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Defining employability in the veterinary context, and the capabilities enhancing veterinary success

Bell, Melinda Ann (2022) Defining employability in the veterinary context, and the capabilities enhancing veterinary success. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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This thesis explores employability in the veterinary context and presents stakeholder-led evidence for the capabilities contributing to a veterinarian’s success, thus validating the application of this concept in veterinary education. Employability had been widely applied to other professional contexts, but seldom discussed in veterinary or medical education, where the dominant paradigm is competency.

The first paper of this thesis argues to refocus the goal of veterinary education beyond competence to the broader aim of success, from the perspective of multiple stakeholders including the veterinarian. The rest of the thesis presents multi-stakeholder evidence via mixed-methods research (case study interviews, a large-scale semi-quantitative survey and a modified Delphi process) to highlight those capabilities most important for a successful and satisfying career as a veterinarian.

This thesis presents a considerable body of evidence contributing to the outcomes of the VetSet2Go project (, which culminated in the Framework for Veterinary Employability. This multinational collaborative project defined employability in the veterinary context as “a set of adaptive personal and professional capabilities that enable a veterinarian to gain employment, contribute meaningfully to the profession, and develop a career pathway that achieves satisfaction and success”, emphasising the ‘self’ as core to this process and stretching the focus beyond the initial ‘getting a job’ towards a fulfilling and long career as a veterinarian.

In this thesis, success is defined around veterinarians experiencing enjoyment and personal satisfaction with their work, developing proficiency, and maintaining passion for the profession. The capabilities found to be most important for employability, and therefore success as a veterinarian were: effective communication (with clients and colleagues), teamwork, enthusiasm, diligence, reliability, willingness to learn, honesty and ethical behaviour, resilience, life balance, technical knowledge and skills, emotional intelligence, workflow management and empathy and compassion. There was acknowledgement of changing emphasis of capabilities over different career stages (initial employment, transition to practice and longevity in the profession), with work-life balance, continual learning, goal setting and business skills most important for long term success. The relationship between the veterinarian (self) and their work, enabled by engagement, meaning and purpose, and respect for their profession was a key finding of the survey, and illustrative of how to achieve personal satisfaction and well-being within the profession.

There was striking convergence of the stakeholder views throughout the different studies in this thesis. Participants included recent graduate and employee veterinarians, employer veterinarians, non-veterinary employers, veterinary nurses and technical staff, academics, and policy makers, with multiple international regions, clinical and non-clinical contexts, genders and ages represented. With some minor exceptions, all stakeholders rated and ranked capabilities very similarly. The most notable exception was veterinary academics who ranked communicating with clients and work-life balance lower than other stakeholder groups, sounding a note of caution for those responsible for curriculum development.

This work has highlighted many of the important capabilities which are under-emphasised in current competency frameworks and has offered a hierarchical importance of capabilities which competency frameworks lack. The outcomes of this thesis provide a complement to the dominant paradigm of competency, bring needed focus to mental health and healthy working lives, and offer a complementary approach for veterinary educators to consider when preparing veterinary students for a successful and satisfying career.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): Veterinary Medicine
Supervisor(s): Cake, Martin and Mansfield, Caroline
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