As a veterinary professional, the thought of returning to work after a significant break can be a daunting prospect.
You worry about losing the practical skills of surgery, the rapport with your clients and staying up to date with the latest drugs and treatment options – not to mention having to juggle your job with any new commitments you may have (I’m thinking of children as maternity leave is probably the most common reason for a career break, although there are many others).
While you are away, it is fairly easy – thanks to the internet – to stay in touch with the profession and maintain your knowledge. There are plenty of veterinary forums where clinical cases and new developments are regularly discussed. My personal favourite is vetsurgeon.org, but there are others. Facebook can also be another great resource – several veterinary pages post regular content, much of which are useful learning tools. These include Veterinary Team Brief, Veterinary Poisons Information Service and all of the large drug and food companies.
Webinars are now well established as CPD too, and there are many free ones available. There are also the education providers VIN and VetStream. However, if you fancy getting out of the house, and are still employed, your practice should still pay for the more traditional lecture days, while you are off.
What I and many others worry most about during a period away from work is losing our practical skills; bitch spays can suddenly seem hugely scary after even a short break.
If you are on maternity (or paternity) leave the government scheme of "Keeping in Touch" days can come in very handy. This allows you to work 10 full or part days, at your employers discretion, without losing the maternity benefits. If you are not currently employed you could consider contacting local practices to see if they would allow you to shadow one of their vets. Alternatively, many of the larger rescue kennels do their neutering on site and are always happy for extra help. However, if you do do any surgery or consulting, make sure you have VDS cover.
Another big issue for mothers returning to practice is that unfortunately, the hours our profession demands are not the most family friendly. Early starts, late finishes, weekends and on-call can be nearly impossible to arrange with child care, so many mums (and dads) can only work part time – or worse, have to drop out of their career altogether.
You do have the right to ask your employer for flexible or reduced working hours after maternity leave, but they don't have to grant this request if they can show it wouldn’t be suitable for their business. Thankfully, most practices can see the advantages of keeping on their experienced staff, but it is not always possible in a small business.
From personal experience I know part-time work can be a challenge to come by, but it is out there. Once you know where and when you want to work, contact the clinics in your area and let them know. Often positions are available that are not advertised, and many practices like having vets they know they can call on for occasional days of cover, although this does require a good degree of flexibility on your part.
In many ways veterinary medicine is like riding a bike, you never really lose the skills and although you might be a bit rusty at first, it won’t take long to get up and running again. In fact, having a break away, far from being a detriment to your career, may well give you a renewed passion for our profession and a drive to continue to improve. It did me anyway!