On-the-job training, continuous professional development – call it what you want but learning as you go can be either a blessing or a curse for anyone starting their careers.
At its very best, an experienced employee will take a young recruit under their wing and pass on the tricks of the trade learned over a lifetime. At its very worst, on-the-job training can mean a novice stuck out in the middle of nowhere in the dead of night, trying to read a text book by the unsteady light of a torch they’re gripping between their teeth.
IVC recognised that newly graduated vets know a lot of theory but still have plenty to learn about putting it into practice. It also acknowledged that softer skills such as working in teams and handling the expectations of pet owners can only ever be gained by experience. That’s why, in 2014, it started a two-year graduate training scheme for new vets. Chief Executive Paul Cowling turned to Donald Kingsnorth to help devise and run this programme.
A NEW CHALLENGE
“I had three small animal practices and one equine practice in Surrey that I’d sold to IVC in 2013,” says Donald. “Having been in practice for 30 years, I was at a point where I was looking for a new challenge. This graduate training programme offered fresh opportunities for me to re-engage with all those things that you start off with in life – that boundless enthusiasm and belief that you’re doing the right things. So it’s been a really, really good time for me.”
Working with the senior management team and other Clinical Directors, Donald helped to create a programme that’s now in its fourth year. “Our first intake in September 2014 was just 15 young vets,” he says. “The current year, starting September 2018, will have around 150. So we’ve already increased it tenfold!”
“We’re trying to design a better support structure for people and their careers. We’re mindful that we need to be able to support vets in both social skills and coping strategies as well as technical proficiencies.” Donald Kingsnorth – Group Veterinary Advisor
All the recruits are fully qualified veterinary surgeons registered with the Royal College who have already been recruited to an IVC practice. Every two months, each ‘class’ is brought together for a few days of concentrated studies.
“We’re very lucky to be able to use the facilities at the University of Warwick for most of these sessions,” notes Donald. “They’re excellent facilities and the university has been very supportive of what we’re trying to do. Much of this is specialist training – dentistry or dermatology or ophthalmology – but we also balance that with soft skills. These are areas such as how to consult better, how to manage your time, how to understand the business side and even how to cope with the stress of practice.
“We think the latter is important because being a vet can be a remarkably stressful job. Clients have high expectations and our young vets in particular really feel that pressure and feel terribly responsible for the animals in their care, since the profession tends to attract all these incredibly conscientious people.
“So these sessions happen five times a year, although as a team, we’re seeing graduates every month because we alternate sessions with the first and second years. With this programme, we set out to change an entire mindset by making the first years in veterinary practice more rewarding and productive through day-to-day support and education.”
A EUROPE-WIDE INITIATIVE
Within the company, the graduate training scheme created such a passion for learning that the IVC Academy was created both in the UK and across Europe. This Academy programme now runs a series of two-day education sessions for more experienced vets. Chief Executive Paul Cowling notes,
“IVC has already invested heavily in digital X-ray, ultrasound and dental equipment to give vets the equipment they need. With technology moving at pace, one of the exciting challenges has been to give vets the skills to cope with that change, particularly those more experienced, mature vets who might not be aware of such innovations.”