Strained Veterinarians—What Pet Owners Should Know

Veterinary professionals face long hours, stressful situations, and, in some cases, depressing outcomes, and COVID-19 has only exacerbated the strain on these individuals. Veterinarians are overwhelmed right now, and, unfortunately, this situation results in longer wait times to schedule an appointment for your pet. Our team at Kennedy Heights Animal and Bird Hospital wants to explain what is behind these issues, so you can understand why your patience is so important during this time.

Pandemic protocols have strained the veterinary profession

Social distancing and extra cleaning measures became necessary when COVID-19 arrived in 2020, and these protocols had veterinary practices scrambling to ensure the steps were taken, while continuing to provide appropriate care for pet patients. Adhering to these measures made seeing the same number of pets we usually treat in a day an impossibility. Curbside appointments and thoroughly disinfecting between each appointment were necessary to keep our clients and staff safe and healthy, but these protocols severely damaged our ability to be efficient.

A work backlog has strained the veterinary profession

Since we weren’t able to see as many pet patients as usual during the height of the pandemic, we were forced to prioritize those pets who were sick or injured and needed immediate care. This meant that routine visits, such as vaccination appointments, wellness visits, and spay and neuter procedures, were postponed to make time for pets facing more serious issues. However, these appointments and procedures can’t be postponed forever, and we are now trying to address these pet’s needs, while still scheduling new appointments. This means our veterinary professionals are working long hours to accommodate as many pets and pet owners as possible.

Staffing shortages have strained the veterinary profession

Veterinarians and veterinary technicians were in short supply before the pandemic, and COVID-19 has only magnified this problem. In addition to absences caused by sickness and virus exposure, burnout is a huge factor leading to staffing shortages in the veterinary field. Veterinary professionals face significant stress, leading to mental health issues. The suicide rate in the veterinary profession is twice that seen in human medicine professionals, and four times the general population rate. Many factors contribute to this professional exhaustion.

  • Compassion fatigue — The veterinary medical field attracts individuals who demonstrate a high level of compassion and empathy, and a drive to help pets. Dealing with illness and death on a daily basis, delivering bad news to pet owners, dealing with animal cruelty cases, and seeing clients struggle to balance their financial needs with their pet’s needs can cause veterinary professionals to overuse their compassion skills, decreasing their usual ability to feel and care for others. These individuals start to feel apathetic and isolated, which makes them dread going to work every day.
  • Financial struggles — Veterinary school is expensive, and the veterinary profession is not as lucrative as some people believe. In 2018, the average veterinary student in the United States graduated with about $150,000 in student debt, and the average annual wage for veterinarians that same year was $93,830, with starting salaries significantly lower. This dichotomy can make managing finances difficult for practicing veterinarians, adding an extra burden to their already strained circumstances.
  • Negative reviews — Social media allows anyone to voice their opinions online, and this includes disgruntled pet owners. Veterinarians are routinely asked to provide veterinary care for free or at a discounted rate when an owner can’t afford their pet’s treatment, and when these requests are denied, many people write online negative reviews about the veterinarian. An American Veterinary Medical Association study in 2014 revealed that clients cyberbullied approximately one in five veterinarians, and this number is likely higher now. Reading this vitriol can demoralize a veterinary professional who spent their day doing the best they could to help pets and save lives.

When coping with burnout, many veterinary professionals decide to preserve their mental health by working fewer hours, or, in some cases, leaving the field entirely to find less stressful work conditions. This creates staffing shortages, leaving veterinary teams short-handed and overwhelmed.

You can help decrease the strain on veterinary professionals

We want to provide the best care possible for your pet, and you can help by taking a few steps to decrease the strain on our veterinary professionals.

  • Practice patience — When you call to schedule an appointment, or when you interact with our staff members while at the hospital, be patient and understanding. Everyone here has your pet’s best interest at heart, and we are doing everything in our power to ensure every pet gets the care they need. By staying calm and patient, you allow our team to do what they need to do as quickly and efficiently as possible.
  • Schedule early — When you know your pet will be due for routine work in the upcoming months, go ahead and schedule their appointment, rather than waiting until a few days before the due date.
  • Be vigilant — Observe your pet closely, so you will recognize subtle signs that could indicate a problem. This will help avoid their condition becoming an emergency before signs are noticed.

The pandemic has packed a punch to the veterinary profession, but we can get through this difficult time with your help and support. If your pet is due for vaccines in a few months, contact our American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA)-accredited team at Kennedy Heights Animal and Bird Hospital as soon as possible to schedule their appointment.