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How To Get Back To Work After A Career Break

How To Get Back To Work After A Career Break

The veterinary profession is made up largely of women, both on the nursing side and the surgical. Many will take a career break at some point to start a family and, typically therefore, it is the women of the profession who are faced with returning to work after an extended period away. Making the jump back into work following a career break, even if it’s only for a twelve-month maternity break, can be a stressful and difficult time. For those who may have taken a few years out to see their family through the earliest years, that return to work can be utterly daunting.

Skills practice

One of the biggest challenges facing returning veterinary professionals is skills practice. Without regular practice, the ability and the dexterity required to fulfil a number of fairly standard procedures can be lost or at least become rusty. New methods or procedures may have been introduced in the intervening years, that a returning professional will not have had the opportunity to practice. Whilst they may have kept abreast of new developments through reading veterinary journals, the hands-on aspect will have been denied them.

New technologies present a further challenge for returning staff, as many are likely to have been introduced during their absence. Whilst existing staff will have had the opportunity to use and become competent in their use, a returning staff member will be starting from scratch. This is a daunting prospect, particularly if also faced with a pet owner who is relying on their vet to be fully up-to-date and proficient in their use.

One way to keep on top of skills and Practice processes, procedures and technologies is to make use of ‘keeping in touch’ days. These allow mothers on maternity (or adoption) leave to spend up to 10 (paid) working days at the Practice. Making use of these days also helps make the return to work less daunting than it might otherwise be as they help maintain a sense of continuity.


Another idea is to volunteer with a charity, shadowing a fellow nurse or surgeon for a few days through patient management and surgical procedures. The idea would then be to continue to volunteer for a few months to build on confidence and ease back into work whilst brushing up skills. Volunteer work often provides think-on-your-feet challenges too, so as an all-round back-to-work preparation it’s ideal, all while providing a much-needed service.

Practices looking to entice a ‘return to work’ surgeon could also offer a few weeks of ‘seeing practice’, allowing someone who has been away from the profession for a while to build their confidence by shadowing a colleague. Another option would be to run a series of skills labs allowing existing staff, as well as returning staff, the opportunity to brush up existing skills or learn new ones, and gain practical experience using new technologies. These measures would allow them the chance to build confidence without the additional pressure of having to figure it all out on their own in front of their patient’s owners!

Return to work surgical course

Another route returning veterinary surgeons can now consider, is the ‘Return to work’ surgical course. Announced at the BSAVA Congress, this initiative is part of the development of the WVS Jeanne Marchig International Training Centre in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Conducted on a voluntary basis, participants have the opportunity to gain hands-on, back to work experience in one-to-one and small-group sessions whilst helping provide care for the charity’s patients. The location of this initiative may be prohibitive for some, especially if they have young families. However, for those with older families, the experience is likely to deliver not only a job-related confidence boost but also a life-affirming one.



Returning to the workplace, when there is an expectation that someone knows what they are doing, presents a significant pressure. Particularly in an industry where stress and depression rates are high, recognising the challenges returning professionals are facing and providing a less distressing route back into work should be a paramount focus for Practice Managers. Veterinary surgeons particularly, spend years training, so losing them to other industries that present an easier route back into work is a waste of resources. This is especially true when qualified, and experienced veterinary professionals are in such high demand. Offering a support system makes good sense, ensuring a high standard of patient care and a higher rate of staff retention.


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