Vet career check: moving from practice to a commercial role
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Becoming a vet is no easy task. You’ve spent five to six years at university – or more if you went on to achieve further qualifications such as a PhD or master's degree – as well as hours, days, weeks, months and years training, studying and dreaming about becoming a vet. You’ve made it.
But then things just don’t quite fall into place.
Maybe you’ve not been able to find the veterinary job you’ve always dreamed of? Maybe you thought you’d found that job, but the long hours, often inflexible work demands and associated drains on your family life are posing too much of a challenge?
Or perhaps you’ve reached a stage in life when the physical demands of veterinary practice are no longer appealing and you’re looking to fresh pastures?
Whatever your reasons to consider moving out of traditional veterinary practice, it’s good to know the industry is filled with possibilities and that the commercial world is your oyster.
But it’s also important to recognise working in industry is a whole new ball game.
We spoke to Tony Noble – managing director at leading specialist recruitment consultancy for animal health, agricultural, equine and pet industries, Noble Futures – about why a vet might consider making such a move, how best to go about the transition and what factors a transitioning vet might need to consider.
Here are his words of advice...
When working with vets looking to make the move into the commercial world, Noble Futures finds two primary motivating factors generally exist.
The first is that life as a vet has not really lived up to their expectations, or they are finding it harder going than they had originally thought.
The second is that industry has always beckoned and the individual intended to use his or her veterinary qualifications to secure a "commercial" career path from the very start.
I use quotes around commercial here because every business is commercial – vets must also consider the commercial aspects of their work (such as business management and client relationships) in everyday practice and, unfortunately, this is something I believe receives insufficient focus in core veterinary training.
Commercial roles provide a lot of opportunities for someone interested in a specialist area (such as nutrition, pharmaceutical and pharmacology/efficacy, for example) and the potential to impact many more clients and patients than in clinical practice.
It could also be argued certain commercial roles provide a lot more variety than traditional first opinion veterinary medicine, but, obviously, roles and sectors do vary, so it’s important to do your research and try to pin down exactly what your dream career path looks like.
If you have always aspired to a commercial type role throughout your veterinary training, it’s important to bear in mind many such roles ask that a candidate has a few years of clinical practice under his or her belt, so it’s good to spend some time in practice once qualified.
This will also have the added benefit of giving you the chance to make sure you are making the right decision and not missing out on a life in clinical practice.
Such experience will also provide a good opportunity to solidify skills, and allow you to start the research and networking process.
In looking to make the move, research and networking will prove to be time well spent.
Do your research into which industry segments most closely match your dreams, ambitions and desired lifestyle. Bovine, equine or companion animal? Pharmaceutical research, nutritional specialist or veterinary product sales? The possibilities are virtually endless.
Networking is an important step – not only in terms of the doors that could be opened for you by the right contacts, but also the insights you will glean about organisations, sectors and invaluable extra advice you may receive along the way.
Shock to the system
Noble Futures finds many vets can experience a bit of a culture shock when taking their first steps in the commercial sector, for a variety of reasons.
Even though commercial roles avoid the unpredictable nature of working hours that go hand in hand with being on call and emergency veterinary work, the job is not always going to be nine to five, and long hours and weekend work are often required for trade shows, exhibitions and important events such as BSAVA Congress.
There’s also the fact you’ll be losing direct contact with animals, which, for many, is the primary motivating factor to embark in a career in veterinary medicine in the first place.
We find some vets we have placed continue to maintain weekend work in private practice to keep their hand in and many companies are appreciative of this dedication.
It is a great way to keep up direct animal contact; helps keep you abreast of modern techniques, drugs and medical advances; and also gives access to CPD, which can be of great benefit in a new, professional role.
Strong opportunities exist for vets to go into what are, in effect, "para-sales" roles, where you provide technical and clinical support for front line sales staff.
While such opportunities can be intimidating for vets who may feel uncomfortable in a sales type role, they provide great opportunities for those who like to deal with people and would relish the challenge of a career supporting the human side of the veterinary industry.
Remember your roots
In the move to a commercial type environment, as a vet it’s obviously crucial you remain ethical and true to your qualifications.
A commercial role will give you the opportunity to use your technical expertise in an interesting new environment and provide a commercial benefit to the business, as well as the required results to the patient.
The final piece of advice Noble Futures would have for a vet looking to embark on a new corporate career is to think twice before you dress for an interview or your first day on the job.
While jeans, a fleece and sturdy outdoor work boots may have been your daily attire in clinical practice, most commercial roles will require smart outfits. Don’t be caught out and fall at the first hurdle.