Tackling recruitment issues - Veterinary Practice
Your browser is out-of-date!

Update your browser to view this website correctly. Update my browser now



Tackling recruitment issues

What can large animal practices do to improve staff recruitment and retention?

Experienced clinicians are leaving the profession and
many new graduates are reluctant to take on the
challenges of working with farm clients. Sophie Aylett, director of the award-winning Meadows Farm Vets practice
in Bromsgrove, Worcestershire, offered a few recruitment
and retention tips to colleagues attending the SPVS-VPMA
congress in Newport on 27 January.

Hers is a farm-only practice set up from scratch in April
2010. It now employs eight full-time vets and serves around
750 farm clients over a 50-mile radius. At the opening
session for the congress, the management team received
the SPVS Vet Wellbeing Award 2017 in the small practice

“I was surprised to be picked for the award, we haven’t
done anything in particular to qualify for it. We just try to
look after our staff and do the basic things properly,” she

But 18 months ago, the practice did take the rather
unusual step of employing four new clinicians at around
the same time with either very limited experience or none
at all. “They were all very suitable candidates and we knew
that we would be needing more staff because we are still
growing and attracting new clients.” By introducing them
at monthly intervals, the practice could give them their full
attention for the first month and closely mentor them for another five months. “The first one started in the summer and
the idea was that by the next spring, for our busiest period,
they would need very little supervision,” Sophie explained.

Previously, the practice had shied away from employing
inexperienced clinicians but after discussions with her husband Richard, the practice manager, she decided to change
the policy. Instead of concentrating on the interview results,
they asked existing staff members to look at the applications and then took the candidate out to lunch to assess
how well they got on with their potential future colleagues.
“We felt it was more important for the new vets to be able to communicate with clients
and other staff members
than have clinical experience – we can give them all the training they need in
surgical skills.”

Employers should not
ignore any relevant experience when picking staff at
a time of labour shortages,
she suggests. One of the
four had worked at a farm
practice as a TB tester
and another had spent six
months working in small animal practice. “It may be that
this person has had very little practical exposure to farm
work but they may have other skills that they can bring to
the table. It helps, for example, in understanding how to
carry out a consultation and the small animal surgical skills
are readily transferable.”

Each of the four greenhorn vets was allocated a mentor,
who was rotated at intervals to give them some insight into
the different approaches of their senior colleagues. By the
end of the six months, they were pushed into the deep end
in carrying out challenging procedures like a caesarean on
their own. “At least, that is what we told them. In fact, there
was a colleague waiting in a lay-by five minutes away who
could be called in if anything did go wrong. But believing
they were in sole charge helped in getting them up to speed
and in building their self-confidence.”

Sophie came up with the idea of a “star chart” to help
monitor their new colleagues’ clinical progress. This listed
the range of clinical procedures that the management
regarded as essential for all farm practitioners. Each time
the new vet carried out one of those procedures it would be
noted on the chart and when the mentor was satis ed that
they had achieved full competence, the event was marked
by the addition of a gold star.

Sophie says that the star chart created a degree of friendly competition between the four graduates but it also had a
practical purpose. It was pinned to the wall in the practice
office and the reception staff could look up and see which
vet still needed to work on a particular procedure and could
then allocate visits accordingly.

Achieving each individual goal was worth more than
bragging rights for the new vets. “We introduced an automatic pay rise for each one when they hit one of the main
targets, like achieving competence in carrying out a caesar.
They may still be taking 50 percent more time to do the
job than their experienced colleagues but that will come
with time and for the moment they are bringing in valuable
income to the business.”

Have you heard about our
IVP Membership?

A wide range of veterinary CPD and resources by leading veterinary professionals.

Stress-free CPD tracking and certification, you’ll wonder how you coped without it.

Discover more