A career as a veterinary surgeon is a relatively straightforward job in many ways: there are not many restrictions placed on what we are allowed to do. Once we have qualified as vets, we are allowed to be vets for the rest of our lives. We can go into whichever part of the profession we choose (companion animal, equine, farm animal, poultry, fish...) and we don’t need to do extra training or exams. A vet is a vet is a vet.
Furthermore, if we take time out to do something else for a few years (such as having and/or raising children), we can go straight back to work as if we hadn’t stopped at all. In other professions, such as midwifery, there’s an obligation to do refresher courses if you have taken time out to do something else. If you’re a vet, there are no such restrictions: you can just do what you feel competent doing. There is no external judgement and no need to undergo further training.
That said, as vets we are obliged to be competent and to act responsibly, and no vet would consider re-entering clinical practice after a few years’ break without double-checking that they were up to date with current practice. We are all well aware of our required professional standards, and most of us are self-aware enough to realise when we are at risk of going beyond our zone of competence.
Before returning to work, there are two aspects that need focus:
a reminder of the core principles of veterinary medicine and surgery.
an update in recent changes and new concepts in veterinary science.
So what is the best way to refresh skills after a few years away from clinical work?
There are two possibilities: formal and informal
Formal refresher courses
A number of veterinary schools, institutions, organisations and private CPD companies now run refresher courses for vets coming back to practice. The changing demographics of the profession, with a different gender balance, has led to a high number of people returning to work after a break, creating a demand that these courses are meeting. The courses tend to be cheaper than many other CPD courses, in recognition that attendees are self-funding themselves, and that they are often not yet back at work, so budgets can be tight.
If you’re returning to work after a break, it’s worth reviewing the range of these courses to see if any of them focus on areas where you feel weak. And to boost your self confidence, it’s probably worth doing a few general courses in any case; as well as giving you a renewed sense of competence, the hours clocked learning will help your CV when applying for your first post-break job.
Informal refreshing of clinical skills
If you have a reasonable relationship with your local vet clinic, you may be able to organise informal “seeing practice” sessions to make yourself feel more comfortable with the clinical environment. This may involve sitting in on consultations, as well as perhaps assisting with surgery. In some cases, the vets may appreciate an extra pair of skilled hands, as well as the company of an enthusiastic vet like yourself. You’re unlikely to be paid for these sessions, and it’s probably important to remember that you may be seen as a burden if you are not careful. Going the extra mile to help, cleaning up around you and actively looking for situations where you can be positively helpful can make all the difference.
In the same way as a certificate of attendance at a formal course will help your cv, a positive written reference from your “seeing practice” vet will also enhance your track record, making it easier for you to get the job you’re looking for.
Knowing how to be a vet is like knowing how to ride a bicycle
If you have been out of the work force for a while, remember that being a vet is similar to knowing how to ride a bicycle: if you haven’t done it for a long time, you may be a little wobbly for a short while, but with a little support, you’ll soon be back to full proficiency and competence.