This is certainly a hot topic in the veterinary field. Recently published articles such as Where have all the veterinarians gone? in the January/February edition of the Ontario Veterinary Medical Association (OVMA) Focus magazine, as well as the College of Veterinarians of Ontario (CVO) president’s message in early September, Pandemic puts spotlight on workforce issues, highlight the challenges faced by the veterinary profession today. Here in Ottawa, local emergency veterinary clinics are feeling the pinch, where staff shortages and increased caseloads have created intermittent temporary suspensions of admissions and longer wait times for urgent veterinary care. Many general veterinary practices are also struggling to fill veterinary support staffing roles. Dr. Sherri Dennett, an Ottawa-based veterinary clinic owner, was interviewed recently by the Ottawa Citizen newspaper in this article: Can’t get a vet appointment for your pandemic pup? Dr. D explains the crisis from the front lines.
Shelters and rescues are also feeling the pressure from veterinary workforce staffing issues. Many shelters rely heavily on veterinary technicians and veterinary assistants for operational needs, and at the Ottawa Humane Society these positions have recently been more challenging to fill. A recent survey by Best Friends Network in the US was conducted to help understand staffing issues reported from their partners across the country. The survey had 187 respondents, and 87% of them reported that staffing was down. “Unable to recruit, hire, and maintain staffing levels” was cited by 71% as the main reason
for the staffing shortage. Multiple impacts of the staff shortage were cited by 74% of participating organizations. (Find full study here)
Rescue groups sourcing basic preventive veterinary care from general veterinary practices have faced significant wait times for appointments as clinics are fully booked months in advance. Many pet owners are also struggling with the same issue.
The dreaded and anticipated mass shelter influx of “pandemic pets”, as people head back to on-site work, has yet to materialize, either here at the Ottawa Humane Society or at other shelters we have talked to. Thankfully, it seems like pet owners in the Ottawa community so far are sticking with their commitment to their new pandemic household member. An exception may be rabbits, whose intake numbers have been reported to have been increasing at many Ontario shelters. The number of newly acquired pandemic pets is, however, certainly placing a strain on the availability of veterinary care, at least in the Ottawa area. Some pet owners may also be left short of cash to address medical needs after the high price they paid to acquire the pet in the first place during the pandemic.
There are no clear answers to the challenges facing the veterinary field at this time. It is reassuring to know that the current demands on the veterinary profession and the subsequent impact of this on the public’s access to veterinary care, are front of mind for the CVO. A solution will likely require some “out of the box” thinking. In a recent article from the OVMA Focus magazine (subscription only), there is an excellent article, A creative solution to a veterinary shortage. Shelters may want to explore new ways to utilize the help of volunteers to offer support where appropriate, as well as re-examine existing
protocols to ensure resources are being used as effectively as possible.
Dr. Shelley Hutchings, VP OSMA