Vets Now’s Cutting Edge induction programme has just been re-launched, with a starting salary of £35,000 and a generous CPD package. Here Aoife O'Sullivan, who oversees the programme, tells our content marketing manager Iain Harrison what potential recruits can expect.
AOIFE O'Sullivan was in her eighth year as a vet and three years into a career in emergency practice when she signed up to work for Vets Now on a temporary contract.
She had always been reluctant to work in a "corporate" environment, but had heard great things about the learning culture at Vets Now and wanted to see first-hand if they were true.
Her instincts were proved correct, and Aoife soon decided to dedicate her future to the company.
"I quickly realised that working in a corporate practice resonated with me," she said.
"I particularly liked the transparency, consistency and organisation, the guidelines and protocols that were in place, and the hi-tech equipment available to the vets and vet nurses."
Today, eight years on, after a stellar career that has seen Aoife go from vet surgeon to senior vet to district vet, she is now head of Vets Now's Edge induction programmes.
These are the pet emergency business's equivalent of a graduate trainee scheme — and are aimed at vets who are keen to work in emergency and critical care but who would like to build up their skills and confidence before taking sole charge.
Since taking on the role in 2014, Aoife has helped train, mentor and inspire almost 80 vets to become highly-skilled emergency and critical care veterinary professionals.
Some of those now lead and manage Vets Now's 53 out-of-hours clinics while others have gone on to successful careers elsewhere in the profession.
The flagship Edge programme, Cutting Edge, is a comprehensive 10-week induction designed by ECC diplomate Amanda Boag.
Recently re-launched, it's aimed at vets with at least one year's experience, who have worked within a veterinary team, mastered routine surgeries such as bitch spays, and have carried out some client consultations.
Vets who win a place on Cutting Edge are paid a salary of £35,000 from day one, a regional allowance where applicable, plus structured increments in pay over the first 12 months.
They will also receive an enhanced continuous development package as they progress in their careers with Vets Now.
This includes financial support to undertake the CertAVP(ECC), PGCert(ECC) or Advanced Practitioner (AP), 100 hours of CPD study each year, and a £2,500 bonus on successful completion of their certification.
But what does the Cutting Edge programme entail and why was it started?
"Cutting Edge was established in 2010 when it became apparent there was a large number of vets who wanted to work in emergency practice but felt they didn't have the skills and experience to jump straight into a sole-charge role," Aoife explained.
"Essentially, Amanda devised the programme to help smooth the transition.
It incorporates lectures along with practical and experiential learning and also mentored work in our clinics."
There are still a limited number of places available for vets wishing to sign up for the next Cutting Edge intakes in April and August.
As well as those who aspire to be high achievers, Aoife is keen to recruit individuals who can fit in with the Vets Now culture and ethos.
She said: "All vets have strong caring and responsibility values, but we're also looking for people who are keen to help others and progress themselves, so they're motivated to learn and to share those learnings.
"In terms of innovation, Vets Now is always looking for new ideas and better ways of doing things, so candidates should also be receptive to change.
"It also almost goes without saying they should also have a passion for ECC and enjoy the pressure of working in an emergency room environment.
"However, underpinning all of this is our vets must be strong, empathetic communicators, as emergency situations are often a time of great stress for the pet owner."
Aoife, who studied at University College Dublin and is an advanced practitioner in ECC, is confident every vet who chooses to go down the Cutting Edge route will learn and develop.
She said: "There's lots of satisfaction to be gained from managing emergency cases, both medically and surgically. It's difficult to get this in daytime practice.
"These cases typically present at night time and weekends, and while we can't change this, we can assure vets that no shift will ever be the same and there's no such thing as a routine shift."
There are innumerable Cutting Edgers — as they're affectionately known within Vets Now — who have gone on to achieve great career success.
Among them is Steph Timmons, the principal vet in Liverpool, one of Vets Now’s busiest clinics.
Another is Laura Collazo, who travelled from Spain to embark on Cutting Edge and is now principal vet in Thamesmead in London.
Both Steph and Laura, and several of their fellow Cutting Edge graduates, now act as mentors to the current crop of vets.
Perhaps the most remarkable Cutting Edge story, however, is that of Liron Levy-Hirsch, a graduate of the Hebrew University in Israel, who was accepted on to Cutting Edge in 2010.
He has gone on to become a district vet, overseeing five out-of-hours clinics in the London area.
Liron said: "Cutting Edge gave me the skills and confidence to deal with emergency and critical care cases, work out of hours as a sole charge vet and develop my clinical ECC skills.
"During my training, I met some amazing people who supported me along the way and shared their knowledge and experience in this field.
"It also allowed me to develop my communication and client care skills. It was a major turning point in my career, and it's a programme I'd strongly recommend."
While Liron's rapid rise may be inspirational — and a credit to his ability as a vet and outstanding communication skills — it shouldn't be considered the norm.
Aoife is keen to stress that there is no archetypal Cutting Edge vet.
She said: "One thing I've learned is that every candidate is different and every vet has a different background with different strengths.
"It's imperative everyone gets to develop at the speed that's right for them.
"In one group there may be high flyers who need a challenge and others who require a bit of additional support from time to time. That's perfectly reasonable."
Anyone keen to apply for a place on Cutting Edge and potentially follow in the footsteps of Steph, Laura or Liron is encouraged to send Aoife their CV.
Those who meet the initial criteria will be interviewed via Skype and also asked to sit a situational judgement test to assess how they make important decisions.
"They will spend their first three weeks at Vets Now’s support office in Scotland covering the fundamentals of emergency practice, with some practical work," Aoife explained.
"After that, they'll go to some of our out-of-hours clinics where they'll work alongside experienced emergency clinicians for a month.
"They'll then return to Scotland for a further three weeks to solidify their knowledge and learn from the cases they've treated.
"One of the highlights of the programme is the practical surgery weekend in Swindon where the vets get to perform the common abdominal and medical procedures they're likely to see in the clinics. This is designed to build their confidence."
Once the 10-week is induction is over the graduates return to their clinics to embark on the next stage of their careers.
"In their first year, they will work in close collaboration with their principal vet”, Aoife added.
"There will also be lots of CPD opportunities, including a free 12-week online course called the emergency patient which all new staff can sign up to.
"As for the main challenges, some of the vets may express concern about having to make significant decisions by themselves.
"But they’ll quickly discover there are structures in place to ensure they can always access advice, no matter what time of day or night it is."
Vets Now also runs two other Edge programmes.
Refresh your Edge is for more experienced vets who already possess a substantial level of knowledge, but feel they'd benefit from extra training and support before taking a job in an emergency setting.
The other, Nursing Edge, is for vet nurses who want to work in emergency but would like some extra training first.
Anyone interested in applying should call the Vets Now recruitment team on 01383 841181 or visit our careers website.