There has recently been a lot of attention concerning the recruitment and retention of young veterinarians in equine practice. The veterinary students are also aware of this issue, and many of them are visiting our equine practices and asking questions. How then, as concerned stakeholders, do we answer those questions and fairly represent our profession? Better yet, how do we reach those students who are considering equine practice, but aren’t visiting?
The message that I would give these students is that there has never been a better time to be an equine veterinarian! The need for young horse vets has never been higher. The AAEP Sustainability Taskforce interviewed some of the vets who have recently left equine practice to understand why they made their decision. The most common answers were lack of mentorship and respect, work-life balance, lack of autonomy, emergency call responsibilities, and compensation lower than that available in companion animal positions.
AAEP Commission Student Subcommittee
The AAEP recently formed The AAEP Commission for Equine Veterinary Sustainability to address the issues through five subcommittees developed around the key areas affecting the sustainability of equine practice, as identified in previous research. The Student Subcommittee’s mission is to improve communication and dialogue with students about equine practice; review all of AAEP’s current student activities, both educational as well as chapter assistance programs; consider making recommendations for how to keep improving student perceptions of equine practice; provide assistance to those who wish to evaluate externships and internships; determine the type of support that AAEP needs to provide to the chapters; and ensure that AAEP is meeting student members’ current needs.
Discussions to Have with Equine Veterinary Students
Culture of Equine Practice
An important part of this process is to have open and frank discussions about what we, as employers, can do better. In the interview process for a new hire, both parties should be prepared to discuss the perception of the culture of equine practice. New graduates are in short supply, and they want mentorship, flexibility to have a family, potential for professional growth, meaningful work, autonomy, shared emergency duty and fair compensation. Successful employers will need to deliver on all of these fronts.
AAEP membership responded to a recent compensation survey that was aimed at obtaining more accurate information about starting salaries. The results showed that the gap between small animal jobs and equine jobs was much smaller than previously reported. Sharing this information with students will be important.
Rewards of Equine Practice
With all of the discussion about the challenges of equine practice, we must not lose sight of what makes it so appealing and rewarding. I have been an equine veterinarian for 28 years; I love my job and can’t imagine doing anything else. I don’t have to spend my days in an exam room, seeing a carousel of small animal appointments every 30 minutes. Our chosen profession is hard work. It can be physical, and it requires us to use all parts of our brains, as we need to be thoughtful, creative and compassionate. We get to work outside with the best athletes ever created and make lasting friendships along the way. No two days are the same. You can be your own boss or be a part of a team. It is challenging and fun and helps us to grow every day.
As you encounter veterinary students at your practice, seek to share with them all the ways that equine veterinary medicine has enriched your life.