I vividly remember the conclusion of my academic career. I was in a room, participating in a rounds discussion with nine classmates when we were dismissed. As my classmates jumped and hooted with glee, I stayed seated. I recall thinking that I was going to miss the academic rigor and structure I had been immersed in for the past four years. I also recall being scared. I had the book knowledge to be a veterinarian, but I didn’t feel like one.
In retrospect, this was the first of many career transitions that I would undertake. The first years of my career were spent learning how to be a proficient veterinarian, how to communicate effectively with teams and clients and gaining confidence in my abilities. As I became a self-assured doctor, I found that I wasn’t satisfied with my role as an associate veterinarian. I discovered a new passion, veterinary business, and with determination began to learn how hospitals become successful. These lessons, often painful, continued as I transitioned from associate to hospital owner. As I pushed myself to become a knowledgeable owner, I maintained my clinical role. As the years passed, I learned new skills, such as advanced dentistry, to continue feeling challenged as a doctor. After a successful hospital sale, I have appreciated the flexibility that a DVM degree provides. I have been fortunate to have worked in Industry as a Technical Services Veterinarian, to be an entrepreneur again as a Veterinary Business Consultant and most recently to re-enter Industry as a Veterinary Relations and Business Development Executive.
How did I decide what path my career would take? What factors determined which roles I would flourish and grow in? Was it blind luck, or calculated risks? In this post, I’d like to share some advice based on what worked best for me as I made career transitions.
Who are You?
To figure out what roles will be most fulfilling for you, it’s important to understand yourself first. There are many tools to help you do that and my suggestions are below.
Personality Preference Assessments
As individuals, each of us have personality preferences that influence our thought processes, emotions and behaviors. These psychological characteristics also influence how we relate to others, in how we act and what we say. Self-understanding and acknowledgement of these preferences will help us identify our work preferences. Positions offering the best alignment between your personal characteristics and the work environment will be a win-win for you and the organization.
How do you learn what your personality preferences are? There are many on-line assessment tools that provide these insights, such as the Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator, DiSC and Insights Discovery. Gaining this self-awareness will help you to identify reasons that your current work environment is unsatisfactory. Is it the culture or the type of work that is not meeting your needs?
Strengthsfinder is a different type of assessment tool. Rather than focusing on personality traits, Strengthsfinder assesses what you do best. Many veterinary professionals view their capabilities from the other side of the lens; what do they need to do better? As such, we miss the opportunity to capitalize on our innate skills and knowledge. A cost-effective on-line assessment tool, Strengthsfinder determines your top five strengths and provides resources to help you understand and build on these competencies.
What’s Your Why?
Simon Sinek, a social scientist, popularized the concept of the ‘golden circle’ in books1 and a Ted-X talk2. He theorized that individuals and organizations don’t understand why they do what they do, because they start with the what and the how.
He explains that what and how are functions of the neocortex. This part of the brain is responsible for processing facts, figures, details and logic; all important functions but ones that rarely move a person to action. Our behaviors are best motivated through our limbic system, which processes feelings and emotions and corresponds to the why. As he states, the why is what gets us out of bed in the morning. It is the essence of who we are, and the primary driving force behind our actions.
When considering career moves, a clear understanding of your why is essential. Armed with this insight, you will be able to determine which positions and organizations are most aligned with who you are. I’ve had some healthy debates around the evolution of a personal why. I believe that because your why represents what you hold sacrosanct, it remains a constant throughout your life.
As an example, this was my why as a practicing DVM:
“I am a veterinarian because I love helping people by keeping their beloved pets healthy. By forming strong partnerships with my clients, my patients benefit”.
Look at how my statement changed as I entered the various stages of my professional career:
“I am a veterinarian because I love helping people by keeping their beloved pets healthy. By forming strong partnerships with my clients, their clients and patients benefit.”
Despite many role changes, my fundamental why has remained untouched. The what, or details and facts, changed.
Core values “are the guiding principles that dictate behavior and action”3. Individuals and organizations have core values.
It is necessary to understand your core values before actively pursuing a career move, so you can assess which career changes and organizations have the highest likelihood of creating an impactful and long-lasting match.
Once you have an understanding and can define what is important to you, it is time to think about “what’s next”? There’s several questions to ask yourself as you consider your options. To help you get started, I’ve provided recommendations for what you need to think about in the paragraphs below.
