a new model of veterinary practice is needed

The future of large animal farming practices needs to be reviewed to address the difficulties of attracting and retaining veterinarians and to account for veterinarians who currently make up around 43% of the workforce.

Veterinary Ireland President Conor Geraghty said Agricultural land that the veterinary mission has sought a meeting with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) – in particular with Chief Veterinary Officer Martin Blake – to discuss this matter.

The veterinary profession has never looked this good on paper. Information from the Veterinary Council of Ireland (VCI) shows that it was as of July 30th this year 3,091 veterinarians, in total in its register.

In March 2021, according to a VCI survey, she had registered: 885 mixed vets; 332 large veterinarians; and 893 companion veterinarians; with the remaining practitioners in other areas such as research, local government, government agencies, universities, etc.

As of July 30th, 768 veterinary practices are registered with the VCI, including: 352 mixed animal practices; 135 large animal practices; and 210 companion animal practices.

Concern about lack of vets

The issue of the shortage of large veterinarians was raised with the President of Veterinary Ireland on the basis of a recent concern expressed by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Navy (JOCAFM).

As part of its work on the new Veterinary Medicines Ordinance and an expected increased demand from veterinarians, as some medicines will require prescription, the JOCAFM asked the following questions:

  • If the number and location of veterinarians across the country working in veterinary practices is sufficient;
  • When due to the increased demand there are problems with the timely receipt of recipes for farmers.

In response, the President of Veterinary Ireland said that firstly, every rancher has a veterinarian – and must have a veterinarian – in order to be given a herd number.

Writing additional prescriptions can add to a veterinarian’s workload, but there are bigger issues to be resolved, and the President acknowledged that such issues – expected 24/7 availability, rosters, remuneration – are related to. Finding and keeping large animal vets are currently problematic.

VCI answer
Regarding JOCAFM’s concern, the VCI said there were no explicit concerns about the number and location of veterinarians across the country, but added: “Anecdotally, however, we recognize the increasing challenges in recruiting and retaining veterinarians in rural practices . The VCI will continue to monitor the registers of veterinarians and veterinarians and exchange relevant data. ”

More vets than ever?

When Conor qualified a little over 20 years ago, there were 2,000 veterinarians on the VCI register – including department veterinarians, retired veterinarians, industrial veterinarians – he said.

“The number of vets on the register has now risen to over 3,000, but it’s almost impossible to get one. It’s hard to know what’s going on, it really is, ”he said.

While he said he has generally been very lucky to attract and retain employees in the past, the opposite has been the case for other of his colleagues. And he recently got a taste for it after applying for an “attractive” position in his Galway practice and only receiving one application within 10 days.

On the whole, the number of people involved in the large animal practice has been stable enough so far, said Conor.

“And we know that from the Animal Health Computer System – this is our TB test system.

“We have approximately 950 vets registered on TB test cattle, and in general, if you are in the large animal practice, you are registered on TB test cattle. So that was stable enough. “

But today’s vets want a better work-life balance, and they want better paid for their work – multiple surveys show that – and if that demand isn’t met in the future, it won’t meet the demand for large vets either.

Interestingly, a survey of its members and non-members conducted by Veterinary Ireland found that whether they were satisfied with their job or not, they all had the same problems with their jobs: they didn’t have enough free time, and they weren’t paid enough obtain.

What vets want

The 2020-2021 Veterinary Practice Survey Report, published in February 2021 by the accounting and consulting firm HLB Sheehan Quinn, found that better work-life balance is the ultimate goal of 60% of veterinary practice owners and 85% of employees is.

It is worth noting that against the backdrop of Covid-19, many respondents reported that their workload increased during the pandemic.

The survey also found that 43% work more than 50 hours a week and 23% work more than 60 hours a week, although those who work the longest are typically sole traders and practice owners.

And personnel issues are the biggest challenge in most veterinary practices
Respondents (63%) planning to recruit additional veterinarians or veterinary nurses
next 12 months.

However, the survey also showed that job satisfaction is still trending upwards: 71% of those surveyed said they were satisfied with their choice of profession – an increase of 13% compared to the previous year. However, around one in ten veterinarians is dissatisfied with their career, although it is not clear what proportion of senior and companion veterinarians makes up this number.

While job satisfaction is positive, it is clear that questions about work practices, working hours, and pay – in the large animal practice – need to be addressed.

Between a rock …

“We know that it is not sustainable to work all night and then have to get up in the morning and go to work. But we have no alternative at the moment. We have conflicting laws here, ”said Conor.

“For example, with our TB test contracts with the DAFM: If you test at 9 a.m. on Monday, you have to read this test by 9 a.m. on Thursday (within 72 hours) or it is an illegal test.

“You cannot email the DAFM that you have worked all night and that the working time policy requires you to take an 11-hour break and test it at 2pm,” said Conor.

If a vet fails to perform a TB test by the time and date set by the DAFM, then “the DAFM will suspend operations for 42 days, you will be suspended from testing for three months and you will be retrained,” “he said.

If a veterinarian is unable to perform a TB test by the scheduled time, they must notify the DAFM via email, but the nature of the breed and the unpredictability of calls for veterinarians sometimes make this impossible.

“We have had situations in which vets were up all night and only went to bed at 5 a.m., but still had to get up in the morning and do their work because they are obliged to.”

Female workers

According to Conor, the average career length of a veterinarian in Ireland is seven years, compared to six in England. The care of the female veterinary staff is urgently needed, he said.

“If you consider that the training lasts five years, then it’s incredibly short. We need to find a model of veterinary practice that enables female veterinarians to have a career. ”

Corporate ownership

All in all, is there room in Ireland for veterinarians to be involved in businesses? While this is a controversial issue, could it provide a solution to some of these problems? There is a very clear no to that.

“We believe this [corporate ownership] would speed up what we were talking about here, ”he said.

“What we’ve found with corporate ownership and large animal practices is that more and more small vets are being hired and while there are two or three ox wrestlers like me they will go.” not to replace us. ”

According to Conor, these companies have determined through their bookkeeping that the practice of large animals is time-consuming and resource-intensive.

“So they’re going to pick what they want – drug sales and TB testing – and then they’re going to price the rest off the market so the vets don’t have to do it, much like in Donegal when a phone call came in after a practice change became a fee set at € 500.

“That means: ‘Don’t call us after work, let someone else do it’. If we all calculated that, nobody would call us in the middle of the night. ”

“Owning a business could be a great way out for veterinarians in their early 50s and 60s looking to sell their practice.

“But that will limit the options for younger vets and reduce service to farmers, no doubt we’ve seen it in every other jurisdiction.”