Veterinarian shortages are having an effect in Whanganui, with the city’s biggest operator still trying to fill a position.
Tom Dinwiddie, managing director of Whanganui Vet Services and its subsidiary Carlton Vets, said the vacancy had been open for quite a long time.
New Zealand’s only training facility was at Massey University, he said.
“You have to see how they [graduates] disseminate. They go into a whole lot of different areas - equine, small animals, large animals, or even to an advisery role in a corporate business.
“It could be a technical job rather than a hands-on job.
“Whanganui is a provincial practice. We’ve got farmers and small animal clients, so you’re looking for someone who has a broad interest.”
The New Zealand Veterinary Association reported last November there were around 150 job vacancies across the country that could not be filled.
Chief executive Kevin Bryan told the Whanganui Chronicle this week the shortage was “a global challenge”.
“Some small rural areas struggle to attract new graduates, but the challenge is across the board.”
He said more vets from overseas were coming to work in New Zealand, with slightly more veterinarians for large animals than companion animals coming into the country.
“That would indicate a few more are going to smaller places, but the split is fairly even,” Bryan said.
“A considerable amount of work is under way in New Zealand on ways to reduce our shortage, including better utilisation of veterinary nurses and veterinary technicians to reduce the pressure on veterinarians.”
Being able to get vet nurses on the Green List with immigration would be beneficial, he said.
“While Massey University has increased its intake of veterinary students, training more technicians and nurses would also help with the vet shortage.
“We will, of course, continue to try to attract more veterinarians from overseas.”
Dinwiddie said vets could get worn down by consulting every 15 minutes, day after day.
He wanted to see vet numbers kept as high as possible because technicians, while excellent at their jobs, couldn’t give prescriptions or perform diagnostics.
There was also stress involved in the job, and after-hours services could stretch resources.
Things didn’t always go to plan in both human and animal medicine, Dinwiddie said.
“In the client’s eyes, they [the vet] have done something wrong.
“A vet might also have to do six euthanisations in a day. It’s a service we provide, but there’s a mental side to that which can be very draining.”
Whanganui SPCA manager Francie Flis said it had a partnership with First Vets, which offered the service ongoing support with its animals.
Other local vets helped where they could for the SPCA’s Snip’n’Chip campaigns.
“The vet shortage impacts SPCA, as it does members of the public,” Flis said.
“However, we are incredibly understanding of the situation they are faced with in these difficult times, and we appreciate their ongoing support to help the sick, vulnerable and neglected animals who come into our care.”
Tāwharau Ora School of Veterinary Science (Massey) head Professor Jon Huxley said it transitioned to an increased class size last year.
Graduates were highly sought-after once they had finished their studies and the majority moved straight into employment.
“As of 2023, we now accept 125 domestic students and up to 50 full fee-paying international students into the Bachelor of Veterinary Science (BVSc) programme each year - an approximately 40 per cent increase over previous years,” Huxley said.
“Around 120 students graduate from the BVSc programme each year, which will increase over coming years as the larger class sizes travel through the five-year programme.”
Flis said the “acute shortage” was not just in New Zealand, but worldwide.
“That is placing pressure on veterinarians and businesses, and impacting their ability to provide veterinary care.
“We encourage people whose animals need veterinary treatment to book ahead whenever possible.”
Dinwiddie said locums were filling vacant positions and his clinic sometimes had two on staff at the same time.
Vacancies also meant covering holidays and sick days was much harder.
“If there were plenty of vets, locuming wouldn’t work very well because there wouldn’t be anything for them.
“Whilst we have a shortage, it has become a very attractive lifestyle.
“The last vet we lost actually went off to do that. She still comes back and works for us, which is great, but we don’t have her full-time anymore.”