Australia’s pets could be at risk as increasing numbers of veterinarians leave the industry amid ongoing stress and poor pay, a new survey has found.
The Lincoln Institute survey found nearly 90 per cent of veterinary business owners and managers reported unprecedented difficulty filling vacancies over the past two-to-three years.
Of those, 41 per cent waited longer than six months to fill positions while 18 per cent waited up to two years or more to find new vets for their clinics.
Lincoln Institute co-director and veterinary surgeon Gary Turnbull says the shortage isn’t because there’s a lack of recent graduates but because people are leaving the profession in “droves”.
“I have been a vet for 23 years, personally I’m starting to back away from the industry,” Dr Turnbulll told AAP.
“I feel like I can’t keep going at the pace I have for so long.
“Seeing the pain that veterinary business owners and their teams are going through right now is alarming.”
A separate survey of working vets found about 37 per cent were considering leaving the industry within a year, while 40 per cent were contemplating leaving their current job.
Stress, poor work conditions and low renumeration were listed as the top reasons.
The survey also found 40 per cent would not recommend being a veterinarian.
The government has flagged the shortage, with data from the Department of Jobs and Small Business revealing 28 per cent of vet vacancies were filled last year, with about 1.5 applicants per vacancy.
Dr Turnbull is calling on the government to help fast-track and encourage foreign vets to fill vacancies.
Vets are four times more likely to commit suicide than others, which is double the rate of doctors, pharmacists, dentists and nurses.
“We’re dealing with emotion and grief all day every day and it’s hard not to take some of that on board,” Dr Turnbull says.
“A lot of practices are struggling to be profitable at all. For those that do, the owners are often not paying themselves an appropriate salary.”
It costs about $1-2 million to set up a clinic, he added.
In order to be registered, clinics have to offer out-of-hours emergency care.
And while there are specialist emergency clinics in capital cities, Dr Turnbull says regional and rural areas don’t have the numbers to support it.
Even on late-night call outs pet owners often complain to vets about the cost, he says.
“This is the attitude that wears you down. You don’t feel particularly appreciated.”
“The closest comparison that people typically have is their own medical care, which in some aspects is so heavily subsidised.”
An industry steering group is currently working through the issues flagged, with a working paper with recommendations expected for release in March.