Vet practices across Launceston are struggling to attract vets into much-needed positions as demand for vet services grows.
The struggles have been apparent for a number of years, but a number of vets in the region say it has been exacerbated by COVID-19.
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In the past, locum vets from interstate and overseas have filled a void in the workforce, but with border, uncertainty remaining, and international travel off the agenda altogether, the struggle has been amplified.
Launceston based Pets Life Veterinary Care owner Dr Jennifer Griffiths said the lack of vets around was having a profound impact.
"Attracting staff has been a problem," she said.
"I'm in a situation now where I'm looking for a vet and I have been for the last few months and I've not had a single application.
I'm in a situation now where I'm looking for a vet and I have been for the last few months and I've not had a single application.Dr Jennifer Griffiths, Pets Life Veterinary Care practice owner.
"The reality of it is [the lack of vets] is real, we are struggling to fill the positions of vets and there does appear to be a real shortage that we just can't to get anyone to take jobs."
Dr Griffiths said, as a result, she routinely worked 12 to 14 hour days to come as close as she could to satisfying the demand she was experiencing.
Dr Griffiths opened up a vet clinic in Legana in 2017 before expanding to Launceston Canal Street spot she is in now.
She said the expansion was necessary because demand had outgrown what she could provide from the Legana spot.
After expanding she was able to fill a vet position but since then attracting workers has remained difficult.
Charles Street-based Animal Medical Centre's practice manager Matthew Godfrey said he was well aware of the shortage of vets applying to work in rural and regional areas.
Mr Godfrey said the problem was well discussed across the industry as it tried to grapple with a way forward.
"Over the last 20 years people have come to fundamentally own more animals," he said.
"So there's a greater demand and there hasn't been, in the past, enough graduates.
By the time there is a shortage, there is a 10 or 15 year lag of getting new students into universities, getting them through, and getting them up to speed and trained.Animal Medical Centre practice manager Matthew Godfrey
Mr Godfrey said the demand for vets even in Launceston was so great Animal Medical Centre could have three full-time vets employed and easily advertise a fourth position.
"We're constantly having to go and tell clients we cannot see you for a week, or two weeks, or three weeks because we're full," he said.
It's a theme across Launceston and has extended up into the North-West with vets in at least Penguin and Burnie experiencing the same issues - too many clients, not enough vets.
What's the way forward?
Both Dr Griffiths and Mr Godfrey said the problem started at a tertiary level where students came out of university underprepared for the harshness and workload of the industry.
While the veterinary studies degree had the highest average cost at $49,000, a graduate-level salary in the field pales in comparison to other medicine based occupations at between $60 and $70,000 a year.
Even at the top end a vet without their own practice is expected to earn around $150,000.
On average a vet's full-time annual income is about $84,000 compared to around $150,000 for dentists and general practitioners despite all the occupations requiring a medical degree.
The Australian Veterinary Association has long called for fee support for veterinarian education which they believe would help reduce attrition in the profession.
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Both Dr Griffiths and Mr Godfrey said the amount of vets who enter the workforce and become quickly burnt-out was as high as in any profession.
The AVA has also encouraged the federal government to develop incentives to attract and retain veterinary graduates to rural and remote areas. They have projected about 800 vets are needed across Australia to fulfil current demand.
Mr Godfrey said, even still, an increase in students undertaking veterinarian degrees now and subsequently completing them, would mean the problem would still likely take 10 years to be solved.
At present a vicious cycle exists in the industry where demands for vets is so high they are forced to work beyond their means causing burn-out. The burn-out forces them back out of the workforce, causing demand on vets that remain in the workforce to increase.
Dr Griffiths said the cycle was at its worst since pet ownership increased and COVID-19 impacted the availability of vets, leaving her "exhausted".
I think it has highlighted a massive need for vets. It's created an even bigger workload on the remaining vets in the profession.Dr Jennifer Griffiths, Pets Life Veterinary Care practice owner.
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