by Don Hanson ACCBC, BFRAP, CDBC, CPDT-KA
Some of my clients have commented on the long lead times to get appointments with their veterinarian for several months. In addition, new clients that have just moved to the area have indicated that many local veterinarians are not accepting new patients at this time. There were also rumors of the Eastern Maine Emergency Veterinary Clinic (EMEVC) not being open some nights and turning patients away because they did not have enough staff to see everyone. So, on September 27th, when EMEVC announced that they would be closed on Mondays and Tuesdays until further notice, I started to ask my friends in the veterinary community what was going on. What I learned was alarming.
After talking with colleagues throughout Maine and the USA, I discovered a nationwide shortage of veterinarians, technicians, and assistants. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) recently addressed this topic in an article in the JAVMA News entitled, "Are we in a veterinary workforce crisis?" While some have speculated that this was due to a massive increase in pet adoptions due to the COVID19 pandemic, the data reported in JAVMA does not support this conclusion; "The number of pets adopted from shelters in 2020 was the lowest in five years, based on data from over 4,000 shelters across the country."
The data does indicate "… veterinarians saw fewer patients per hour and average productivity declined by almost 25% in 2020, compared with 2019." The JAVMA News article suggests a significant drop in productivity directly resulting from necessary changes in how veterinary practices operated due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As with other professions, the pandemic has increased stress levels and a loss of staff due to illness, a need to care for family members, or burnout.
The article in JAMA News suggests several things the veterinary profession can do to change this situation, but none will happen quickly. Additionally, society is still feeling the effects of COVID-19. With cases increasing again, it is quite possible things will worsen before they get better.
Those who share our lives with pets care deeply about their health, as does the entire veterinary and professional pet care community. I believe the best thing we can do as a like-minded community is to commit to working together to resolve this crisis. Too many people have used COVID to divide us as a society; it's time for pet guardians to set an example for the rest of the world. Let's show the world how to work together as a compassionate, caring team that is as concerned about the well-being of others as much as themselves. This is how we can start: • Be kind, patient, and helpful to others.