There is much said about the difficulties of recruitment into the veterinary profession generally, but less about equine practice specifically. When speaking with colleagues at UK veterinary schools, it would seem the past few years have seen a slight decrease in demand for places. While hard data in terms of surveys of potential students are not available, one can imagine that the cost of a five-year course weighed against the expected salary and working conditions on qualification must be a significant deterrent.
Feedback from academic colleagues also suggests there has been a considerable reduction in veterinary students interested in going into equine practice. Again, definite reasons for this are unknown, but the consistent requirement for out-of-hours work may be a negative. Certainly, small animal colleagues tell me that one of the first questions asked by potential colleagues is: ‘what is the out-of-hours rota?’
Since recruiting new veterinary surgeons into practice is vital for us as a profession, it is imperative for us to focus sharply on this topic to discover how to ensure we can recruit and involve the right people to enable our wonderful profession to thrive. This article does not seek to provide all the answers; rather it intends to stimulate us all to think about the issue.
Having always been keen to focus on positives rather than negatives, maybe the older and more experienced members of our profession could think about what has caused us to remain horse vets. Meanwhile the younger members of our profession, and even those yet to join, need to let us know, as potential employers, what they wish to see from an equine veterinary practice.
There is a risk that equine practice is not perceived as bringing young people on
BEVA recently conducted a survey among its membership and posed the question: in order of significance, what are the three greatest challenges that you face in your working life? As can be seen from Figure 1, work/life balance was deemed the greatest challenge. These data, together with the opinions of colleagues, indicate that the most useful tool to put in place to aid recruitment would be a strong support programme. Mentoring schemes are difficult to run successfully and many organisations have tried with varying degrees of success.
Within a veterinary practice, young graduates are more likely to seek advice and help from colleagues who have not been qualified much longer than they have, i.e. of a relatively similar age cohort. This is not to say senior colleagues don’t have a role – they can assist with the development and availability of such mentoring/support schemes. While genuine evidence is lacking, a good support programme and structure to the equine vet’s working life would seem at least as important, if not more so, than salary. A regular appraisal scheme for colleagues is also attractive to new colleagues joining the practice.
There is a risk that equine practice is not perceived as bringing young people on, and that may make them reluctant to join us. We cannot let that happen and must do all we can to provide support and nurture for all new members of our practices. Along the way, we need to convey the reasons we have enjoyed and stayed in equine practice. Hopefully this will help us to continue to recruit keen, talented new professionals into the amazing job that is equine veterinary practice.