The Federal Government’s recently announced budget included more university funding for veterinary science courses. Vet science courses are expensive to teach and currently underfunded, placing undue pressure on young graduates to pay back expensive debts.
Supporting young veterinary science graduates is commendable, but research indicates that overall, we have too many vets already, which may be compounded by the increased course funding.
TOO MANY VETS – BUT NOT ENOUGH IN RURAL AREAS
We just don’t have enough vets working in rural areas. Which means now directing our attention to where our vets are placed, not how many vets we have.
Research from the Australian Veterinary Association (AVA – 2013 Workforce review report), indicates as key issues, ‘An oversupply of vets compared to demand’, which includes Victoria, and ‘There are grounds for concern about the supply of vets willing to enter and remain in rural practice.’
THE CHALLENGES ARE FINANCIAL AND LIFESTYLE
It seems country vets face ongoing financial pressures.
According to experienced vet Jedda McDonogh, vets in regional areas face many challenges, “The salaries are low, the hours are very long and the support often isn’t there,” she says.
On the issue of work/life balance, rural vet Jane Collins says this creates lifestyle issues for young vets, “You’re very busy, and you do a lot of afterhours, and that can impact your social life.” She adds that young vets, particularly those used to a university lifestyle, don’t find that sustainable for very long.
According to AVA policy maker Dr Debbie Neutze, vets have always had to face long and irregular working hours – but in recent times, young vet graduates are tending to make career choices based on achieving greater balance.
Students also see support and high standards as important. Veterinary student Stephanie Lee is open to working in a rural location, but “only if it provided the right support network – having vets there that I can fall back on and ask for advice, and also having a really high standard of care for patients,” she says.
BRIDGING THE GAP – A RANGE OF MEASURES
To help encourage young students into rural areas, Jedda believes a bond system could be considered, similar to the medical students, whereby in return for government-assisted financial support during study and employment, a newly graduated vet would agree to serve a period of time working in rural practices. Amalgamation of small rural practices would mean “more support, less hours needed to be worked, and a better lifestyle,” says Jedda, and we could place a higher priority on selecting students from rural backgrounds rather than on academic results.
Matthew Guy, Victoria Opposition leader believes governments need to decentralise our economy and our educational institutions, and provide more opportunity. “Whether it’s a differential tax rate, whether it’s our planning systems, this all helps with job growth and vet services out in country Victoria,” he says.
More course funding is a start, but clearly, governments, universities and the industry itself can do more to provide valuable veterinary services to regional Australia.