I imagine that for every person asked, one could list at least 20 aspects of life impacted by COVID. There are the huge consequences – loss of family members, jobs, and kids out of school – or the little ones that effect our day to day living – supply chain delays, cost of living increases, and really long hair. Let’s take a moment and elaborate on the huge impact of COVID on the veterinarian field that magnified already present issues.
Over the last generation the state of the industry was moving in an unsustainable direction. The high cost of living, high student loan debt, and shortages in support staff were already leading to issues with retention and hiring. It is hard to live in the Bay Area and work in the veterinary field since it may not provide a living wage. We have been actively hiring for both registered technicians as well as veterinarians for the last five years. The pool of local applicants is small. When reaching out on to people on LinkedIn, I would often get the answer back, “Are you crazy? I can’t afford to live there.”
Then COVID arrived. When quarantine began, two associate veterinarians and a registered technician elected to stop working. In addition, most of the local clinics stopped seeing new patients. We hired two new veterinarians late spring, so we felt able to continue operations at capacity. Then we had some growing pains. Within a year of hire date, one moved and the other left general practice. I was the sole veterinarian with hundreds of newly adopted pets that needed care. Discouraged and shocked, I did try to accommodate all appointment requests for about three months. But then I couldn’t do it anymore. I was going home so emotionally drained I didn’t have anything left for family or myself. I had to go back to a reasonable schedule until I could find help. I am happy to report hiring has been successful and we are close to full capacity again.
The emergency clinics are in the same boat. I have heard stories of clients sitting in their car for up to 8 hours waiting to be seen. One may feel neglected or that the veterinary staff is uncaring, and this can manifest as an understandable emotional response. On the other end of the phone is a staff member trying to find a way to help. Most enter this field because they are caregivers; and right now, we are unable to do what we love to do – help people and their pets stay healthy.
The end is not quite in sight, but I am optimistic that change will happen. In the next installation, I will touch on solutions. This will not resolve in the next year, much as other complications from COVID. If I could ask anything, it would be for patience. Be curious, ask questions, and encourage your local veterinary staff. They really are here to help.