Assessment of the Preparation of Aquatic Animal Health Veterinarians for Entry-Level Positions
Recent graduates (those who graduated between 2009 and 2014) from veterinary school in aquatic animal health (AAH) careers and their employers were surveyed regarding the preparation of these graduates for entry-level veterinarian positions. Technical and non-technical skills were both investigated. A 43-item novel survey instrument was developed and sent to 93 employers. The response rate was 72%, and the respondents (n = 67) have been working in the AAH field for a mean of 19.5 years. The participating employers were then asked to provide contact information for their recent graduate hires over the past five years (including interns and residents) or forward a 36-item survey instrument (similar to the one they took) to them. At least 29 recent graduates received the survey, and 86% of them responded (n = 25). Respondents in both groups represented government, universities, small business (including private practice and independent contractors), corporations, and non-profits (including zoos and aquariums).
The majority of employers responded that the average recent veterinary graduate does not have the knowledge or experience needed in any of the aquatic taxon categories (mammals, fish, birds, invertebrates, reptiles, and amphibians) to meet their organization's needs. The largest deficiency is in fish medicine (both fresh and saltwater species). Alternatively, the majority of recent graduates felt they met the needs of their first position in all taxa except amphibians and invertebrates.
Effective use of educational resources, including critically evaluating scientific literature, was viewed as more valuable by employers than an additional year of work experience in small animal medicine. This was not true for recent graduates. However, both groups agreed that effective use of resources is expected for most problem solving (58%), and the ideal percentage of memorized aquatics knowledge that a recent graduate would possess for problem solving is 42%.
Employers and recent graduates are mostly in agreement about the importance of non-technical skills. One notable difference was that Honesty/Integrity was most important to employers, whereas Work Ethic was most important to recent graduates (both were viewed by employers as commonly possessed by veterinary colleagues). Teamwork/Interpersonal Skills was valued second most by employers yet listed first for commonly needing improvement. This was closely followed by Communication and then Time Management as areas in most need of improvement amongst DVM employees and colleagues. Yet, recent graduates mostly felt that they met or exceeded the need for all non-technical skills except Business Savvy. Only one person responded that they were below need on Teamwork/Interpersonal Skills; no one responded as below need for Communication, and three people responded as below need for Time Management.
This study not only investigated need-at-entry knowledge and skills for AAH veterinarians but also the elective experiences of those seeking AAH careers, job market outlook, and career satisfaction. Findings from this study could be used to update existing veterinary medicine curricula and continuing education curricula as well as inform students' elective choices and career path decisions.
* Presenting author