Professional identity development in new graduate veterinarians

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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The first year of practice after graduation for veterinarians has been described as “make or break”, with new graduates being eligible for unrestricted registration, permitted to practise without formal requirements for supervision and to work in widely diverse practice contexts. In the context of a fast-changing contemporary society that combines contested human–animal relations, almost universal access to information at a mouse-click, and accelerated development of advanced technologies, I sought to understand how new graduate veterinarians develop their professional identity during their first year of practice.

I located professional identity in a sociocultural theoretical framework as a phenomenon of professional practice that is developed and made visible through the sayings, doings, and relatings that occur in and about practice. The possibilities for agency for individual practitioners are shaped by the mediating social, cultural, and material preconditions in which the practice is enacted. A blended research design of social constructionist and dialogical narrative approaches enabled me to explore the rich, complex, and dynamic phenomenon of professional identity development. I engaged repeatedly with a group of 11 new graduate veterinarians through multiple in-depth interviews and a period of workplace observation over their first year of practice. In conducting the research, I sought to gain a deep understanding of participants’ practice contexts and their own interpretations of their practice experiences, Furthermore, I explored how participants developed and sustained their identity through holding their own in telling narratives of their experience.

The key contribution of this research is a dynamic, relational, and agentic model of professional identity development that comprises three underpinning dimensions, enabling processes, and a product. The first dimension, practice capability, is a sense of assuredness and responsibility within the social, cultural, and material conditions that comprise practice architectures. The second dimension, an orientation to moral authenticity, represents ongoing alignment of personal values with professional norms and standards. The third dimension, pragmatic professionalism, signifies deliberate, action-oriented, situated practice, and suggests the possibility of future emergence of wise practice. In the model the three dimensions are operationalised through the processes of storytelling and critically reflexive dialogue. Professional identity is made apparent and intelligible by finding and using the product, professional voice.

The findings of this study point to the importance of explicit awareness of and support for the development of professional identity in new graduate veterinarians and in preparing undergraduates to become practitioners. The model of professional identity development I have created is a resource for use in educational and practice settings to inform development of practices and pedagogies that foster awareness and opportunities for relational, agentic, morally guided dialogue as well as reflection and critique of practice experiences. Areas for further research include exploration of appropriate pedagogies and practices for identity development and further illumination of the social contexts in which veterinary practice is enacted.

This study makes a unique contribution to the scholarly literature in veterinary education. It also adds, more broadly, to the interdisciplinary field of professional practice-based research and professional identity research.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Charles Sturt University
  • Trede, Franziska, Principal Supervisor
  • Raidal, Sharanne, Co-Supervisor
Place of PublicationAustralia
Publication statusPublished - 2019


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