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ALEXANDRIA, VIRGINIA –
In addition to challenging medical workers, the pandemic has overwhelmed veterinarians, who report increasing demand for pet care as many Americans made furry friends while incarcerated at home.
Getting to a veterinary clinic has been frustrating for a growing number of pet owners.
“I had no problem seeing my vet before the pandemic,” said Mila Helmsford, a dog owner in Alexandria Virginia, as she went for a walk with Bailey, her golden retriever. “Now when I call to make an appointment, I am told it could take several days or more before the vet can see my dog. And that worries me, especially when Bailey is not doing well. ”
Veterinarians say that due to social distancing and other pandemic restrictions, they were unable to treat the same number of pets per day as they did before the pandemic, resulting in a backlog.
“People have more pets than ever before, and many of them got their animals during the pandemic,” said Jessica Vogelsang, chief medical officer of the American Animal Hospital Association, a nonprofit pet clinic. “So there is an increased demand for veterinary services.”
Because pet owners face long waits, many veterinarians struggle with burnout from stress, long hours, and a poor work-life balance, said David Lee, director of Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine.
“Some of them cut their hours or leave because they are so frustrated,” he said.
“I firmly believe there is a shortage of veterinarians in the US,” Rustin Moore, dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine at Ohio State University, told VOA. “I’ve heard from a lot of vets that they have difficulty hiring the vets they need for their practices.”
“The shortage of veterinarians is acute and chronic,” said Mark Cushing, founder and CEO of the Animal Policy Group, an organization focused on animal care.
Others believe that there is no actual scarcity, just a perception of one.
“I think this shortage exists because pet owners can’t see their veterinarian as quickly as they’d like,” said Jose Arce, president of the American Veterinary Medical Association, an organization that represents more than 90,000 veterinarians on The US Arce said his organization’s data does not reflect a shortage.
Despite the challenges within the profession, interest in becoming a veterinarian has not waned, said Moore of Ohio State. If anything, he said there weren’t enough veterinary training schools to meet demand, noting that “applications from highly skilled people have increased significantly”.
One of the newest programs is the University of Arizona College of Veterinary Medicine, which had its first course last year.
“We have a three-year program instead of the usual four-year program,” said Katie Bergingson, director of admissions and student affairs. “That means we can get our graduates into working life faster, especially in communities where veterinarians are really needed.”
And many students say that veterinary medicine is more than a calling, it’s a passion.
“I love animals. I enjoy them so much,” said Deianira Smith, a 26-year-old veterinary student who wants to teach people how to better take care of their animals.
Animal Policy Group’s Cushing believes that veterinary practices need to be more efficient and ready for a new normal with high demand and high expectations.
“Millennials now own 60% of all pets and require higher levels of services, including medical advice,” he said. “They can do more with their animals.”
Arce of the American Veterinary Medical Association sees veterinary clinics as another prime for telemedicine and better use of technicians to support overworked veterinarians.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, veterinary positions are expected to grow 16% through 2029.
It can’t come soon enough for both vets and their customers.
“I know the veterinary clinic I am taking my dog to is doing its best right now,” said San Francisco-based dog owner Kayla Lewis. “But I hope I won’t have to worry about going to my vet for too long. My dog Shadow is like a member of my family. “