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How to plan your career as a veterinary surgeon

Written by: Vet Times Jobs
Published on: 2 Mar 2019

Career plan

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Having a career plan that fits both your professional and personal goals has many benefits. A strong career plan can help you feel more confident making career moves, understand what skills you need to gain, and even enable you to grow a strong network of other professionals who can help you achieve your goals.

But, at the same time, you can’t simply pull a career plan out of thin air.

In this Vet Times Jobs career advice article we map out some key steps you should take when starting to plan your career – whether you’re looking at taking a different route after years in a surgery, or if you’ve recently graduated.


This is a simple framework that can be used in lots of scenarios to help build objectives that are achievable. The SMART (Specific, Measurable, Assignable, Realistic, Timely) framework can help make your dreams a reality with some careful planning and thought.

Try filling out the following guidelines – provided by the American Animal Hospital Association:

I aspire to [what you want to be, have or do] by [set time span] so I can [what achieving the aspiration will let you experience, contribute or provide].

To make this happen I will [the most important actions or attitudes you must stop, start or modify].

The above template covers all elements of the SMART framework and provides you with a great starting point for your career plan.

Take stock of your personal goals alongside your career goals

The veterinary industry is very broad, with locum, part-time and full-time jobs available in a huge number of specialist and general areas. Beyond that, there’s the opportunity to go into teaching, a commercial role, charity work and more.

With so much choice in the industry, it is important you take stock of your personal goals when planning your career. Consider whether you would like the extra income out-of-hours and emergency veterinary work may offer – but only at a certain stage in your personal life, perhaps when you don’t have young children.

Similarly, maybe you would like to travel to a new country or volunteer in veterinary medicine abroad for several months and feel this needs to sit comfortably with where you see your personal life heading.

With these points in mind you’ll be able to look ahead and understand what kind of role will be right for you at particular times in your life.

Understand what values are important to you

The veterinary industry is flooded with technical skills, medical knowledge and clinical best practice. Among all that it can be easy to lose sight of what values you consider a priority. Remember why you chose to study veterinary medicine in the first place and what you really value in a workplace and job. For example, consider whether you prioritise any of the following:

  • Generous holiday allowance
  • CPD allowance
  • Outsourced out-of-hours emergency care
  • Clinical freedom in choice of products, medicines and equipment
  • Pain protocol that you’re happy with
  • The list goes on…

To help really understand what you prioritise make a list of negotiable and non-negotiable factors, then stick to them when you plan your career.

Take a fresh look at your skills

Re-evaluate your skills when you’re planning your career. Remember what you’ve enjoyed learning – whether that’s via clinical work, CPD or university – the areas you excelled in and the areas you struggled with.

Then, when you’re mapping out your career plan, include opportunities and goals that maximise on the skills you enjoy using. Also include time to invest in the skills you want to build upon. It may be the skills you want to focus on would be best being put into action in a specialist role. Have a read of our article: To specialise or not to specialise?

Manage your CPD effectively

The veterinary profession is a learning profession and CPD plays a huge role in that. Alongside your career plan look at how you can use CPD effectively to help achieve your goals. Have a read of our article: 6 ways to make the most of your veterinary CPD

With such a variety of veterinary jobs it’s important to look beyond the technical skills and into soft skills and personal experience too.

For example, clinical directors in veterinary surgeries will be required to show an ability to understand animal care and medicine, client interaction, and business requirements. Hence, you’ll need to be able to demonstrate business acumen, a confidence communicating with pet owners and clients, and still have the technical expertise required of any vet.

Consider whether you need to invest time in developing skills that aren’t directly linked to animal care and medicine. For example, you may want to look at courses that could help boost your managerial or communication skills.

Always be on the look out

One of the best ways to map your career is to always be aware of the state of the industry and what jobs are available.

Network, speak to colleagues, liaise with other practices – do what you can to speak to other people in the veterinary profession. Understand what concerns they have about veterinary medicine but, similarly, speak to them about what they’re excited for over the next couple of years. Having such conversations can give you an idea of the direction your career path may take you while taking into account "bigger picture" changes in the industry.

For example, the opening of new veterinary schools may lead to an influx of veterinary surgeons looking for jobs. You may want to consider how you plan to set yourself apart and stand out from the crowd when it comes to applying for hotly contested jobs.

Do your homework

Finally, when you make a career move in line with your career plan, make sure you still do you homework. Regardless of whether the job has the title you’re looking for, you should still do your research into the workplace and the job itself. At this point, after carefully planning your career goals, it’s important that you make the right move into each job to help keep you on track.

When you go for an interview, be ready to ask a few questions to help understand if the job really is what you’re looking for. Try to understand:

  • what the team you’ll be a part of is like, especially how many other surgeons are part of the team and how many nurses/veterinary technicians may be there to support you
  • on average, how many active clients a surgery/clinic/hospital has and how many new clients they have walk through the doors each month
  • what the major responsibilities of the role will be and what challenges you may face
  • whether or not you’ll have clinical freedom to opt for preferred medicines and products
  • how they value work/life balance and how they take on employee feedback and suggestions

Hopefully all of these pointers will give you a good starting point when planning your veterinary career.

As a final bit of advice, write everything down. By jotting down your ideas, plans, values and ambitions you’ll be more likely to remember them and stick to your plan. Your career plan will change and alter, but having a hard copy will give you a reference point and will help you stay on track.

If you’re ready to make your next career move or just want to start doing some research on the types jobs available, make sure you start with Vet Times Jobs – the go-to resource for veterinary recruitment.