Veterinary Shortage

Why Is There a Veterinary Shortage?

I hope you find the following blog enlightening because we, those of us in Vet Med, need allies and your pets need us so unity, as usual, is in everyone’s best interest. Those working in veterinary medicine deserve your compassion. Please share this information and be a role model for others in your words and actions. The Pandemic increased pet ownership by approximately 4% resulting in a staggering 70% of US households now owning pets. We all listened to the heartwarming stories of pet adoptions during the pandemic, saw the funny pet antics during zoom calls, and listened to the endless testimonies from pet owners emotionally explaining how their pet comforted them during lock down, how their pet gave them a reason to get up each morning, etc.

Pets enrich human lives. We know this but the Pandemic magnified it. Pet owners, both new and old began paying a little more attention to Bingo or Callie. Pet owners suddenly had time on their hands and more motivation to take their pets to the vet and address concerns or just have a checkup.

There was a veterinary shortage prior to the pandemic and prior to increased pet ownership but many didn’t realize it. Some veterinary clinics had stopped taking new patients long before 2020. If you were a new pet owner looking for a vet, you learned this but if you had an established vet, you likely didn’t know this was a concern because your vet clinic had insulated themselves against the growing demand.

The Pandemic forced practices to work differently resulting in a substantial loss of revenue for many. Walk-in clinics went to appointment only, sterilization practices had to be extended beyond routine disease prevention to include human measures. All of this came at a cost to the health of our pets: literally and figuratively.

Add the increased demand to the decreased ability to serve pets to the clinics facing a constant covid-19 related staffing shortage and you have a recipe for disaster, a disaster that has yet to be resolved and one that gravely impacts the pets we love. So where are we now? It’s 2022. We don’t want to talk about 2020 anymore. We are over it. Long gone are the masks and the plexiglass protectors. We survived! That is a relative term because did we? Life as we knew it is gone. Enter labor shortages, economic inflation, soaring gas prices, and stock market free falls. All these things affect your pets from a pet owner’s inability to pay for care to the foundations/donors that support animal welfare having less money to give away.  It is now expected that 75 million pets will be without care by 2030 so this problem isn’t going anywhere. It’s getting worse!

The US graduates 2,500-2,600 new vets each year while approximately 2,000 retire. Small and rural communities already suffered as they are unable to support veterinary clinics and most veterinarians need to earn more than small towns can pay just to meet their staggering student loan payments.

With the cost of supplies and the cost of delivering those supplies increasing along with a constant shortage of supplies, your veterinary partners are struggling. No one wants to raise prices but it’s unavoidable and coming at a time when the dollars people earn are worth less and not stretching as far. The labor shortage has also drawn sharp attention to wages. Employers are wise to take note and protect the staff they have by paying fairly & competitively. I am not suggesting anyone was underpaying prior but the rise in the cost of living means employees must be paid more to make ends meet. This means your pet is at risk of not receiving the care they need and most of you are not ready for that. We know this because of how you speak to and about vet clinics that must turn you away. Most of you still believe if you have money to pay for care you can get it, but the depth of your pocketbook doesn’t add any more hours to the day. The seriousness of your emergency doesn’t make additional licensed vets appear. Pet owners have been experiencing barriers to care for decades but pet owners with means are not accustomed to being denied anything.

I recently attended an advisory board created to address this incredibly scary shortage. My organization was 1 of 12 orgs in the entire US and Canada invited to serve on this board. I share it to explain that I was surrounded by the best minds in Animal Welfare in North America. When asked about the problems facing Veterinary clinics do you know what made the top of the list, surpassed only by the veterinary labor shortage? Mean People. Mean People ranked higher than supply shortages, shipping delays and other very critical concerns. Mean People are everywhere now especially in service-based industries. Mean people are making a job that is physically and emotionally draining much harder than it should be.

We were used to being thanked every single day. We literally had a client thank us just for being here every single day prior to 2020. Now, we get yelled at every day, every single day, for things we can’t control not things we are doing wrong.

Veterinarians must have hours, policies, and protocols. They should not be expected to make exceptions or face public criticism when they don’t. They are human and must have sleep, must have food, must have a life outside of work. The law requires doctors and pilots to rest after so many hours of work, but no such thing exists for veterinarians and the pressure they feel to continue helping at a cost to their own physical and mental health is driving many out of the field.

Cyber bullying is out of control. Vet clinics are shamed for not performing services pet owners can’t afford. They are shamed if they can’t accept another client that day. They are shamed for not being open on weekends or after 5pm, and for charging an ER fee. The pressure veterinarians and support staff feel is volcanic.

1 in 6 vets think about ending their life and vets have an alarmingly high rate of suicide: twice that of the medical and dental professions and 4 times that of the general population. It’s not just vets, support staff suffer the similar fates. Veterinarians and support staff are quite literally killing themselves because of their job. Luckily, there is hope! Click here to read Part Two of “Why is There a Veterinary Shortage?”

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