2017-Stefanie Reissner

Becoming a vet: Veterinary students’ experiences of professional identity development

Dr Stefanie Reissner, Newcastle University Business School, University of Newcastle

Abstract: This pilot study examined veterinary students’ experiences as they develop professional identity, that is an understanding of what it means to be a veterinarian. PI is the outcome of being socialized into a profession through formal learning and interaction with experienced professionals. This study explored students’ experiences and associated meanings as they develop professional identity as part of professional training at veterinary school. The research followed three veterinary students over an 18-month period to identify how their emerging professional self-understanding developed over time. Nine qualitative interviews were conducted, complemented with two focus groups and documentary analysis of the discourse surrounding the veterinary profession. Analysed inductively with a focus on language and symbolic meanings, the accounts surprisingly consistently positioned students as a particular kind of veterinarian that is anchored in who they are. While they related to particular incidents at university or in work placements, there was less exploration of their emerging professional self-understanding than the extant research indicates.

The study identified a need for future longitudinal research that takes into account different stakeholder perspectives, in particular those of students, educators and regulators, to gain a more comprehensive understanding of this important phenomenon. Moreover, the study identified a need to reorient research into professional identity formation to focus on resilience. A resilient professional identity helps professionals to perceive pressures at work as manageable, contributing to the ability to better deal with tension and reduce experiences of stress at work.