Female vet walking in cattle farm

Seven-year itch: vets who make the move to non-clinical work do so after seven years

With widespread concern about the recruitment and retention of vets, new figures from the British Veterinary Association reveal a mix of “push” and “pull” factors in vets’ decisions to leave clinical practice.

The vast majority of the vets polled who are now in non-clinical roles (92%) had worked in clinical practice in the past and, on average, these vets decided to make the move to non-clinical roles seven years after qualification.

Finding a new challenge was the most popular motivation for making the career change. The figures from the BVA Voice of the Veterinary Profession survey, which are being published ahead of this weekend’s veterinary careers event, Vets: Stay, Go, Diversify LIVE!, showed that 43% of vets who had moved were looking for a new challenge through a non-clinical role.

Where did they come from, where did they go?

Nearly three-quarters (73%) of those vets who had moved from clinical to non-clinical work had worked in mixed practice at some point in the past. Nearly half (49%) had worked in companion animal practice and one in three had worked in production animal practice (33%). Around one in eight had worked in equine practice (12%) at some time during their clinical career.

The survey showed that nearly a third (32%) of working vets who are not in practice are in academia. Commerce and industry was also a popular non-clinical role with one in five (21%) of vets in non-clinical roles choosing to work in these fields.

Reasons for leaving

Vets most commonly gave positive reasons for making the move to a non-clinical role, with 43% citing that they were looking for a new challenge as one of the reasons and 33% saying they were looking for a different type of work.

Vets also based their decision on improving their work/life balance, with a quarter saying they wanted a role with no out of hours work, 14% saying they wanted more flexible working hours and one in ten reporting that clinical work was incompatible with family or outside commitments.

More than one in five (21%) cited difficulty in progressing with their clinical career as a reason whilst just under one in five (19%) were looking for less stress at work.

Gender differences

There were some differences between men and women in the timing of their career change and the reasons behind it. Women tended to leave clinical practice earlier in their career; an average of 6.5 years after they qualified compared to 8 years for men.

Reasons related to working hours and flexibility were more prominent motivations for women to move from clinical practice (54% of female vets compared to 31% of male vets). On the other hand, male vets were more likely than female vets to cite reasons related to a desire to do a different type of work (44% of male vets compared to 24% of female vets).

Vets: Stay, Go, Diversify LIVE!

This weekend (28-29 April), the event ‘Vets: Stay, Go, Diversify LIVE!’ will celebrate the range of roles that vets can take on throughout their careers, providing insight and advice on the different options out there and how to negotiate the move.

BVA Senior Vice President, Gudrun Ravetz, will be touching upon some of the gender issues at play in her talk on the current UK workforce crisis, whilst BVA Junior Vice President, Simon Doherty, will be contributing to the session about veterinary roles in charities. Both Simon and Gudrun will be taking part in a session about what BVA is doing for the profession.

BVA Senior Vice President, Gudrun Ravetz said:

“These figures show that there is a sizeable percentage of practising vets who are making the move into non-clinical roles and that there are a variety of reasons behind their decision. There is a huge diversity of career paths open to vets and it’s important both for those who are already in practice and for those considering a veterinary career to be aware of all the options available.

“I have had a portfolio career myself that involved clinical practice in all different business models including charity practice and industry and I know that the most important thing is for vets to feel fulfilled in their chosen roles and understand that there is a wide range of opportunity available to them.

“However, we also know that practices are seriously worried about being able to recruit and retain staff. Looking at the reasons for leaving – including a desire for more flexibility, a better work/life balance, and concerns about stress – this has to be a wake-up call to all employers to think about whether we can do things differently to support our colleagues.

“BVA has a role to play too and many of the Vet Futures actions are designed to address these issues, including the workforce study commissioned by BVA, the development of a careers hub, and our support for the Mind Matters Initiative led by the RCVS, amongst others. These are issues that the profession must tackle together.”

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