Guest blog by Dr. KristyAnn Brock DVM, CCRP, CVA
Veterinary Medicine and Veterinary Medical Professionals
Historically, veterinary medical professionals have been held in high regard by the general public. Gallup polls, which annually survey the public regarding career fields, show that veterinarians even outrank human medical doctors (1). To further support this trend, 606 people were surveyed regarding differences between veterinary physicians and human physicians (2). The surveyors noted that veterinary physicians are more approachable, sensitive, sympathetic, patient and understanding compared to their human physician counterparts. The authors of this particular paper declared their opinion that it is imperative for veterinary educators to assist veterinary students in realizing just how important the public’s positive opinion of them is, and that they should uphold that trust. They deduced that using public trust as a foundation in a student’s medical training could enhance their self-concept, self-esteem and overall mental health and well-being.
Currently, veterinary medicine is in an unprecedented state with a substantial shortage of veterinarians. A MARS Veterinary Health study estimates that nearly 75 million pets in the US will not receive adequate medical care by 2030 if we do not correct this shortage. If we continue to graduate veterinary students at our current rate (an increase of 2.7% annually), we will fall short nearly 41,000 veterinarians by the end of the decade. (3)
Many hypotheses are proposed to explain this shortage. Factors include a generational interest in pet ownership, resulting in an increased pet population in homes. This is combined with COVID pandemic pet adoptions, estimated at 23 million in total. While the population of owned pets is increasing, there is also a fallout of the number of currently practicing veterinarians. Inherent problems within the veterinary world may include, but are not limited to, burnout, compassion fatigue, student debt to income ratio, and lack of diversity within the veterinary profession.
A national survey completed in April of 2021 (during the COVID 19 pandemic) provided alarming results (4). 35% of current veterinary staff (doctors and technicians) had plans of leaving the veterinary medical field over the next 3 to 5 years. It is this blog writer’s opinion that we have yet to realize how this will affect and transform the current culture of veterinary medicine! A burnout survey (5) completed in the same year with 1000 participants reported that their veterinary job included high levels of stress, physical and mental exhaustion, and feeling a sense of dread when thinking about work.
Furthermore, national salary averages for veterinary care workers fall short when compared to their similarly skilled counter-parts in human medicine. Consequently, this income gap is a proposed reason for veterinary care workers matriculating to similar health care jobs in human medicine, for better compensation. This adds another layer of complexity to the issue, but further explains why a person may want to abandon a career in veterinary medicine.
Since burnout is occurring at alarming rates, it is more important than ever for veterinary care workers to be educated and coached in self- care techniques, while also ensuring a supportive work environment and safe work culture. The focus cannot solely be on increasing the number of veterinary school graduates to combat the shortage. Keeping current veterinary care workers happy and healthy is imperative if we are to ensure adequate pet care for all in the future.
A challenging topic to measure or assess within the veterinary world is alignment of an individual’s beliefs and mission with the company for which they work. Many veterinary care workers view their jobs much like a vocation or calling. Therefore, when there is a mismatch between a company’s practiced core values and mission and those of the individual employee, the end result is usually one of job dissatisfaction.
The veterinary world has also seen an evolution from many small businesses to larger corporate owner practices. This may not be apparent to the general public, as these large corporate practices may not change a hospital’s name and may not even place their “brand” on doors or paperwork.
Making a difference at 1st Pet Veterinary Centers
1st Pet Veterinary Centers in Arizona is a unique model and one that may be more attractive to employees who desire the benefits of a larger practice with options for mentorship, ease of specialty referral, and collaboration. Our 3-hospital practice encompasses one of the more comprehensive care centers in Phoenix, Arizona, offering emergency, urgent care, primary care and specialty services.
One of the reported factors leading to veterinary care worker burnout is often the feeling of not having a vote or a voice in the day-to-day operations of a company. The consideration that sets 1st Pet Veterinary Centers apart from all other veterinary practices in the United States is that it is the only 100% employee owned veterinary practice to date. This means that the culture at 1st Pet is one centered around open-book management and team member engagement. It is unique to veterinary care in that ALL employees have a direct influence in the future of their company. Many employees of all job descriptions hold membership on committees that help run the daily operations. All are encouraged to have an active role in the practice. Team members are valued and asked for their opinions regularly on how to improve care of the patient as well as how to improve client service. Management also does routine check in with employees and peer reviews.
