COVID has wreaked havoc on the veterinary industry causing veterinary professionals to struggle with staffing shortages, inventory shortages, and an inability to treat the same number of pets as before the pandemic. Our team at Animal Emergency Care wants to explain how COVID has affected veterinary medicine and what this means for you and your pet.
Staffing shortages are taking a toll on the veterinary industry
Staffing shortages have been a problem for the veterinary medicine industry for many years, and the pandemic has exacerbated the issue as veterinary professionals work long difficult hours to treat as many pets as possible. Not only are veterinary staffs strained by the absences caused when team contract or are exposed to COVID, but they also are at high risk for compassion fatigue and burnout.
- Veterinarians — Most veterinarians will say they never considered any other occupation, and they determinedly worked through undergraduate studies and veterinary school to achieve their goal. For many, that extensive schooling has led to debt and an ever-present cause of stress. Adding to the stress is the desire to cure every patient they see and the frustration and feeling of failure when they lose a patient, particularly when they have to euthanize the pet. Pet owners also sometimes contribute to veterinarians’ stress if they get upset when their emotional needs aren’t met or their pet’s prognosis is poor. While all of these factors were an issue before the pandemic, COVID has aggravated the situation. According to a report released by the Amercian Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), veterinarians are 2.7 times more likely than the general public to die by suicide and one in six has contemplated suicide. To deal with the increased stress, many veterinarians have cut back on hours while others have left the field entirely. As a result, many practices are struggling to find veterinarians to fill positions. That means they can’t treat as many pets as they would like.
- Veterinary technicians — Veterinarian technicians are a critical component of successful veterinary practices, but they also are susceptible to compassion fatigue and burnout. Male veterinary technicians are five times and female veterinary technicians are 2.3 times more likely to take their own lives. These individuals face many of the same stressors and challenges as veterinarians. They tend to be high achievers, work long hours for low pay, and become invested emotionally in the pets they treat. This dedication can take a significant mental and physical toll, leading to mental health concerns and difficulty in filling open team positions.
Inventory shortages are taking a toll on the veterinary industry
At the height of the pandemic many veterinarians donated their personal protective equipment for use in human medicine which resulted in the postponement of elective procedures. They also faced shortages of disinfectants and cleaning supplies which prevented them from seeing the number of pets they typically would examine each day. Now most areas have reopened and these postponed appointments and procedures have to be scheduled. However the backlog makes it difficult for practices to schedule new appointments and procedures promptly. The current supply chain problems have also caused a shortage of several veterinary pharmaceutical products.
Overwhelmed general practices are overflowing to veterinary emergency practices
The pandemic has forced many general practices to close and others have stopped taking appointments so they can catch up on their backlogs. When pet owners can’t get an appointment at their regular veterinarian, they often take their pet to an emergency practice such as Animal Emergency Care for non-emergency problems. This leads to swamped emergency practices and long wait times.
Capacity limitations are taking a toll on the veterinary industry
Here at Animal Emergency Care, we are limited to one to three emergency veterinarians at any given time because of the nationwide shortage of veterinarians and veterinary technicians. We are currently able to treat an average of 60 patients per day using 17 routine admin beds, six temporary treatment beds, three isolation beds, and one critical care bed. As a result, our hospital is almost always at capacity. We are committed to caring for your cherished pets and we refuse to jeopardize their care. In addition, our top priority is caring for those patients who are in critical condition. This means we may not be able to see your pet as quickly as you would like.
As a pet owner, you can help our veterinary professionals by being understanding when you talk with them and by practicing patience while you wait for your pet to be evaluated. Please call your family veterinarian for any non-emergency issues with your pet, and if your pet is experiencing a veterinary emergency after hours, contact our team at Animal Emergency Care. #AECprevents