May 29, 2024 - News

Veterinary industry sees post-pandemic hiring challenges

Veterinary establishments in Michigan
Data: Census Bureau; Chart: Axios Visuals

Susan Sayles' veterinary practice is growing amid continued high demand for pet services, though hiring continues to be difficult.

The big picture: Nationally, there's an ongoing veterinary industry staffing shortage aggravated by the pandemic pet adoption boom. Two in three households own a pet, per American Pet Products Association data.

State of play: In the height of the pandemic, and even after, clinics saw "emotional, frustrated and even aggressive" clients, which led some people to leave the profession, Sayles, owner of Brooklyn Road Veterinary Clinic in Jackson, tells Axios.

  • Many who left were support staff, including vet techs and receptionists, says Sayles, who is also a former Michigan Veterinary Medical Association president. Hiring for those positions remains a challenge.

By the numbers: There were 966 veterinary establishments in Michigan in 2021, the most recent year available, up just over 2% from 945 in 2012. Nationally, the number of vet clinics across the U.S. jumped 8.4% in that time period.

  • More than 60% of our state's households own a pet, for an average of 1.6 pets per household, per a 2023 Pet Advocacy Network report.

Big challenges for the industry include inflation, the rising cost of medicine and wages — as in other industries, it's costing increasingly more to nab good job candidates, she says.

  • Plus, the veterinary industry is not traditionally well-paid compared with the human health industry, according to Sayles.

Zoom out: While the number of clinics is on the rise nationally, more vets and clinic staff are likely still needed to meet demand.

  • As of 2022, there were about 86 million dogs and 66 million cats in the U.S., an annual increase of about 2% since 2016, according to Mark Rosati, spokesperson for the American Veterinary Medical Association.
  • Veterinary schools are increasing class capacity and a number of new vet schools are in development, Rosati tells Axios.

Yes, but: Even with all the industry's challenges, there's also excitement in the improved quality of medicine that veterinarians are able to provide nowadays. It's "leaps and bounds better than when I graduated from veterinary school," Sayles says.

  • "I've been out 27 years and we can do so much more and help pets live so much longer."

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