Other components attributed to veterinary care worker burnout are insufficient training, room for advancement, and lack of career goals. While 1st Pet is considered a large company, we do not sacrifice any quality of care, for team members, patients, or clients.
While some companies set the bar at obtaining an AAHA certification, 1st Pet Veterinary Centers has taken it a step further. We are the only Fear Free certified practice in the state of Arizona – requiring annual audits, and 100% of our employees to be Fear Free certified. We have obtained the qualifications to be a Gold level Cat Friendly practice. We also maintain a meticulous veterinary assistant and technician training program to encourage and support career advancement and job satisfaction. Both veterinary technicians and veterinarians are awarded continuing education funds and many in-house training opportunities, to help further their learning and job fulfillment.
In 2022, 1st Pet was also one of the first hospitals in Arizona to employ a full-time veterinary social worker to help support both our clients and our team members. We aim to have veterinary social work (VSW) available at all 3 hospitals, with dedicated LMSWs and a robust VSW internship training program. Veterinary social work is a growing field and aims to help clients make difficult decisions for their pet’s care and support for end-of-life choices. In addition, veterinary social workers advocate for 1st Pet team members, offering resources to combat compassion fatigue, burn-out, stress, and moral dilemmas they often are faced with on a daily basis.
Lastly and perhaps the most important of all – at 1st Pet Veterinary Centers, we stand with the following core values that exemplify our mission of PET CARE.
Professional– We are professional in our words and actions with clients. We aim to be knowledgeable, respectful, and thorough.
Exceptional– We give the best and most consistent care, making sure to take that extra step. We strive for continual improvement and growth. We go above and beyond what is expected in patient care and client service.
Trustworthy– We demonstrate integrity in all actions with clients, patients, and teammates. 1st Pet is a safe place to discuss and learn from mistakes.
Compassionate– Above all we treat our patients, clients and teammates with compassion. Kindness is key to our culture and we make sure to validate others’ feelings.
Accountable– We take responsibility for our actions and hold each other accountable to the standards of care we aim to provide to our patients and clients. We strive for knowledge and learning.
Reliable– We aim to be reliable to each other as well as our clients & patients. We make sure we follow through with our intentions and act as a cohesive team with patient care. We are always willing to help.
Engaged– We want our employees to have a vote in decisions that directly affect them and their daily work. Every employee is included. Employees have sincere interest in the future of 1st Pet.
In conclusion, the current state of veterinary medicine is one that can be viewed as bleak, but it can also be regarded as a great opportunity for transformation and growth. If we can foster work environments that help people stay true to their desires to be of service to the animals and people in their community, while providing resources for mental well-being, job advancement and satisfaction, as well as financial security — then everyone wins. We can either be scared and intimidated about the task at hand. Or we can be brave and use this opportunity to inspire us to transform the veterinary medicine culture into something even more rewarding and beautiful.
If you would like to learn more about career opportunities with 1st Pet visit us here.
- Gallup Poll. 2007. Honesty/Ethics in Professions. Retrieved from https://news.gallup.com/poll/1654/honesty-ethics-professions.aspx
- Kedrowicz, A.A.; Royal, K.D. A Comparison of Public Perceptions of Physicians and Veterinarians in the United States. Sci.2020, 7, 50. https://doi.org/10.3390/vetsci7020050
- Lloyd, J. 2021 PetHealth Care In the US. Are there enough veterinarians. Retrieved from: https:// marsveterinary.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/Characterizing%20the%20Need%20-%20DVM%20-%20FINAL_2.24.pdf
- Bash, H. Alarming Results from National Survey on Veterinary Stress. Retrieved from: www.bashhalow.com/alarming-results-from-national-survey-on-veterinary-stress/
- Veterinary Integration Solutions. 2020. Burnout and Professional Fulfillment in the Vet Domain (vetintegrations.com) https://vetintegrations.com/insights/vet-technicians-burnout/