How much influence does someone’s background and environment have on their career choices? Should veterinary schools consider this when designing curricula to encourage graduates to enter the full range of roles for which their skills are needed, such as food animal vets rather than the perhaps more obvious choices of, for example, small animal practice?
In a paper recently published in Veterinary Record, Tierney Kinnison of the Lifelong Independent Veterinary Education (LIVE) centre and Stephen May, the vice principal for teaching at the Royal Veterinary College (RVC), used the results of the RVC’s ‘teaching quality survey’ for recent graduates from 2005/06 to 2010/11 to compare the vets’ background information with current position and career ambition, and to investigate perceptions of curriculum balance.1 This was a formal part of the feedback that the College collected to inform its curriculum planning. Complete responses were gained from 261 respondents (26.8 per cent).
The study demonstrated strong correlations between veterinarian gender and upbringing location on career choice, and current experience on perspectives on the appropriate balance of content for a veterinary professional curriculum. The majority of respondents in this recent graduate population were females from suburbs, small towns or villages, who attended non-selective schools and entered veterinary school directly from school. It was found that females were more likely to be employed in and desirous of small animal, equine and other positions (mostly truly mixed small, equine and farm). In contrast, farm animal and mixed farm and equine positions are likely to be filled and most desired by males. There was also a significant difference between individuals from different childhood areas; individuals from urban areas preferred small practice, in comparison to those from rural areas who were more likely to choose farm animal practices.
The authors conclude that key demographics such as gender and upbringing location have an effect on the short- and long-term career choices of vets and need to be taken into account alongside ‘in course’ measures to encourage the pursuit of a food animal career. They recommend that the demographic nature of veterinary students continue to be monitored and that further consideration regarding recruitment of students and retention of veterinarians for certain roles through qualitative methods may be advantageous.
Stephen May comments, ‘We live in an age where our leaders mistake anecdote for evidence, and this can lead to well-intentioned but often inappropriate decisions on how to act. Many suggestions have been made over the years about different ways to select veterinary students, but it is important that any new criteria are soundly framed based on evidence like that which Tierney has produced here. None of us would ever want to be responsible for preventing an applicant achieving a lifelong ambition, based on faulty assumptions.’
1. Kinnson, T & May, S. A. (2013) Veterinary career ambitions correlate with gender and past experience, with current experience influencing curricular perspectives. Veterinary Record doi.10.1136/vr.101261