These days, Dr Shay Redfield has said the pattern is the same.
His practice, West Marin Pet Hospital in Fairfax, is “booked solid, weeks later,” said the vet, who said it had been “10 to 12 hours a day, five days a week” since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Redfield and other Marin vets say the county is part of a growing national trend – a shortage of vets capable of treating an ever-growing number of pets. The cause is complex, county practitioners said. As of spring 2020, pet clinics are facing more customers – with record adoptions in home orders – and fewer staff and resources than ever before.
Fatigue has set in for many, who are struggling to meet the needs of pets across the county, they said.
“Most of the veterinary surgeries are full and it is rare to welcome a new office into our community,” said Dr Mary Press of Larkspur Landing Veterinary Hospital. “I refuse between 10 and 20 new potential customers per day.
Dr Laura Landman of the San Anselmo Veterinary Hospital said her clinic is trying to take on additional cases, knowing that other doctors are reserved. “But that means we don’t have time in our workdays to do the rest of our work,” Landman said.
Hiring new vets to join a Marin practice has been challenged by the county’s high cost of living, multiple doctors said. The country’s vets earned a median salary of $ 95,460 in 2019. The highest-paid 25% earned $ 122,590 that year, while the lowest-paid 25% made $ 75,580, according to American News and World Report.
“Clinics everywhere have been busier, so more practices are competing for new graduates,” said Dr. Aaron Wentzell of the Fairfax Veterinary Clinic. It took over a year to hire a new vet in his practice, he said. Over the past few years, he has had several candidates.
The press highlighted the slow growth of educational institutions and a disproportionate workload for women.
“While it is always competitive to enter a veterinary school, the number of veterinary schools in the United States has hardly increased over the past 30 years,” she said. The gender gap in the industry – 85% of the workforce is female – puts additional pressure as female doctors juggle household and childcare tasks that can affect uptime for customers, she added.
Firms also struggle to hire core and support staff. Front desk jobs average about $ 19 an hour, according to the Glassdoor website. Nationally, salaries for veterinary technologists and technicians averaged $ 35,320 in 2019 – $ 42,540 at the high end and $ 29,080 at the low end, according to US News & World Report.
Landman, owner of her practice, said she has always struggled to hire support staff in Marin due to the cost of living. Despite the increase in wages, she said, “we just don’t have anyone applying.”
At Fairfax, Redfield said new hires often don’t show up for work. To close the gap, she said, “I think we need to take a step back and say… we need to charge more for services in order to pay our staff better.”
Additionally, large companies buying out local practices are part of the hiring and service issues, vets agreed. In 1994, “there was no company hospital in Marin” and today 70% are owned by companies, making it difficult for small practitioners to compete for staff and part of the pharmaceutical business. Press and Redfield said.
Supply shortages have also been a problem since the start of the pandemic, vets said.
Wentzell first said medical practices hurt everywhere for hygiene supplies, such as syringes, alcohol and disinfectants.
Now clinics are struggling to get everything from regular drugs to prescription foods. Redfield said she was anticipating the pandemic based on epidemiological reports in December 2019 and had ordered supplies for her clinic. But they continue to need more personal protective equipment.
Vets said the lack of supplies combined with more appointments is creating frustration among clients accustomed to shorter wait times and longer consultations. The American Veterinary Medical Association, based in Schaumburg, Ill., Reported a 4.5% increase in appointments in 2020 over 2019 and a further 5% increase in 2021.
Meanwhile, fewer physicians are staying in the industry and fewer graduates are arriving to take their places. Doctors said work pressure, long known for its high suicide rate, was likely part of the problem.
For more than three decades, veterinarians have been more likely to die by suicide than the general population, and women have overtaken men, according to a pre-pandemic study published in 2018 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. Seventy-five percent of vets worked in a small animal practice, the study notes.
A 2014 American Veterinary Medical Association survey of 11,627 American veterinarians indicated that 9% of them suffered from psychological distress.
“It’s a stressful industry, compounded by many different stressors,” Redfield said. “It’s by far, I think, the best job in the world… but it can be really tiring and emotional.”
“I think things need to change… it’s not a sustainable model that we have right now,” Landman said. “We can’t do what we used to do anymore, it’s just physically impossible.”
If you need help, or know someone who needs it, call Marin’s 24/7 Suicide and Crisis Prevention Hotline at 415 499-1100 .