The Starting Point
Why are you contemplating a career move? Analyzing what is going well with your current position and what could be better will help provide insight into possibilities for your future. Are the core values of your current organization in alignment with your own values? Does your personal why fit with the focus of the organizational why? Are you still learning and being challenged in your current role?
New Skills Versus a New Job?
If you are feeling stagnant in your position, what would make it more fulfilling? Do opportunities exist to develop new competencies? Considerations include advanced communication skills, dentistry, behavior, new surgical techniques, rehabilitation, business management skills and leadership. When negotiating with a hospital owner or manager to add new or enhanced profit centers and services, be prepared to discuss the return on investment to the patient, the team, your growth and the business. Provide hard facts: what will additional training and equipment cost? How long will it take to implement? How will it be marketed to clients? How sustainable is the investment? How will you measure outcomes?
As a practice owner, I had three associates, at separate times, who believed in the benefits of acupuncture and wanted to offer those services in our hospital. I agreed to pay for these associates to attend classes and become certified. As a profit center, acupuncture represented less than 1% of our total revenues, but there are different ways to measure return on investment. Patients benefitted, clients were appreciative and my associates developed new skills and interests.
If your work preferences have changed, options include practice ownership, self-employment, employment in Industry, a different discipline within veterinary medicine, or exploring new career fields outside of veterinary medicine. As you evaluate these possibilities examine what the benefits of such a move would be personally, professionally and financially. What commitments are necessary to make this move? For example, pursuing a different discipline within veterinary medicine might require additional education. Pursuing residency training often requires decreases in household income, increased debt and physical relocation. How do the benefits of such a decision outweigh the costs? Practice ownership often requires huge time commitments, undertaking large sums of debt and the need to perform many different job roles within the hospital. The rewards can be huge, in terms of financial performance, personal and professional growth, flexibility and the satisfaction of working with a team to bring your visions to life.
A critical component to answering the question “what’s next” includes “who can help?”. In all aspects of these mid-career and late-career roles, trusted advisors offer differing perspectives and valuable life lessons that help with your decision-making process. Many career positions are more readily accessed through personal connections. A robust network of acquaintances is invaluable as you position yourself to move toward new career paths.
Networking can be a challenging skill to master. It can feel disingenuous. For introverts, making new connections can be uncomfortable. When approached with the right mindset, networking is actually liberating. By meeting new people, you are exposed to new ideas and have opportunities to broaden your perspectives. Networking allows you to identify common interests and form collaborative relationships. By focusing on what you offer, rather than take, networking feels more authentic and is infinitely more rewarding.
How and where can you network? Everywhere! Opportunities to form strong networking groups exist within your community, your local and state Veterinary Medical Associations, other organized veterinary medical groups, veterinary meetings, Industry sales representatives, your veterinary school classmates, former employers, LinkedIn and professional groups in the community such as Chamber of Commerce and dedicated networking groups.
Assessing the Fit
What methods and tools will provide confidence that the career move you are considering is a positive one? In addition to evaluating “who you are” and exploring “what’s next”, I have found performing a SWOT analysis is very helpful. This analysis evaluates the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats of the change you’re considering. When combined with the strengths from Strengthsfinder, this assessment helps bring clarity to your decision. See an example below.
In assessing the fit, the relative risk of the move and available resources should be taken into account. If you decide to become a practice owner, particularly if the hospital will be a start-up with no cash flow, or if you plan to pursue another form of self-employment such as consulting, mobile ultrasound or rehabilitation services, do you have enough income to meet your expense obligations for the next 6-12 months?
If your chosen career path will be in Industry, will you be able to relocate within a timely fashion? To what parts of the country would you be willing to move? Are you willing to spend a percentage of your time away from your home and family, traveling? Are you willing to work some weekends?
Finally, when would you like to make the career change? As you can see from this article, wise career changes require effort, time, patience and perseverance. In my experience, the journey is worthwhile!
SWOT Analysis Example
Hypothetical position: Technical Services Veterinarian (TSV)
Use the competency descriptions from the job posting to initiate the SWOT analysis, complete with information about your core values, your why, Strengthsfinder and personality preferences. For this example, we have used the strengths: learner, achiever, input, individualization, relational, indicated in the chart in brackets.
- Sinek, S. Start with Why. 2009
- Ted Talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sioZd3AxmnE