Vets in short supply: pandemic stress exacerbates animal health care challenges


Vets in short supply

Pandemic stress exacerbates challenges in animal health care

SNOHOMISH COUNTY – The increased workload and lack of respect and pay all contribute to veterinary staff shortages in Snohomish County and across the country.
Animal health care has always been a physically and emotionally demanding job; the pandemic has only increased the pressure on the industry. Across the country, working hours have increased, staff are shrinking and customers are growing angrier. At the root of the crisis is worker attrition, the most important problem animal health care has faced over decades.
According to Dr. Jennifer Koenig, a veterinarian at Snohomish Station Animal Hospital and a board member of the Washington State Veterinary Medical Association, the average time spent in the veterinary field for technicians is five years, citing emotional exhaustion and physical demands as the main cause. .
Although veterinarians themselves spend more time in the industry than technicians, there is always stress. A 36-year-old study published in 2018 by the Center for Disease Control
and Prevention found that vets are more likely to die by suicide
than the rest of the population. Female veterinarians are 3.5 times more likely to die by suicide than their male colleagues at 2.1 times, according to the study.
Overworked and overwhelmed
Part of the stress vets are currently facing is the additional workload created by the pandemic. While services were limited to essential life-saving care, welfare checks were delayed, creating an 8-month backlog of patients.
“These challenges facing veterinary medicine are nationwide. I recently attended a meeting in Atlanta, and each
vet had the same challenges, ”Koenig said.
COVID-19 has only exacerbated the situation. A 10-year Snohomish County vet, whom the newspaper calls “Smith” because they requested anonymity for fear of harassment, said their clinic had lost two technicians during the pandemic due to a lack of on-call duty. ‘children. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, 63% of veterinarians and 90% of veterinary technicians are women. A Brookings Institution study found that one in four working women had a child under the age of 14.
Dr Chelsie Hollan of the Cascade Animal Clinic in Monroe has been a veterinarian for 14 years and prefers to examine the patient while speaking with the owner and performing the treatment on site. Not only is it more personal, it’s faster and easier to explain a diagnosis and treatment than over the phone. Her clinic has three receptionists and six constantly busy phone lines.
Due to the number of patients, emergency hospitals are, as Hollan puts it, “drowned”. She said: “We had to add a doctor just for quick care.” Even with the addition, Hollan said they were busy “every day, all day”.
The high price of
compassion
Long waiting lists and visitation times not only cause stress for clinic staff, but also for their clients. Hollan has observed more frustrated customers since the COVID-19 restrictions were put in place.
Before the pandemic, “Smith” said their employer had fired three clients throughout their careers until recently, now they are firing three to four per month due to harassment and sometimes threats. “Smith” said, “I had a client who threatened to shoot me if I didn’t treat his pet for free,” but the person the client was with quickly defused the situation by claiming that she was joking. “Smith” let go as the stressed person.
Emotional distress can only excuse so many things. Front desk staff, such as receptionists and technicians, are most affected by abuse. “Smith” claims that after a technician had a particularly abusive customer, the technician told them, “I can work at McDonald’s and make the same amount of money.” The technician was not far away. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median rate of pay for a veterinary technician is approximately $ 36,000 per year.
“We are not considered by many to be medical professionals, but we have the same amount of education and debt and we make a third of the money,” said “Smith.” According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2020, the median salary for a family doctor was $ 214,370 per year compared to that of a veterinarian at $ 99,250 per year. As a perspective, the starting salary for some fast food general managers is $ 95,000 per year.
Part of the problem is that people rarely have insurance for their pets, which means they pay a premium for services, unlike human health care. Veterinarians keep their costs as low as possible, but still face operational expenses. “Smith” explained, “We have to pay our rent and the medical equipment costs the same as it does for humans, but we cannot charge the same price or we will lose customers. “
When not dealing with the tension of upset customers, staff also need to control their emotions. Hollan said: “There are tough days. You will have three euthanasies, then your next pet will be a puppy and you will need to switch modes. She explains that part of how she can cope with tough days is by not coming to terms with the client’s emotions.
Feelings are mixed on when and how things will improve. I’m in a dark place and trying to make my way through. Hollan is more optimistic and says, “It’s going to get worse before it gets better, but we’re resilient and we’ll be fine. “
When asked what they would like to say to pet owners, “Smith” said, “Be nice and recognize that we work hard. When we can’t take anyone, it’s because we don’t have the bodies and it breaks our hearts. If this isn’t life threatening, be patient and don’t flood emergency rooms.

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Boyd S. Abbott

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