Vets in rural communities feeling the strain of staffing shortages

FLAT STRAP: David Anderson of Port Augusta Veterinary Service said vets have to just put their heads down and keep working amid shortages.
FLAT STRAP: David Anderson of Port Augusta Veterinary Service said vets have to just put their heads down and keep working amid shortages.

Vet David Anderson is constantly "flat strap" keeping up with demand from animal owners in the Port Augusta area, with staff shortages "probably 50 per cent worse" than that facing rural GPs.

The Port Augusta vet said regional practices have struggled to attract new staff as graduates stay in metropolitan areas, meaning those on the ground in the country were under constant strain.

While a shortage of rural and regional GPs has been a national focus of the Federal Election, similar severe impacts are also being felt by the veterinary industry across South Australia.

"We all hear about the shortage of doctors out in rural practice, and we are probably 50 per cent worse than that again," he said.

"What traditionally in the city used to be a three or four vet practice is now a six to eight vet practice, so there's an extra four vets that aren't going to come out to rural areas.

"Attracting them out here is extremely difficult, yet there's so much out here to offer from both case load and variety."

Greencross Vets, a national veterinary service provider, has pointed out there is a huge discrepancy between the number of vets in Australia and the number of animal patients.

Its statistics show there are 13,951 vets in Australia who look after over 30 million animals - more than 2000 patients per veterinarian.

Dr Anderson said the situation was even trickier for rural practices, with a severe shortage of vets in regional towns adding to the workload.

He said it was something that regional vets often did not have the time to notice because they are always running "flat strap".

University of Adelaide's School of Animal and Veterinary Sciences head Wayne Hein said there were around 60 graduate vets each year but only 10 to 15 per cent moved into regional practices.

He said the university and industry could advocate for governments to provide better incentives for vets to move to the regions, but rural practices need to also put in a lot of effort.

"It would be really good for communities that want to have a veterinary service to try and make contact with some students well before they graduate to try to persuade them," Prof Hein said.

"Students will make up their own minds about that when they graduate.

"It's really a question of putting the right incentives in front of them and to do that at an early enough time in their course is also important."

Prof Hein said the university would try to help any rural communities connect with veterinary students early in their studies about the benefits of joining a regional practice.

He said, however, vet shortages have been affecting rural communities for decades and that it was a problem when he graduated from university in the 1970s.

"It's kind of a little bit sobering that, all these years later, South Australia is still battling with the same problem," he said.

"It's not just an Australian or South Australian issue, we hear similar reports from North America, from Canada, other parts of the world."

This story Vet practice staff shortages '50 per cent worse' than GPs: vet first appeared on The Transcontinental.