to dampen it.

"New doctors, like any other new employee, will make mistakes. It is important to let them know that if they do, it is not the end of the world," she says.