The British Veterinary Association and the Association of Student Vets are asking veterinary practices not to exploit recruitment fears caused by the coronavirus pandemic by offering unpaid or voluntary work to final year students and new graduates. 

According to the Associations, a number of practices have been offering unpaid work, and whilst these offers may seem attractive to newly qualified vets who want to gain access to veterinary workplaces, they devalue the individuals and the veterinary profession.

Offering unpaid roles also exacerbates the problems surrounding lack of access to the profession for those who can’t afford to work for free and contradicts efforts to widen participation in the veterinary sector.

In addition, there are governance issues associated with individuals undertaking veterinary roles before they are registered with the RCVS and there are concerns around individuals undertaking voluntary roles without indemnity insurance.

The Veterinary Defence Society has advised that the Veterinary Surgeons (Practice by Students) (Amendment) Regulations 1993 allow veterinary students to carry out acts of veterinary surgery under the direction and supervision of a veterinary surgeon. After graduating as a vet, individuals are no longer classified as “veterinary students” and must either revert to only doing work which would be delegated to a lay member of staff or register with the RCVS.

Once registered with the RCVS, graduates must abide by the Code of Conduct whether they are volunteering or paid. One such requirement is that veterinary surgeons must have professional indemnity insurance. Veterinary graduates cannot register as a veterinary nurse and if they are not registered as a veterinary surgeon, they must not undertake those acts of veterinary surgery that can lawfully be delegated to RVNs.  

BVA President Daniella Dos Santos said: “The Covid-19 crisis has thrown up many challenges for veterinary practices, but we make a plea to the profession not to exploit final year students and new graduates at this difficult time. These individuals are professionals and they deserve to be paid professional new graduate salaries, as we all were. There is a problem to be solved with regard to safe working, particularly in large animal and equine practice, but underpaying and undervaluing people is not the solution.

“BVA has been working with Vet Schools Council and others to champion diversity in our vet schools and the wider profession. If we only provide opportunities for those who can afford to work for free, we will be taking an enormous step backwards.”

Izzie Arthur, AVS President (pictured right), added: “We know that final year students are worried about job prospects and that these offers will be attractive, but we are deeply concerned that it devalues the skills and knowledge that have been built up throughout the degree.

"We’re asking vet practices to champion the next generation by providing paid opportunities for newly qualified (registered) vets and the support needed to get through the professional development phase so that they can become valued members of the team."

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