Unraveling the High Turnover Rate in the Veterinary Industry: Causes and Consequences
The veterinary industry plays an essential role in maintaining animal health and well-being. However, a significant concern in recent years has been the high turnover rate among veterinary professionals. This phenomenon is not restricted to one country but is a global trend. This article aims to explore the reasons behind this turnover and shed light on the consequences it holds for the veterinary industry and individual practices.
Causes of High Turnover
1. Work-Related Stress and Emotional Exhaustion
Veterinary professionals deal with life-and-death scenarios on a daily basis. The emotional toll, coupled with long working hours, leads to burnout. A study by Bartram et al. (2009) found that veterinarians have a higher suicide rate than other professional groups, highlighting the psychological pressures they face1.
2. Financial Factors
Despite the extensive education required, veterinarians often receive salaries that are not commensurate with their qualifications. A report by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) indicated that the median salary for veterinarians was $95,460 in 2019, while the educational debt averaged around $150,0002. This financial imbalance often leads to dissatisfaction and subsequent attrition.
(NOTE: Newer reports from the AVMA have shown an increase in average salary, but due to the unknown impact of COVID on the industry, we are choosing to look at data from just before the outbreak. We would like to acknowledge that part of this debate includes the current state of the debt-to-income ratio.)
3. Lack of Career Advancement Opportunities
The structure of the veterinary industry often leaves limited room for career advancement. Many veterinarians find themselves stuck in the same position for years. This lack of progression can lead to frustration and, ultimately, the decision to leave the profession.
4. Work-Life Balance Challenges
A study conducted by the British Veterinary Association (BVA) revealed that 44% of veterinarians who left their job in 2018 cited work-life balance as the primary reason3. The veterinary profession requires long and unpredictable hours, often impacting personal lives and leading to high turnover rates.
Impact of High Turnover on Veterinary Practices
1. Loss of Institutional Knowledge and Skills
When experienced veterinarians or veterinary technicians leave a practice, they take with them the unique knowledge, skills, and insights they've developed over the years. Replacing this level of expertise is challenging, leading to a knowledge gap within the practice.
2. Increased Training and Recruitment Costs
Finding suitable replacements for departed staff involves both time and money. According to a study by the Center for American Progress, the cost of replacing an employee can range from 16% of their salary for low-paying jobs to 20% for mid-range positions4. In veterinary practices, these costs can quickly add up, diverting valuable resources away from other vital areas of care.
3. Disruption to Team Dynamics
Continuity in a team is essential for efficient functioning and harmony within a practice. High turnover disrupts this balance, leading to confusion and dissatisfaction among remaining staff. It may take time to rebuild trust and effective communication within a team continually changing.
4. Impact on Client Relationships
Veterinary practices rely on building strong relationships with pet owners. Frequent changes in staff can undermine the trust and rapport that have been developed over time. Clients may feel less inclined to remain loyal to a practice where they have to continuously adapt to new faces.
5. Potential Decrease in Quality of Service
New employees require time to adapt to the practice's methodologies and standards. During this transition period, the quality of service may be inconsistent, which could lead to dissatisfaction among clients and potentially tarnish the reputation of the practice.
When a staff member leaves, the remaining team often has to take on additional responsibilities until a replacement is found. This increased workload can lead to further stress and burnout, creating a vicious cycle that exacerbates the turnover problem.
Consequences of High Turnover
1. Impact on Quality of Care
High turnover rates lead to a constant need to hire and train new staff. The lack of continuity and experience in veterinary practices can negatively affect the quality of care provided to animals.
2. Financial Strain on Veterinary Practices
Recruitment and training are costly processes. The continuous need to replace staff puts a financial burden on veterinary practices, which may lead to increased costs for pet owners.
3. Decreased Job Satisfaction Among Remaining Staff
The high turnover rate can create an environment of instability within a veterinary practice. This, in turn, may lead to decreased job satisfaction among the remaining staff, further perpetuating the problem.
4. Potential Risk to Public Health
Veterinarians play a vital role in monitoring and controlling zoonotic diseases. A weakened veterinary workforce, due to high turnover may lead to gaps in this essential public health function.
The high turnover rate in the veterinary industry is more than a mere statistic; it's a multifaceted issue that strikes at the core of veterinary practices. From the loss of expertise and the financial strain of recruitment to the disruption of team dynamics and potential decrease in service quality, the effects are profound and wide-ranging. Efforts must be directed towards understanding and addressing these underlying causes through policies aimed at improving working conditions, offering mental health support, fair compensation, and creating opportunities for career advancement. Collaboration between industry bodies, educational institutions, and policymakers will be vital in finding sustainable solutions to this pressing issue.
Bartram, D. J., Baldwin, D. S. (2009). Veterinary Surgeons and Suicide: A Structured Review of Possible Influences on Increased Risk. Veterinary Record, 164(13), 388–397.
American Veterinary Medical Association. (2020). 2019 Report on the Market for Veterinarians. AVMA.
British Veterinary Association. (2019). Vet Futures Survey. BVA.
Boushey, H., & Glynn, S. J. (2012). There Are Significant Business Costs to Replacing Employees. Center for American Progress.