Message from the Dean

Becoming an Employer of Choice

[Illinois veterinary students at 2018 Job Fair]

This message will appear in the April 2019 issue of the Illinois State Veterinary Medical Association Epitome.

Attend the September 18 Job Fair

Whether or not you are currently seeking a new associate, you would do well to investigate the job market for veterinary graduates.

  • The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics pegs the job outlook for veterinarians at 19 percent growth between 2016 and 2026.
  • More than 200 available positions have been submitted for the college’s online Alumni Job Board in the past 12 months.
  • The Illinois Class of 2018 reported two job offers per student (for those seeking employment) in a survey the month before graduation.

All this adds up to the fact that current veterinary graduates have the upper hand in job contract negotiations. And practices may need to start their recruiting efforts long before they expect to make a hire.

Secret Weapon

At Illinois, students have a secret weapon: Dr. Larry Firkins, who has parlayed his career from swine Extension veterinarian into international consultant on personnel management through a combination of an MBA, our own Executive Veterinary Program (which he now oversees as associate dean of public engagement at the college), and tireless effort.

Dr. Firkins was among the first nationally to develop a business elective track for veterinary students. His courses, which are extremely popular with Illinois students, cover not only the business aspects of practice management but also personal finance, such as debt management, career planning, and contract negotiation. Through his leadership in student outreach with the American Association of Swine Veterinarians, he has also brought financial literacy and business acumen to veterinary students across the country.

The good news for Illinois practitioners is that Dr. Firkins is also on your side.

Fall Conference Session

At Fall Conference last year, Dr. Firkins helped organize and deliver a pre-conference workshop entitled “Becoming an Employer of Choice.” In the current economy, a reasonable salary and standard benefits are not enough to attract the best new colleague to your practice. Dr. Firkins led workshop participants through an exploration of the characteristics of millennials and Generation Z and what today’s graduates are seeking from a first position. He also brought in a panel of experts—current veterinary students—to speak for themselves and answer participants’ questions.

The pre-conference workshop led into our first annual Job Fair at Fall Conference, which was open to all employers for a small fee. Students from all four years of our program attended to begin the job search process.

Many factors influence career decisions of new graduates. Salary is a big consideration, as are geography (only 55 percent of Illinois students report interest in working in Illinois) and practice interests (a desire to pursue specialization often leads students to choose an internship rather than enter practice directly).

You’ll find that today’s graduates want more from their employer. Work-life balance is important to them, and most mention mentorship as a top priority.

Start Now for Future Hires

So how do you stand out as an employer when the applicant pool has a wide range of choices?

One key recommendation from Dr. Firkins is to get students into your practice well before you plan to hire them.

“I encourage clinics to formalize summer externship programs for students after their first and second years,” he says. He is helping several practitioners who attended his session last fall develop learning objectives for these externships. If you’d like a copy of the objectives, feel free to contact Dr. Firkins at

Ready for Any Economy

Of course, the strong economy contributes greatly to the demand for graduates. Only six years ago, in the wake of the 2008 recession, AVMA’s Workforce Advisory Group issued a report concluding that “excess capacity ranging from 11% to 14% (i.e., from 9,300 to 12,300 full-time equivalents) would persist each year from 2012 through 2025.” That’s in stark contrast to the BLS projections made just three years later cited above.

Regardless of the economy, your College of Veterinary Medicine intends to educate the very best Day One practitioners on the market. We are committed to equipping graduates with not only the clinical skills and knowledge needed, but the leadership and confidence to be selective about their first position.

We’re also here to assist practices in becoming employers of choice so that they too find the best-fit associate regardless of the economy. So whether you have an open position now or anticipate having one in a few years, you should be thinking now about the steps you’ll need to take.

Luckily, Dr. Firkins and his colleagues will offer the “Becoming an Employer of Choice” pre-conference session again this fall, at our 100th annual Fall Conference for Veterinarians, September 18 to 20. With the help of the alumni association, we plan to repeat the Wednesday evening Job Fair, making it bigger and better.

Mark your calendars now. We hope to see you there!