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Veterinarians Seek Government Assistance in Resolving Staffing Crisis

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New South Wales (NSW) vets are being overworked and facing burnout amid staff shortages, a state government inquiry has been told.

This comes as the NSW government begins public hearings into the veterinary workforce shortage in the state on Aug. 29 and 30.

President of the Australian Veterinary Industry (AVA’s NSW Division), Dr Zachary Lederhose, is calling for help.

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He believes that “the veterinary sector stands at a critical juncture.”

“The AVA believes that every animal that interacts with humans in Australia deserves access to veterinary services. Currently, this aspiration is not being fully realised, resulting in compromised animal health, undermining biosecurity and risking human health,” he said.

The AVA said vets in the state are facing issues like financial vulnerability, generational shifts, societal changes, and limited public sector funding. Additionally, due to the nature of the work, they are often under pressure to provide after-hours services and services in rural areas where services may be underresourced.

Further, they also perform “a huge amount of public work such as caring for strays, injured wildlife, and animals in emergencies,” and it is often done without any compensation, which is costing vets resources.

An injured Koala being treated for burns by a vet at a makeshift field hospital at the Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park on Kangaroo Island on January 14, 2020. Hundreds of koalas have been rescued and brought to the park for treatment after bushfires ravaged the island off the south coast of Australia. (Peter Parks/ AFP via Getty Images)
An injured Koala being treated for burns by a vet at a makeshift field hospital at the Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park on Kangaroo Island on January 14, 2020. Hundreds of koalas have been rescued and brought to the park for treatment after bushfires ravaged the island off the south coast of Australia. (Peter Parks/ AFP via Getty Images)

“The challenges faced by our veterinary profession may be multi-faceted, but so are the solutions. With collective will, strategic thinking, and targeted interventions, we can pave the way for a future where both our animals and the veterinarians who care for them flourish,” Dr. Lederhose said.

Retention funding and education will be a focus of the enquiry, which was established on June 9. following media coverage of the veterinarian industry.

AVA, in a submission (pdf) to the inquiry in July, said the loss was driven in part by the sector’s limited funding and generational and societal change but noted the situation had been decades in the making.

A Multifaceted Approach is Needed

The AVA would like to see the government immediately move to wave educational fees for new vets, which they believe would encourage them to work in rural areas in NSW, as well as show support and ongoing recognition for vets so they have the capacity and are free to respond to things such as emergency animal diseases.

In the long-term, they wold also like to see a reworking of the after-hours working model and legislature so it best supports the sector.

There also needs to be systems in place for ‘recouping’ the costs associated with caring for strays and other displaced animals due to disasters as well as helping animals owned by people who are vulnerable.

Long Working Hours and Heavy Case Load Contribute to Workforce Shortages

The AVA undertook research in 2019 to develop a wellness strategy to understand the reality of burnout the profession faces.

It found over half—66.7 percent—of vets said they had experienced a mental health condition at some stage; this was compared to 61.8 percent in the general population.

The AVA believes this evidence suggests the risk of death by suicide is increased in the veterinary profession compared to the general population.

The research also found that financial concerns,
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