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Navigating Tough Times: These Are The Problems Veterinary Leaders Face

When it comes to problems in veterinary medicine, leaders have plenty.

They’ve not only had to manage a global pandemic but also deal with an onslaught of clients battling for their services and attention.

With the veterinary landscape changing so radically over the last year, what has changed for leaders? And what are some of the problems they are facing?

Problems In Veterinary Medicine: Recruitment and Retention

If you are a veterinary manager or business owner, this will come as no surprise.

With veterinary job openings set to rise by 16% by 2029, more and more veterinary business managers and owners are struggling to find recruits. This is a problem that has plagued the profession for several years and doesn’t look set to change.

The retention problem in veterinary medicine is so severe that staff turnover rates are almost 15-35% higher than the industry average.

This is having a knock-on effect on leaders, who are having to compensate for gaps in their rotas by increasing their clinical work output, putting them more at risk of burnout and compassion fatigue.

Smaller veterinary businesses are especially struggling. Many cannot match the perceived salary/benefits packages being reported from larger practices, exacerbating hiring woes. Many large animal practices are also struggling to recruit due to changing priorities for graduates and changes in the agricultural sector.

Improving culture, developing better graduate training/support systems, using more effective hiring techniques, and reconsidering rewards will improve matters. But there is little doubt that recruitment and retention headaches will be an issue for veterinary leaders in the foreseeable future.


While we talk a lot about the challenges associated with veterinary work-life balance for vets, sometimes it’s easy to forget the challenges faced by leaders themselves.

Although the typical working week for a vet certainly isn’t short, practice owners can work crazy hours (around 71 a week!).

Problems related to work-life balance are so severe that 40% of veterinary leaders consider it to be one of the biggest day-to-day challenges. The freedom of being your own boss comes with a significant price tag it seems.

Studies have shown that working for over 12 hours a day can have implications for workplace performance and health. Overworking decreases cognitive ability, work-efficiency and increases the chance of workplace accidents.

Sleep disturbances due to irregular working hours can also increase the chances of weight and stress-related conditions, such as coronary heart disease or diabetes.

Though workaholism is normalized in veterinary medicine, the effects certainly shouldn’t be. Nor should leaders adopt the mindset of the helpless martyr. Doing so is a recipe for disaster.

Leaders must accept that time is limited and that not all tasks are equal. They need to offload some of the clinical caseloads to others, using the time created to work on higher-value activities such as culture development and strategic planning.

Corporization vs. Independence

While there isn’t much research into the effects of practice consolidation, more and more veterinary business owners are selling up to big companies- with varying degrees of success. By 2030, most veterinary leaders believe that independent clinics will be in the minority. This is already the case in the UK.

Corporate groups can offer practice owners sizable sums for their businesses, which is fantastic for those wanting to retire or make a profit. But these consolidations are not so great for wannabe practice owners, who are increasingly being driven out of the market.

Young vets aspiring to own businesses simply cannot compete with bigger organizations, who can pay more, and therefore attract and retain more staff.

Around 68% of practice owners are open to selling their businesses, whereas only 12% of veterinary employees are keen on independent ownership. In short, there are not that many people who want to open or run their own clinics, and those that do, cannot compete in price. The trends look inexorably destined towards more and more consolidation.

So where does that leave things if you want to own them?

There is a huge change sweeping through the profession. This consolidation activity seems to have limited outright ownership options, while theoretically increasing leadership options for vets.

For those who wish to take the route of independent ownership, there are two avenues they can take. The first is starting from scratch, an option that carries a higher risk profile and a longer time to profitability.

Another problem is that each new practice, of course, adds to the number of ‘vacancies open’ in a market already on the verge of a crisis, as under-staffed clinics across the land struggle with issues related to overwork.

Will new owners find themselves unintentionally stuck in a one-doctor set of ‘golden handcuffs’, unable to leave or hire support? It’s not an impossible outcome.

The other alternative is to buy a ‘fixer-upper’- an established, smaller hospital with significant issues (and hence potential upside).

This is a far less risky route to take, though it is not easy by any means as new owners inherit a basket of ‘someone else’s problems’. A veritable Rubik’s cube of leadership challenges that will present a steep learning curve!

In both cases, leadership skills will play a huge part in business outcomes.

The Lowdown

While there are always problems in veterinary medicine (as there are in any profession) leaders are uniquely afflicted by several tough challenges.

Although top-line sales (and hence bottom-line profit) have gone up for many, the events of this year will have likely exacerbated and accelerated several existing trends.

Thankfully, veterinary leaders are known for their remarkable resolve and resilience.

Knowing what problems are on the radar for the leadership community is the starting point when trying to figure out how to deal with them effectively.

If you enjoyed this article, you might find our LinkedIn community group for veterinary leaders useful. Join the discussion and our community here.


1- ‘Veterinarians – Bureau of Labor Statistics.’ Accessed 11 Jun. 2021. 2- ‘The State of the Industry: Veterinary Practice Challenges and Goals ….’ 28 May. 2020, Accessed 13 Sept. 2021. 3- ‘HR Metrics: How and Why to Calculate Employee Turnover Rate?’ 16 Dec. 2018, Accessed 13 Sept. 2021. 4- ‘2019 – 2020 Veterinary Practice Survey Report – Storyblok.’ 5-‘2019 – 2020 Veterinary Practice Survey Report – Storyblok.’ Accessed 13 Jun. 2021. 6- ‘(PDF) Chronic Overworking: Cause Extremely … – ResearchGate.’ 13 Jun. 2019, Accessed 13 Jun. 2021. 7- ‘FVE_Survey_2018_WEB – Federation of Veterinarians of Europe.’ Accessed 13 Jun. 2021. 8- ‘The corporatization of veterinary medicine | American Veterinary ….’ 14 Nov. 2018, Accessed 13 Jun. 2021. 9- ‘2019 – 2020 Veterinary Practice Survey Report – Storyblok.’ Accessed 13 Jun. 2021.


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