Recruitment crisis looms for veterinary sector

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A recruitment crisis is looming for the veterinary sector due to an increase in demand for veterinary services, an aging workforce and concerns over the work/life balance, according to a new survey.

Once over long working hours and low pay, particularly for women in the sector was highlighted by the Annual Veterinary Practice Survey.

It found that respondents earning less than €35,000 are mostly females working 31-40 hours a week, while four in 10 respondents work more than 50 hours a week, and 25pc of vets work more than 60 hours a week.

Despite this, over half of respondents said they’d recommend a career in veterinary medicine.

Earnings before tax “vary widely and while the top earners tend to be practice owners, those putting in long hours do not necessarily see their hard work reflected in earnings”, the survey found. Some practice owners working over 60 hours a week have pre- tax earnings in the €35-49,000 bracket, it states.

Large animal practices account for just 10pc of the practices surveyed, while mixed practices account for 38pc.

60pc of respondents who participated say their practice is currently experiencing staff shortages and 69pc plan to recruit additional staff in the next 12 months.

Further, 40pc of existing veterinary practice owners are considering selling their practices, a move that will further exacerbate the staff resource issue.

A shortage of young vets coming into the sector is also adding to the problem, with just 11pc of those surveyed aged 20 – 30, while over 47pc of the surveyed sector employees are over 51.

The work/life balance was the most important career aspiration for 68pc of respondents while owning their own practice was only important to 9pc.

55pc of respondents said there should be more practical experience provided for trainee vets.

Rising costs for the industry were also highlighted with the report showing that products such as disposable gowns, gloves and surgical drapes, all of which are associated with large animal practices as well as small and mixed, have increased on average 10pc, just this year.

The report also highlights that in recent times, several practices have joined forces to build capacity while around 30 Irish practices have been purchased by corporates, since 2019.

While some practitioners surveyed were concerned about this, the survey states that sentiment is improving with 32pc finding the entry of corporate entities to the market positive as opposed to just 18pc in last year’s survey.

While the benefits of corporatisation such as investment in facilities and equipment is acknowledged in the report, it also throws shade over corporate entities buying small practices, stating that trust relationships between the practice owner, clients and staff, which is the art of veterinary medicine, can “become muddied” when personalization is lost.

“We have found that growing demand for veterinary services is creating opportunities for ambitious practice owners but long hours and heavy workloads continue to be a heavy burden on many vets resulting in burnout,” Mark Butler, Managing Partner at HLB Sheehan Quinn said.

“No team, no money and the general public’s lack of understanding that veterinary care costs a lot,” is how one survey respondent summed up the challenges facing the veterinary sector.