Shortage of vets felt in the Magic Valley
TWIN FALLS — It used to be much easier for pet owners to seek help when they had a sick kitten or puppy.
Call the vet. Schedule a quick meeting.
Those days are over as southern Idaho and much of the rural United States faces a pet care crisis.
“Now it can take a few months of waiting for some things,” said Dr. Connie Rippel of Magic Valley Veterinary Hospital in Twin Falls.
The causes? Likely a combination of retirements, burnout, the pandemic, a burgeoning population of pet owners moving to Idaho, as well as pet owners adopting more pets during the pandemic.
Rippel said the situation was the worst in 30 years since the veterinary hospital started on Main Avenue South.
“We certainly understand why people are frustrated,” she said, “and we’re frustrated as well.”
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Daniel Mazella from Kimberly has been looking for a vet for weeks.
“Why don’t we have a vet who has a 24-hour service to help people in need?” He asked.
Fixing the problem isn’t as easy as posting a “Help Wanted” sign. Hiring vets isn’t easy, Rippel said, adding “there are advertisements for vets everywhere.”
Fortunately, Magic Valley Veterinary Hospital was able to hire another vet this summer, which allowed the clinic to begin accepting new patients. It was only temporary until the number of customers recovered; now the clinic is not accepting new patients.
The situation is common; many veterinary clinics state the policy of banning new patients on their telephone reception.
“We probably fire about 20 people every day,” Rippel said.
Magic Valley veterinarians work hard, and sometimes pets are stuck on already tight schedules, she said.
“We’re constantly busy from opening to closing, and sometimes after that,” Rippel said.
Their efforts do not go unnoticed by some people. “I think they’re superheroes and every time I’ve dealt with them they’ve been overwhelmed,” said Twin Falls’ Mirzet Suljic. “Anyone who could wear his shoes for a day, I believe, would understand that he is doing his best.”
Suljic said he had to humanely put his puppy down on his own when the pandemic hit hard and he couldn’t find a vet to examine his pet who was suffering from lymphoma.
There are too few vets in rural areas for everyone. The United States needs more veterinarians, especially in rural areas, and the US Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a growth rate of 19% through 2030, well above the average for occupations.
But being a veterinarian is stressful work, and statistics show that mental health is a concern as vets work longer and longer hours, Rippel said.
A recent report from the American Veterinary Medical Association indicates that staff turnover in veterinary practices is the highest of all medical fields. He cited poor work-life balance, stress and not feeling valued as the main reasons.
Daniel Hume, medical director for WestVet in Boise, said he also felt resources were stretched due to the shortage of vets. WestVet is a 24-hour facility that provides emergency care for animals, whether the center has seen the animal before or not. In addition, it offers a range of specialized services, including cardiology, dermatology and rehabilitation.
Hume didn’t have the number of Magic Valley clients who brought pets to his center, but M’Kenzie Cobb is one of them. She took her Australian cattle dog there last week.
“He got sick very early in the morning, and I didn’t want to wait for the vets to open here to potentially find out there was no way they could catch him,” Cobb said.
Healing Hands Small Animal Emergency Hospital in Twin Falls provides emergency animal care until midnight most days and has partnered with several other veterinary clinics.
Rippel advises pet owners who have not yet done so to establish themselves at a veterinary clinic. This will make it easier to book appointments in the event of a health emergency, she said.
Not only is there a shortage of veterinarians, but also of veterinary technicians.
A report released in March by Mars Veterinary Health said the shortage of veterinary technicians is expected to worsen and it will take 30 years of new graduates to meet the industry’s 10-year need for certified veterinary technicians.
The College of Southern Idaho offers the only certified veterinary technology program in Idaho.
A vet tech is not a veterinarian, explained program director Dr. Jody Rockett. It’s like a nurse assisting a doctor.
Her students love animals “first and foremost,” Rockett said. They also love science and medicine.
The CSI program typically trains fewer than 20 people a year, she said, which is not enough to meet demand.
“There are a lot of clinics there,” she said. And vet techs don’t typically last long in this profession, typically moving on in an average of seven years.
Idaho does not have a certified veterinarian program, but has an agreement with Washington State University to provide tuition discounts to up to 11 Idaho students per year.
Those numbers alone aren’t enough to resolve the situation, Hume said, and when it comes to veterinary and veterinary technology programs, Idaho has few resources.
Hume said the long-term solution is to get more people to become vets and vet techs.
In the meantime, he said Idaho needs to step up its efforts to recruit more vets to the state.
And it’s not just for small animals, Rippel said. Livestock farmers and farmers must have access to care for their livestock.
In April, 13 U.S. Senators, including Mike Crapo and Jim Risch of Idaho, co-sponsored the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program Enhancement Act that would help meet growing demand for vets nationwide by eliminating taxes on VMLRP that encourages veterinarians to practice in underserved areas. areas.
The bill was introduced in the House of Representatives.