I don’t mean to sound dramatic, but veterinary medicine is on the brink of a true crisis. The simple truth of the matter is that there are not enough of us to care for all of your pets. During the pandemic, so many people got new dogs and cats, which is wonderful, but also dramatically increased the demand for vet care around the world. What didn’t change with this huge spike in pets in need? The number of veterinarians to care for them….. did you know that there are only 28 veterinary colleges in the United States?? To give you some perspective, there are 155 human medical schools. Each of these veterinary colleges also has an average class size of about 100-125 students….so, there are not enough of us to care for the thousands and thousands of new pets that are out there needing care. And because these pets are here to stay, this problem is not going away any time soon.
To make matters worse, our numbers have actually gone DOWN during the pandemic in some ways as some of my colleagues have left the field due to burn out, stress, family changes, or to pursue non-practicing careers in veterinary medicine. And this is true for both veterinarians and support staff numbers. I have written about it before, but vet med has a very high rate of suicide and burn out as compared to other medical and professional fields. We deal with a lot of really heavy situations that are stressful and hard, and don’t have as much mental health support as our human medicine counterparts. We are often expected (and needed) to go from one room where we are helping a family say goodbye to their cat who has been their best friend for 15 years, right into another where we are laughing with a family welcoming the happy antics of their new puppy. It’s heavy, it’s hard, and it’s emotionally draining at times. Lots of us have had to cut back, or change what we are doing as a coping mechanism – which is completely fair, but leaves our field even MORE in need. This goes the same for the front desk and the nursing teams – it is ridiculously hard to hire people right now, and so many awesome people have left the field to pursue other careers that are less stressful, have higher pay, more flexible hours, the list goes on.
I’m sure many of you have also heard some of the stories of the backlash of this shortage – the 10+ hour wait at the emergency facilities or people being turned away, the 24 hour hospitals having to close some nights and weekends due to lack of staff, the small hospitals (like mine) who are turning away new clients and struggling to fit people in.
Trust me when I say this – we WANT to help all of you. Truly. We can just only physically handle so much in one day – there is only so much time in a day and so many patients need us. At Pennridge alone, we saw more appointments last month than we have seen in any other month since we have been open, and we aren’t taking new clients and haven’t been for over a year now. All of us as doctors are constantly squeezing in ‘just one more’ patient in need to try to help all of you. We are there late every night, and are struggling to keep up with our charts and demands because we truly want to help every patient that we can. And I know my support staff feels the same way – it kills the front desk team to have to turn people away every single day, multiple times a day! Same with the technicians – we all feel horrible but at some point, there has to be that moment when we say no, or we can’t provide the proper care and attention to the pets in front of us.
Veterinary medicine is hard….and you know what makes it harder? Feeling like you are failing, or worse yet – being treated cruelly or being met with anger because you can’t help someone or someone is frustrated because they had to wait or couldn’t get in for an appointment. I feel pretty blessed that our practice has not had to deal with this much – we have some really great clients! BUT, there are lots of practices who are fielding a ton of angry people, and we have seen our fair share too.
I don’t have the answer, I don’t think any of us do just yet. But I guess my point in all of this is a reminder about kindness. Vet med is hard. This is a HARD job – it’s busy, stressful, and incredibly emotionally draining. My team is tired and stressed, and there is no end in sight. Until our industry can catch up, or figure out a way to get more vets in the workforce, please give us some grace and some patience. This job is already tough, and people being mean just makes things harder. You might have to wait a little longer for a call-back, or a few more days to get in for a non-urgent problem – but I promise you, we are here to help and we are doing the best that we can. Please thank your veterinarian and their team the next time you are in – we definitely don’t hear it enough, and can use all the support and love that we can get right now.
Want to read more about this problem? Here’s a great article that talks more about the great veterinary shortage - https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2022/07/not-enough-veterinarians-animals/661497/?utm_source=feed&fbclid=IwAR3SkpEymPZq-tP8Knoed8X4fRs8fk-QKr7gRqhyPXtbflGnezedg6fzKyw
Be kind out there people 😊