U.K. Vet Industry Sees Historic Changes

See all the results from the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons’ 2014 Survey of the Veterinary Profession.

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Originally published in the November 2014 issue of Veterinary Practice News

The 44-year-old veterinarian examining a canine patient inside a small animal practice puts in 44 hours a week, consults a smartphone or tablet computer while on the job, and receives at least four weeks of paid time off a year.

That practitioner is the typical veterinarian employed in the United Kingdom and is most likely a woman, according to the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons.

The organization’s 2014 Survey of the Veterinary Profession documented a number of trends bubbling up in England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. Among them: Women are becoming the face of the profession, and practitioners as a group spend 77 percent of their time focused on small animals, mainly cats and dogs, up from 72 percent in 2010.

“It is no surprise to see an increasingly female profession, given the student gender ratios and the higher numbers of older male vets, meaning a greater proportion of retiring vets are male,” said Robin Hargreaves, BVSc, MRCVS, senior vice president and past president of the British Veterinary Association.

As more U.K. veterinarians devote themselves to small animal medicine, less time is given to cattle, pigs, horses and chickens.

“A decline in vets employed in mixed practice coupled with an increase in those employed in small animal and exotic work suggests a continuing trend towards specialization both in careers and practice structure,” Dr. Hargreaves said.

Nearly 7,000 members of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons answered the survey in April and May. Almost 54 percent were female—the first time more women than men responded to the periodic study, which has been updated five times since 1998.

The men surveyed, including retirees, were significantly older than their female counterparts: an average age of 51, compared to 38.

Men also tended to be the decision makers in the practice, with 44 percent identifying themselves as the sole owner, a director or an equity partner. Just over 12 percent of female practitioners held similar roles.

More than half of all recently graduated veterinary students had a job waiting for them, according to the survey. While 8 percent of graduates put off work in favor of travel or postgraduate studies, 18 percent of those who qualified for the profession after 2011 couldn’t find an immediate job.

“There is … a widespread view from respondents that too many undergraduate places are being created for the likely future work available,” Hargreaves said, “and BVA is looking very closely at this complicated area of future supply and demand.”

In the United States, nearly all graduates begin veterinary work or advanced training within six months, according to the Association of American Veterinary Medicine Colleges.

The survey, along with a companion study of veterinary technicians, shed light on other areas:

  • 65 percent of respondents were employed full time, nearly all of them in the veterinary profession.
  • 11 percent of men worked part time and 18 percent were retired, compared with 26 percent and 2 percent, respectively, of women. “It is interesting to note … that the number of male vets working part time has doubled [since 2010], suggesting that perhaps men are starting to see newer ways of working and balancing family life or other pursuits,” Hargreaves said.
  • Nearly 1 in 5 respondents was not a British national. Those who moved to the United Kingdom did so most often for the opportunity to work abroad or for better pay and conditions.
  • Half of all practitioners handled 40 or fewer after-hours emergency cases a year at their workplace.
  • 3 in 10 respondents working full time had a dependent child at home. A slightly greater share of women were in such a position.
  • Nearly 85 percent of employers provided training or continuing education support, 60 percent covered professional indemnity insurance, and 55 percent granted free or reduced-fee veterinary services to practitioners.
  • 8 in 10 veterinarians expected to remain in the profession for the foreseeable future.
  • The median number of full-time staff at a practice was four veterinarians and five veterinary technicians.
  • 87 percent of U.K. veterinarians took at least 20 days of paid vacation a year in addition to eight holidays.
  • Half of all practitioners turned to a smartphone or tablet computer for work purposes.
  • 63 percent of respondents regularly used Facebook, 21 percent went on YouTube and 14 percent frequented Linked-In.
  • 1 in 4 veterinarians aged 60 or above used Facebook, but a majority of older professionals had no use for social networking sites of any kind.
  • The three things practitioners liked best about the veterinary profession were working with animals, the challenge and job satisfaction.
  • More than half said the profession would be better if their work-life balance was improved and they were paid more.
  • The veterinary technician field is overwhelmingly female: 98 percent, with an average age of 31. Two-thirds are registered veterinary nurses and 32 percent are student veterinary nurses.
  • 83 percent of veterinary technicians wanted to stay in the profession for the foreseeable future, and pay dissatisfaction was the most common reason some would leave.

Hargreaves pointed to positive signs in the survey.

“It is encouraging to see that the majority of vets plan to stay in the profession and that the unemployment rate amongst registered veterinary surgeons is very low,” he said.

The survey will be discussed Nov. 20 during the BVA Congress in London.

“We will use the discussion as an opportunity to take stock,” Hargreaves said. “We will look at what the profession needs to do to respond to the various trends and consider areas where we need to adapt our current approach.”

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