Teaching and Learning Forum 98 [ Contents ]

Question: How can we better prepare professional (veterinary) students to successfully make the transition into life in the working world (veterinary practice)?

Jennifer N. Mills BVSc, Dip Clin Path, MSc, PhD
Dept of Applied Veterinary Medicine
Murdoch University
Most of the five years of the undergraduate veterinary curriculum is spent teaching principles of biological sciences, medicine and surgery and in solving clinical problems. But success in veterinary practice also depends to a large extent on good communication skills, understanding the client's perspective, small business skills, marketing strategies and avoiding litigation, etc. Do we currently adequately prepare students to cope with these stressors of life in practice? Can we do it better?

A series of workshops were prepared to deal with the non-scientific aspects of veterinary practice, and in 1997, a short elective course entitled "The Art of Veterinary Practice" was designed to address these issues and was presented to a group of nine final year students. The content outline and student evaluations of the elective course will be presented.


For a new professional graduate, the first few months in a job can be the most stressful. It is also usually a time when the learning curve is steepest as the new graduate develops confidence and competence with experience, and individual styles of professional communication start to develop quickly, naturally and of necessity. The first few months on the job are therefore potentially a most rewarding time if all goes well. But for some graduates, problems may build up leading to excessive levels of stress and possibly burn out. The new graduate may then either resign or take an extended period away from the work which may have previously been their ultimate goal. Preventative measures by both the Profession and the tertiary institution should be taken to avoid this undesirable outcome and premature change in professional direction.

In addressing this concern at Murdoch Veterinary School and to assist students in making the transition into life in the workplace, we have developed a series of workshops over the last three years to provide final year students the opportunity to discuss some of the potentially stressful issues. Most of the issues included in the workshops have involved professional communication and workplace expectations. These have been delivered with the use of video and short drama scenarios, and have been very well received. The workshops included discussions with specialists or members of the profession and were previously reported (Mills 1997).

In 1997 an opportunity arose to present a 3 week elective to develop these concepts further. Consequently a course entitled "The Art of Veterinary Practice" emerged. The objectives, content and evaluation of this course are presented in this paper.

Course objectives and content

A three week (afternoons only) elective was designed to assist the student in making a successful transition into veterinary practice. The emphasis of the course was on non-scientific issues involving a new graduate's interactions with clinic staff, clients and the wider community. Aspects of effective professional communication, community projects such as the school PetPep program and management of urban animals were discussed using external veterinarians and specialists. Several topics such as Emergency Treatment, Puppy Preschool and Animal Behaviour Management were presented as they were known to be either not included, or covered to a limited extent in the undergraduate programme.

Brief video drama scenarios were developed for use in the Effective Communications workshop. The workshops presented are listed below.

Workshops presented in the elective


Visits to selected veterinary practices were arranged for two afternoons and pairs of students were required to observe and evaluate the non-scientific aspects of the practice. A list of suggested issues for comment were given to the students and both verbal and written reports of the visits including recommendations for change were used in assessment. The issues to be addressed in the reports were listed under the general headings of business, personnel, public relations and general support. All practitioners contacted expressed willingness to support the project. A small percentage of the assessment mark was allocated to participitation in the workshops. Of the nine students enrolled in the course, it was interesting to see that those who had ranked the course highly when making their selections of the electives offered, scored high distinctions, while a few who had ranked it lower, scored only credits.

Course evaluation

a) General Course
The nine students were asked to evaluate the course, comment on workshop content, list strengths and weaknesses and suggest which components might be included in the basic undergraduate curriculum to be of benefit to all students. In general, the students preferred workshops which were interactive, and did not favour lecture-style presentations.

Workshops specifically mentioned as most favoured were:

Other workshops listed as helpful were Emergency Treatment (2), (Practice Manager's Views (2), Practice Management Strategies (2), Occupational Health and Safety (1) and Vet Nurse's Views (1). The Interview with the Dean workshop was regarded as helpful in providing advice on professional direction, and in knowing what level of support to expect from the School after graduation.

Four students commented that large animal practice perspectives should be included in a future course. The coordinator was strongly encouraged to offer the course again next year.

b) Individual Courses
Workshops on Job Interview and Personal Development were individually evaluated.

The Job Interview Workshop was regarded by all students as useful, interesting and reasonably stimulating; it enhanced their confidence and effectively met its objectives. The facilitator was considered effective. Students commented that the interactive workshop made them think in a new way, and that it should be included next year.

The Personal Development Workshop was regarded as very to extremely satisfactory, being ranked 8 to 10 (on a scale of 10) by 8 of 9 students.


Following assessment of the course, several recommendations were made on adjustments to the existing undergraduate program including the Practice Management unit and to the elective itself. These changes are currently being negotiated.

Although the elective has been a single step in assisting students prepare for practice, more work is needed and additional topics could be included for presentation in an interactive and interesting way. Some of these could include professional liability and litigation issues, and more on communication skills. The veterinary profession is also assisting in resolving the dilemma by offering accredition to Practices as "New Graduate Friendly" if they meet a set of specified criteria; the accreditation process will be managed nationally and require feedback from employees. The profession also now provides a "Graduate Support Scheme" in which mentors (volunteer veterinarians who have been graduated less than10 years) are allocated to new graduates to provide individual and independent support for up to 12 months.

It is hoped that all these initiatives should have a positive effect and achieve the desired objective. Only post-graduate evaluations may eventually determine if the courses have been beneficial.

Please cite as: Mills, J. N. (1998). Question: How can we better prepare professional (veterinary) students to successfully make the transition into life in the working world (veterinary practice)? In Black, B. and Stanley, N. (Eds), Teaching and Learning in Changing Times, 225-227. Proceedings of the 7th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, The University of Western Australia, February 1998. Perth: UWA. http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf1998/mills.html

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