By: Daniel Harrison-Pinder 23rd March 2018

UK Veterinary Students Facing Harsh Reality

I don’t pretend to be an authority on the state of Veterinary medicine in the UK, however I do understand recruitment, and through my profession I have gained a comprehensive insight into the sectors that we represent at Seven Vets. After visiting Bristol Veterinary School for a career’s weekend it became clear that not all was well in the mind-set of the students that will fill our jobs, and ultimately carry out veterinary care across the UK for the foreseeable future.

I was expecting to meet hundreds of students that were buzzing with enthusiasm and praise for the industry they are giving their blood, sweat and tears for, but I was met with quite the opposite response. An overwhelming sense of uncertainty was swept across the campus and an element of fear as to what will face these students when they graduate was evident.

The general consensus is that vets that go into general practice are overworked, undervalued, and struggling to find a work-life balance. Students are concerned that their image is shifting away from the respected professionals they deserve to be and are now seen as a service that is there to be scrutinised by pet-owners who demand more and more from veterinary professionals.

Because of the challenging conditions, students are looking to specialise in areas like small animals, exotics, and equine, moving away from general practice while they seek a more transparent and rewarding career.

I spoke to Tim Florax, a Final Year Vet Student at the University of Bristol and this is what he had to say about the current climate in the veterinary industry:

“With movement towards a more and more specialist led profession, the job market is also looking very different to what it did even a few years ago. I will be looking for a mixed practice job when I graduate, however these practices are few and far between as true mixed practice is becoming a rarity and practices are dividing up their services into small animals, farm animals and equine; in my opinion corporatisation is also accelerating this process, with many corporates only buying a single type of practice. Specialisation is a natural by-product of an ever expanding field of medicine, be that veterinary or human, and it is important that specialisation continues to occur to advance both health and welfare.”

The real elephant in the room seems to be a clear shortage of Vets in the UK, especially from a recruitment point of view. At Seven Vets, if we have the CV for a qualified Vet, Veterinary Surgeon, or RVN, we will place them quicker than any other sector that we currently represent. We have an abundance of veterinary jobs but a diminished candidate pool to pick from. There has also been a drop in foreign workers and a shift into non-clinical work as this usually comes with fewer hours and better pay rates. Again, I asked Tim for a student insight into foreign workers and the lack of home-grown talent;

“The shortage of vets in the UK has been reported to be a problem. Many small rural vets are struggling to recruit and also find people to undertake out of hours responsibilities. I have heard vets complain that the new graduates are not of the same calibre, and are not willing to do out of hours work. I disagree, and I personally am fully prepared and willing to do the work that I fully expected when I applied to vet school. I don’t know whether this is part of the reason why they are struggling to recruit, or if the shortage of vets is due to location. From my experience, universities are ever continuing to expand and increase year groups, and are all at maximum carrying capacity.”

“The Royal Veterinary College in London accepts 246 students annually on their BVetMed course including graduate accelerated entry, and is the largest of the UK vet schools. The recent addition of the University of Surrey to the vet school list also has increased the number of vets being trained. So my question is whether the UK has a shortage of vets, or actually whether there is a shortage of suitably specialised vets and vets able to do the jobs out there. There is talk of new vet schools planning to be opened, but at the moment to my knowledge there are no firm plans. One thing is certain, in order to accommodate the demand for vets in the UK, foreign vets are crucial to the workforce.”

After completing extensive research and speaking to many students across the industry, it seems that Veterinary medicine in the UK is heading for big change and uncertain times. The whispers and unreliable Brexit rumours are impacting the willingness of much needed foreign students to commit to study and work in the UK. Undesirable rates of pay and poor working conditions are diverting students away from general practice and into non-clinical roles where a work-life balance is more attainable.

Whatever the coming years bring for this invaluable industry, veterinary professionals are a much needed and an undervalued workforce that the UK can’t afford to push any harder. Instead, investment into universities and fairer working conditions is crucial to maintain the obvious and unstable equilibrium.