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Into The Unknown: The Challenges Facing Veterinary Medicine


  • The profession is facing a number of challenges.

  • Some of those challenges include navigating the virtual world (through telemedicine and other means), improving wellbeing and mental health outcomes, and managing the next generation of vets.

While bumpy in places, the veterinary profession has ridden out the covid pandemic in relatively good shape. Though it has been undeniably hard for front-line healthcare teams, at least, from an economic standpoint the industry has been one of the sectors to have benefited from societal behavioral economics – in other words, loads of people buying pets!

Veterinary employment is set to grow by 16% between 2019 and 2029, veterinary graduates are looking to earn more than previous cohorts and practice revenues are at an all-time high1.

But, with all the economic gains the profession has made, what are some of the biggest challenges facing veterinary medicine post-business boom?

Navigating The Virtual World

Social distancing measures have radically changed our client interactions.

One of the biggest challenges for professionals is how they adapt to the increasing digitization of veterinary medicine.

Back in 2020, Telehealth platform Medici saw a 48% increase in registrations and a 170% increase in pet telehealth consultations month by month2. Although there has been a substantial increase in telehealth demand, surveys have shown that veterinarians lack telehealth/telemedicine knowledge and/or struggle with assisting clients in using such systems3. Some vets may also struggle with performing teleconsultations ‘correctly’, as the rules from governing bodies can be unclear.

Almost every single country in the world is grappling with the challenge of veterinary-client-patient relationships (VCPR). The rise of telemedicine has changed policies surrounding in-person appointments and what can/cannot be done virtually. With the relaxation of VCPR rules, the future of telemedicine is uncertain.

Currently, the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons/American Veterinary Medical Association is reviewing said policy changes- so only time will tell what the future of telehealth will be4. But for now, both remain fundamentally opposed to the free use of this technology and any circumnavigation of the ‘sacred cow’ VCPR.

The rise in telehealth also brings a change in client expectations. In a YouGov poll, 70% of pollers believed that vet services could be conducted online, 61% said they would be happy to use such services and 58% would be more likely to do so over physical ones.

This indicates a change in client demand. 53% of consumers believe that online experiences are more important than personal ones, pointing to a growing movement towards digitized services. Veterinary practices that aren’t able to adapt and ride this digital wave are at risk of losing ground to the competition5.

Reliance on existing legislation may not be the best policy in the light of societal demand and we have seen many times over, legislation following the market where innovation is concerned.

Wellness In Veterinary Medicine

One of the biggest challenges for veterinary medicine- unsurprisingly- is wellbeing.

The mental health statistics for veterinary medicine are shocking. Female vets are 2.4 times more likely to commit suicide compared to the average person, whereas male vets are 1.6 more likely to do so. Furthermore, in a survey of 11,000 vets across the US, 9% of participants had struggled with high levels of physiological stress; 31% had experienced a depressive episode and 17% had suffered from suicidal ideation.

Vets with satisfied clients are more likely to be psychologically unwell, whereas happier vets are more likely to have dissatisfied clients. These statistics highlight a growing trend within veterinary medicine regarding mental health and service demand.

Whilst this profession has always been stressful to work in, Vetlife, a UK mental health charity for veterinarians received 1,136 contacts in the first three months of 2020, an increase from the 685 previously recorded in 2019. Though calls have increased over the past 28 years, the exponential rise this year is indicative of a growing problem that has been exacerbated by a global pandemic and puppy boom.

Paired with the fact that four out of ten veterinarians are ‘actively’ considering leaving the profession, the well-being of veterinary professionals is sure to be an ongoing problem.

Managing The Next Generation of Vets

Although this year’s graduating cohort is looking to complete their studies during a favorable economic period, they will face several unique challenges in the workplace.

In a study on veterinary student experiences during the coronavirus pandemic, 97.7% of students believed that the pandemic had affected their academic performance. Furthermore, social distancing restrictions have meant that many graduates have missed out on valuable time in practice. A large proportion of practical learning takes place outside of vet school and up until March 2020 formed a key component of a vet student’s education6.

‘The students graduating in the summer will have had quite a different experience to what any of us had on final-year rotations where you lived at the vet school for the year. So we have to recognize that’ said Amanda Boag, a group referral director at IVC Evidensia8.

This will be one of the biggest challenges for veterinary leaders, who are already struggling with graduate retention and training.

The Takeaway

In the words of Billy Ocean, when the going gets tough, the tough get going.

Challenges in veterinary medicine are inevitable, but the impacts are variable depending on how proactive you are. Implementing effective strategies to overcome technological, psychological, and interpersonal problems will pay off tenfold in the long term, and put your practice at a distinct advantage over other businesses.

If you enjoyed this article, check out my blog on 'The 9 Most Common Vet Practice Management Problems & How To Fix Them'.


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