More Pets, Less Vets = Veterinary Professional Shortage
Business is up for veterinary practices, but workforce numbers remain low. What can the industry do to address a veterinary professional shortage?
Vet-Advantage: What has it been like for veterinary clinics with the influx in pet adoptions and their bandwidth to handle it?
Bob Lester: Veterinary professionals are buried in appointments. It’s a two-edged sword. On the one hand, it’s wonderful that there has been an influx in new pet owners and a strengthened human-animal bond.
On the other hand, we have a workforce shortage. We didn’t get more vets and veterinary nurses entering the profession to match the increase in adoptions, not to mention the pets that Americans already had, that they’re now even more focused on because they’re home more. So, we’re definitely seeing an increase in business and the number of pets we care for.
I remain bullish on our profession. There has never been a better time to be a veterinary professional. Pet numbers are up, pet lifespans are up, pet spending is up, adoptions are up, euthanasias are down, the bond has never been stronger and veterinary professionals remain amongst the most admired. There are, however, four big issues that our profession is dealing with. One is the cost of care. Two is the cost of education. Three involves wellness in both people and pets. And four is the workforce shortage.
Vet-Advantage: How do we solve the workforce problem?
Lester: I think it could be solved not just in turning out more doctors and veterinary nurses, but by retaining our current veterinary nurses. We graduate over 8,200 veterinary nurses from over 200 schools every year compared to 3,200 veterinarians from just 32 schools. Yet veterinary nurses are leaving our profession on average by year seven. We have to honor and retain our veterinary nurses. We also need to look at how we can be more productive – not work harder, we are working way too hard already, but be more productive. By embracing wellness care, technicians and technology, we can care for more pets. The workforce shortage was an issue before COVID, and it’s more acute today
Vet-Advantage: What industry initiatives hold the most promise to address the workforce issues?
Lester: I see three ways to address the shortage. First, preventive care is a huge opportunity, particularly to help wellness issues amongst the profession by moving from dramatic and often stressful unbudgeted reactive care to more relationship-centered, proactive wellness care, and for pet parents by preventing disease and helping budget for well care through wellness plans. These plans grow revenue so that you can pay team members more.
Second, team-based health care delivery is a must. In human health, there are almost five licensed, empowered, well-paid professionals around an MD. For every dentist about three. For every veterinarian, there’s one. Despite graduating 2.5 veterinary nurses per doctor. We must retain our veterinary nurses. Shame on us. We don’t empower, pay, and honor our vet nurses the way we should.
The third solution, that’s happening today, is embracing technology. Telehealth, teletriage, cloud-based PIMs, artificial intelligence, texting – all of the things that help us bond and connect with the client more often and more meaningfully. Technology supports the close personal pet parent relationships our profession is known for and allows us to be more productive.
Embracing technology, honoring veterinary technicians, and promoting preventive care go a long way to addressing the workforce shortage and solving wellness issues.