Objective: To determine the clinical skills and areas of knowledge used by veterinarians in small animal practice during their first year after graduation and the degree of assistance and supervision they received while developing these skills.
Design: A postal survey was sent in December 1999 to 59 veterinarians who completed their training at Murdoch University in December 1998.
Procedure: The first part of the survey asked for information on veterinary work patterns since leaving university. The second part consisted of a list of diagnostic and therapeutic skills of varying complexity and the graduates were asked to indicate whether they had used these skills in practice and whether they had been assisted or supervised while doing them. The respondents were also asked if they had had the opportunity to practise these skills as undergraduates at university or during extramural experience. In the third part the areas of knowledge used in practice were assessed by analysis of a series of consecutive cases.
Results: Forty replies were received but since three graduates had done no small animal work the analysis of the skills section is based on 37 responses. Thirty graduates supplied information on 994 canine cases and 308 feline cases. The distribution of the mean work time was dogs and cats 69%, horses 13%, farm animals 11%, birds 3% and others 4%. Skills used by over 90% of graduates included general anaesthesia, examination of the tympanic membrane, taking and interpreting an abdominal radiograph, catheterising a male cat, fine needle aspiration of a mass, neutering dogs and cats, tooth scaling and extraction and treating an aural haematoma. The survey also identified the opportunities for undergraduates to practise some of these skills during extramural experence and the extent of assistance given to new graduates during their first year in practice. The areas of knowledge used in over 10% of the cases included vaccination, anaesthesia/sedation, skin/coat problems, general advice on pet health, neutering and musculoskeletal diseases.
Conclusion: Veterinarians, in their first year after graduation, use a wide range of complex diagnostic and therapeutic skills. Although many of these skills are acquired during the undergraduate training, a significant contribution is made by extramural practical work undertaken during the clinical years of the undergraduate course and in the first year following graduation. Practising veterinarians play an important role in providing opportunities and supervision for clinical training.