When the average person thinks about veterinary medicine, a locally based, clinical veterinarian in private practice typically comes to mind. For that matter, many veterinarians themselves aren’t familiar with their profession’s wide-ranging career options.

The Center for Public and Corporate Veterinary Medicine in the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine seeks to remedy this situation, in part through workshops that focus on career transitions. To that end, registration is now open for the center’s next workshop, which is planned for mid-April.

“Most veterinarians are surprised by the wide variety of opportunities available in the profession. I’m convinced there is something for everyone. It’s just a matter of knowing how to find those good personal fits,” said CPCVM Director Valerie Ragan, who is a case in point. She began her veterinary career as a small animal practitioner before transitioning to veterinary services with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, where she served as a senior staff veterinarian and the national brucellosis epidemiologist prior to joining the veterinary college. As the national coordinator of animal health surveillance, she established the National Surveillance Unit at the USDA Center for Epidemiology and Animal Health.

In her role as CPCVM director, Ragan noted that she is “frequently contacted by veterinarians wanting to make a career change, with most of them wanting to transition from private practice to a public practice career for any variety of reasons.”

Headquartered at the veterinary college’s Blacksburg campus, the CPCVM, which administers the Public and Corporate Track — one of five tracking options in the Doctor of Veterinary Medicine curriculum — has a long history of training and preparing veterinary students and graduate veterinarians for careers in the public and corporate sectors.

Earlier in the 2020 fall semester, the CPCVM worked in partnership with Kansas State University Olathe to organize the first online workshop for veterinarians interested in exploring  alternative careers with a focus on the animal health industry.

A total of 46 veterinarians, spanning all four U.S. time zones, joined the workshop to explore new career possibilities. Not surprisingly, the majority of participants currently work as private practice veterinarians.

Over the course of six sessions, the workshop guided participants through lectures, individual and group activities, group discussions, expert panels, and networking opportunities. The sessions featured a robust catalog of 14 speakers, including federal and state veterinarians, as well as veterinarians working for such industry leaders as the American Association of Industry Veterinarians, Dechra, Bayer, and Zoetis.

A priority for Ragan was an emphasis on self- and career assessment to ensure that veterinarians ultimately choose careers that are a good personal fit and will provide maximum happiness and success. From experience, she knows that veterinarians sometimes rush into new careers without doing such assessment, a move that may cause problems in the long term. The programming also included resume-building, networking, and conducting effective job searches.

“A more deliberate, strategic, and successful approach is to start with self-reflection to determine your own personal attributes, values, interests, and deal-breakers and then search for — or create — a compatible position using your own personal criteria,” Ragan said. “The chances of being successful and happy are higher, and the approach helps to assure that you are a strong candidate for any position you pursue. In these workshops, we walk veterinarians through those steps, including how to find the unusual or ‘cool’ jobs.”

Ragan shared that these career transition workshops are her way of giving back to the veterinary profession. After her tenure with the USDA and before joining the veterinary college in 2009, she headed a veterinary consulting company engaged in resolving animal health issues and building international veterinary capacity. An expert in the control and eradication of brucellosis, an especially devasting disease that causes spontaneous abortions in cattle and can dangerously affect human health, Ragan actively partners with governments and organizations worldwide to train and advise veterinarians and policymakers on the disease.

In response to continued interest, the CPCVM’s next virtual workshop in April will guide veterinary professionals to explore careers beyond private practice. Although a range of career opportunities will be discussed, the focus of the  workshop will be on careers with state and federal government. Learn more about the workshop at www.vetmed.vt.edu/career-training/cpcvm/.

Written by Sarah Boudreau, a student in the M.F.A. program in creative writing