Pet clinics

Soaring pet owners, angry customers are causing vet burnout


  • Vets say they have been under tremendous pressure during the pandemic.
  • Booming ownership and COVID-19 restrictions have exacerbated long-standing challenges in the industry.
  • Recruiters say staff are increasingly looking to cut back hours, which could make the problem worse.

Alice Moore, a veterinarian, loves her job, but says the past two years have been “horrible”.

She spent six years as a veterinarian based in Trowbridge, Wiltshire, South West England, after five years of training. Although she adores animals, Moore said the pandemic has left her struggling at times to find the motivation to get down to business.

Pandemic restrictions limited her work to emergency care and she often had to consult with owners in the practice parking lot, she said.

As a veterinarian, you have a duty of care to your animals, and not being able to provide the usual service is disheartening, Moore told Insider. Absences due to COVID-19 outbreaks – or when schools were closed during national lockdown have added to the anxiety that accompanies work during a pandemic.

“I feel like this job is going to destroy me one day, but I just can’t leave it,” Moore said.

Alice Moore.

Alice Moore.

Yasmin Chant / Garston Veterinary Group

His experience is typical of many people working as veterinarians over the past two years. Industry bodies and the veterinarians themselves say this leads a lot to burnout.

A recruiter Insider spoke to said more vets wanted to reduce their surgical hours, and warned that this could exacerbate long-standing challenges over working conditions in the industry.

The intense workloads, magnified by the emotional burden often associated with caring for seriously ill animals, can leave many vets overworked, said James Russell, senior vice president of the British Veterinary Association. In the UK, Brexit has led to a further shortage of qualified personnel.

COVID-19 has exacerbated these problems, at a time when demand for services is skyrocketing.

More than 3 million British families have bought pets since the start of the pandemic, according to a Pet Food Manufacturing Association investigation. In the United States, that number is estimated at 10 million.

Some surgeries have stopped registering new clients so they can stay on top of demand, putting additional pressure on surgeries that kept their books open.

It hasn’t necessarily resulted in vets working longer hours – they typically work 40 hours a week – but it has increased the pressure on them.

“My lunch breaks over the past two years have probably lasted around 10 minutes,” Rory Cowlam, a veterinarian with five years of experience caring for small animals in a surgery in Dulwich, an upscale London, told Insider. . “The pressure of time is absolutely insane,” he added.

Many vets have struggled to provide customers with the level of service they typically expect, Cowlam said.

This can make customers unhappy, and some have even targeted staff.

According to a British Medical Association survey published in July 2021, 57% of vets said they felt threatened or intimidated at work – a 10 percentage point increase from 2019. The problem was more pronounced in small private clinics, like these. that Moore and Cowlam are working.

Cowlam said people opposed him and that he saw his colleagues being mistreated. Although Moore suffered no physical abuse, she said that “the constant and low level chronic dissatisfaction and backlash day in and day out becomes very disheartening.”

Both say the overwhelming majority of customers, however, are understanding and polite.

Veterinarians want to reduce their hours

Cowlam admits he’s one of the lucky ones – he only spends three days a week working in a clinic, a schedule he adopted two years ago to focus on his other work on television and as a author writing on the sector.

Moore plans to reduce her days at the clinic from four to three days, she said.

The trend for veterinary personnel to seek roles outside of surgery is increasingly common.

“We get a lot of calls every week from vets or nurses asking us to find them non-clinical work – working for agriculture or nutrition roles where they can use their skills for non-clinical roles,” Justin Powlesland, CEO and Founder of Recruitment of JHP, which specializes in the veterinary industry in the UK and US, told Insider.

Others reduce their hours by becoming temporary workers – known as back-ups – said Powlesland.

“They know they are going to be worked to the bone during those three days, but know they can make as much, if not more money than a permanent position,” he said.

Neither Cowlam nor Moore have any plans to leave the industry full time. Many of the immediate challenges posed by the pandemic will subside over time, they said – but both have expressed concerns about their professions at times.

“If the veterinary industry is in disarray and we can’t provide the service that animals need, then pet owners across the country are screwed,” Cowlam said.

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