At certain intervals in their lives, veterinarians sometimes look for ways to transition out of private practice while still pursuing veterinary careers. Valerie Ragan, DVM, director of the Center for Public and Corporate Veterinary Medicine at Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, is passionate about assisting veterinarians in finding new and satisfying career paths.
“Although I have been contacted by veterinarians at all career stages looking for a change, from my observations, in general, the most common group looking to make a transition is those who have been in practice for less than five years and feel that this isn’t exactly the path they want to pursue for their entire working life,” she commented.
A second group is comprised of older private practitioners who have been in practice for 20 years or more. These individuals might be tired of working long hours and/or they want to give back to the profession, and money is not as important as it was in their younger days—yet they still want to remain in the veterinary field.
“Veterinarians are always re-inventing themselves,” said Patricia L. Wohlferth- Bethke, DVM, manager of the AVMA Career Center and Assistant Director of the AVMA Membership and Field Services Division. “Once their practices are successful and the kids are grown, many practitioners start looking for ways to change what they are doing.” Some sell a business, start a new practice or get involved in industry, management, government, academia, volunteer positions or international welfare organizations.
A great resource for those seeking new career paths can be found at the American Veterinary Medical Association’s (AVMA) website by going to avma.org and searching for “career transitions.”
You can find a “toolkit” to assist in career transitions. The information, available exclusively to AVMA members, includes exploring career options for veterinarians, assessing appropriate career choices, and translating clinical skills into new career options and ways to market professional skills. The toolkit also provides listings of current job opportunities along with advice from colleagues.
Part of the transition program is aided by the Virginia-Maryland Career Transition workshops (vetmed.vt.edu/ career-training/cpcvm/about.asp), which “assist graduate veterinarians in all stages of their professional careers to explore career alternatives and the process of career transition. The workshops cover career opportunities, career assessment, r.sum. building, interviewing, professional networking, job searching, training/education, budgeting, and other key career transition issues,” according to the website.
The Virginia-Maryland workshops facilitate broad thinking about new career paths within the veterinary industry, said Ragan. The workshops, often held in the fall, attract a large number of interested veterinarians. With a maximum of 40 seats available for the workshop, it is best to apply early.
Ragan urges those looking to modify their career plans to think about what they love to do and how to combine those passions with veterinary medicine to position themselves for stimulating jobs. She advised people to step back from “searching” for a job to “figuring out exactly what they want to do.”
A good starting place, she suggested, is to find someone working in a area that looks interesting and call them up to find out what that job entails and how to get into that kind of a job. This also provides an opportunity to ask about the details of a position and identify the skills and experience that would make a candidate most attractive.
“One of the most notable comments that arises at the Virginia-Maryland workshops,” said Ragan, “is attendee veterinarians saying, ‘It’s so nice to know that I’m not the only one facing these career dilemmas.’ ”
An AVMA survey in 2013 identified that 28% of AVMA-member veterinarians (across all species) are looking to change their career paths.
The Starting Point for Career Change
Ragan advised that the transition from private practice to another type of job position should not start by looking for available jobs. She said, “The first step is to do a thorough self-analysis. As a starting point, lay out what your interests and values are, and take a personal inventory of how this fits into your career plan.” Do you want to interact with people? Interact with animals? What do you expect from salary and benefits? Which geographic location works for you? What kind of hours do you want to work? Do you want a leadership position, or not? In general, Ragan recommended that you start by figuring out what kind of work you’ll find to be fulfilling, challenging and beneficial to your personal growth.
She suggested that people looking for a career change list the top five elements that they value in their work, as well as those that are not as important or that place limitations on a position. For example, if you have allergies to horses, perhaps you no longer want to work hands-on. If you live in the western United States, then perhaps a job in New York City is not appropriate. Consider what might be dealbreakers to accepting a position, such as location, salary or travel requirements.
Once you have defined your values and interests, Ragan advised deciding whether you primarily want a “job” to ensure cash flow or a position that provides a career pathway. She noted that sometimes it is necessary to take a temporary job to pay the bills while you keep looking for or are preparing yourself for the ideal career opportunity.
Ragan also said to consider whether you are “running from something or to something.” She noted that when people run away from positions, they often end up taking similar jobs to the ones they left without assessing why they wanted to make a change, then find that the new jobs are equally frustrating. This is where the self-assessment work comes in, so you can avoid compounding a mistake.
The next step in looking for alternatives to private practice is to carefully scrutinize your professional skills. What are your strengths and weaknesses? Are you good at building relationships (as with clients), dealing with conflict (as with clients or a clinic veterinary team) or dealing with diverse groups (a variety of client demographics)? Do you have additional language skills?
“Don’t forget that in private practice, you have likely developed an ability to optimize human-animal bonds, and that your role as a private practitioner has reinforced your abilities as a teacher and educator and allowed you to develop a number of business-related skills that translate well to new environments,” Ragan said.
As you form a checklist of professional interest areas, she suggested that you initially think not about what particular job you might seek, but rather what you most like to do. Do you prefer field work, like to work in a diagnostic center, like to travel and work internationally, like to write? Consider what type of work holds no interest for you, so you can remove certain jobs from the list.
Other Equine Veterinary Jobs
Veterinary job opportunities outside of private practice, industry, government or academia are as wide-ranging as one’s imagination. Some examples that Ragan suggested for pursuit include:
• consulting in a special area of expertise. This is a particularly attractive position for someone interested in part-time work, international work or freelance consultation for industry or private companies.
• setting up a small business within the veterinary industry, such as selling a product, offering consultation or capitalizing on writing skills, as a few examples
• providing services in business practice management and advisement positions
• getting involved in non-governmental organizations, such as freelance consulting for companies that offer subcontracts on work they have obtained under large government contracts. Ragan offered a few examples of this type of work:
- Helping veterinarians develop herd plans to aid in prevention and diagnosis of disease
- Assessing biosecurity risks
- Assessing bioterrorism risks
- Veterinarians Without Borders, although this is often a volunteer position
To find subcontract work, she suggested a Google search of keywords within your area of interest. Information about federal contracting opportunities can be found at www.fedbizopps.gov. Ragan recommended looking at previous search recovery awards from that website to find out who got the award, then touching base with that company and seeing whether they are hiring or know of someone who might be.
There are industry jobs of great variety— some in private practice or industry— and mostly for veterinarians with prior private practice experience. Look at www.thevetrecruiter.com for possibilities in a range of positions from sales and marketing to professional services, research and development. This website describes itself as an “Executive Search, Management, Technical and Professional Recruitment Firm specializing in the Animal Health, Animal Nutrition, Veterinary, Pet Products, Agriculture and related industries.”
Another resource for job-seeking can be found at www.indeed.com by entering keywords such as “animal health.” “It is best to start with a broad search, including keywords of things you like to do or are interested in, especially if you don’t know what you are looking for,” said Ragan. Once you identify a particular area, then you can narrow down the search.
A veterinary education provides graduates with an excellent platform to leap into just about any kind of position, particularly when coupled with the many skill sets achieved with private practice experience.
With some imagination and time spent looking on websites at a variety of possibilities, it is possible to launch yourself onto a new and satisfying career path. The resources are out there to help with career transitions. Gaining additional education, such as a diplomate degree, MBA or law degree, could open even more positions for a veterinarian.