MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) — Vets across the country are struggling to keep up with demand.
With more pet adoptions, the need for care has increased since the pandemic, as the industry experiences a higher turnover rate. Recent data shows that these factors are causing burnout among veterinary teams in a profession already struggling with managing mental health.
Dr. Peter Gaveras has been practicing veterinary medicine for 35 years. He now works at the Silver Spring Animal Wellness Center in Milwaukee.
As his team adjusts to the turbulent times, he has certainly noticed the spike in demand and its emotional impacts.
“People are calling ‘can we come in’, and we just have limited time and manpower to deal with them, and all of us as vets are very empathetic, it’s hard to say no,” Gaveras said.
Gaveras has seen its ups and downs in the industry for decades, but demand has never been higher. Gaveras said the demand likely correlates to an increase in animal adoptions early in the COVID pandemic.
He also thinks it has to do with a changing workforce, where older veterans are choosing to retire and younger veterans are limiting their hours.
“People are more tuned in to work-life balance, which is not 60 or 70 hours a week.”
All of these factors have become an endless cycle.
The American Animal Hospital Association found that after a year and a half of research, reports of veterinarian burnout had tripled.
“With the increase in demand and the sometimes difficult customers, or the difficulty of paying, you just can’t do the job that you really thought you were built for because things get in the way, and that’s a fight,” said AAHA CEO Garth. Jordan.
Mental health has been a concern in veterinary medicine for years, with statistically higher rates of mental illness and suicide than in many other professions.
Dr. Gaveras calls the emotional toll of burnout “compassion fatigue,” a feeling similar to what healthcare workers in the field of human medicine have faced.
“We try to work with it, but we’re only human,” Gaveras said, “We try our best.”
In response to mental wellness concerns, the AAHA is developing psychological health and safety standards for veterinary practices.
“Hopefully we’ll see some traction around this because it doesn’t feel like it’s a diminishing challenge,” Jordan said.
It’s hard work that needs to be done, and despite these shortages, clinics are overcoming challenges to continue saving lives.
“We kind of adapted to it. That’s not to say that there are stressors below the surface that people face, we all do, but we all try to take care of each other from best we can,” Gaveras said.
Dr. Gaveras is hopeful about the introduction of telehealth and other technologies to make veterinary work more efficient.
He also said the University of Wisconsin-Madison veterinary program has seen enrollment double in recent years, which could soon lead to more people joining the practice in years to come.
The greatest demand from the AAHA and local veterinarians is that clients be patient and understanding as practices address these challenges.