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The Three Reasons Why Professionals Are Leaving Veterinary Care


  • Veterinary professionals are leaving the profession at an unusually high rate.

  • This is mainly due to three factors, stress, reward, and work/life balance.

With four in ten veterinarians ‘actively’ considering leaving veterinary medicine, there is clearly something going very wrong within the veterinary profession.

And this problem is hitting practice owners the hardest. As an industry with one of the highest staff turnover rates (averaging between 30-50%), the monetary and time-related costs of hiring and training are only going up.

In a report by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RVCS), researchers found that more veterinarians were planning to leave the profession in 2019 than ever before- but why is this happening, and is there anything we can do about it?

Why Are Veterinary Professionals Leaving Veterinary Medicine?

1. Stress

While we all experience stress at work sometimes, veterinarians are uniquely afflicted by a chronically demanding work environment.

From the moment a student begins their veterinary education, they are pushed to achieve an impossibly high standard of academic perfection. Most students after they graduate are then thrust into high-pressure environments, where mistakes can cost animals their lives.

According to the British Veterinary Association, almost three-quarters of vets are concerned about stress and burnout within the profession- a huge percentage.

So How Can We Make Veterinary Practices Better Environments to Work in?

That’s a tricky question.

The first thing employers should be doing is making sure everyone is getting their allocated breaks. This seems simple, but it’s surprising how many practices don’t do this.

Ensuring veterinary teams get a decent breather during the day is imperative to their physical and mental well-being.

Practices that don’t do this probably have way too many clients. Vets tend to operate from a position of scarcity marketing, believing that they must service any and all clients. A position that is clearly not possible and is directly responsible for the current status of overrun clinics across the planet.

Fostering an environment whereby staff members feel supported and not afraid to ask for help can only be a positive thing. Without a support network or space to decompress, veterinarians are sure to burn out and move on to bigger and better things.

2. Not Feeling Rewarded/Valued (In Non-Financial Terms)

There are many unappreciated and unhappy veterinary professionals out there.

According to the RCVS, 55.2% of veterinarians want to leave the profession because they don’t feel rewarded or valued. This is unsurprising, given the general ‘grind-culture’ that exists in veterinary medicine.

There is a particular dissonance between older and younger vets, who have completely different expectations when it comes to work-life balance in practice.

So What’s the Solution to This?

Veterinary leaders need to be more empathetic toward the needs of their teams.

Cultural change comes from the top, and if veterinary practices want to create real change, they need to lead by example.

Simple acts of appreciation, care, and respect can make all the difference.

3. Poor Work-Life Balance

The main reason why vets are leaving the veterinary profession relates to poor work-life balance.

A whopping 60.3% of professionals list this as the main reason why they want to leave, indicating a growing sentiment (or indeed, resentment) in the profession.

The inability to have both a personal and professional life (especially as one gets older and has children) contributes to a dissatisfaction that pushes many professionals out of veterinary care.

Working long hours can have an especially negative impact on employees’ mental health. In one study, researchers found that working long hours increases the prevalence of depression and suicidal ideation significantly.

And considering how veterinarians have a higher suicide rate than the general population, it clearly highlights an issue that is already having a catastrophic effect on the veterinary community.

So How Can Practice Owners Improve the Work-Life Balance of their Teams?

Veterinary leaders need to play a more active role in policing bad behavior in practice.

Overtime, for example, shouldn’t become an unspoken expectation. Likewise, out-of-hours contact should be discouraged.

If employees are working overtime, they should be getting time-in-lieu, and holidays should be taken by all employees if possible.

The Takeaway

There are many reasons why professionals are leaving veterinary care- some of which are beyond employers’ control.

But there are certain things that practice owners, managers, and directors can do to make their practices nicer places to work. It just takes a little time, patience, and most importantly, dedication to see real positive change.

If you liked this article, why not check out another one of my leadership blogs 'The 9 Most Common Vet Practice Management Problems & How To Fix Them' here?

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Aug 24, 2023

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