Why one in three vets wants career change

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Australian veterinarians have been pushed to the "absolute brink", and the crisis could spell disaster for pet owners as vets leave the industry in droves. 

A recent survey shows nearly 30 per cent of veterinarians plan to leave the industry within the next five years, and one in 10 are looking for an immediate career change.

The long-running crisis among veterinarians has been well-documented, with June research showing nearly 70 per cent of vets have lost a colleague or peer to suicide. 

However, union Professionals Australia - which conducted the new survey - point to the addition of three million "pandemic pets" in two years as exacerbating vets' gruelling work conditions. 

Vets die from suicide at four times the rate of the general population, according to the union. 

"Demand for veterinary services increased during the pandemic and this further intensified workloads and pressure," chief executive Jill McCabe said.

"As a result, many of our already hard-working veterinarians have been pushed to the absolute brink and are wanting to leave the industry."

The survey of more than 500 Australian veterinarians in August this year showed 77 per cent are dissatisfied with the industry, and seven in 10 would warn others against pursuing a career as a vet. 

More than half of the vets surveyed have worked in the industry for fewer than 10 years.

The research findings were unsurprising to long-time vet Tiffany Ellis, who has worked across the country since having to close her emergency animal centre in Albury-Wodonga in 2020. 

A shortage of vets compounded by COVID-19 led to the centre's closure, she said. 

"(Early career professionals are) really struggling and, for some of them, it's a case of 'How long can I stick it out?'," Ms Ellis told AAP. 

"Almost like jumping out of the frying pan into the fire, they think, 'Well, anywhere's got to be better than here', then they chop and change a few workplaces, and then they leave the profession."

The industry will continue to lose highly qualified and experienced veterinarians without significant reform, and will struggle to replace them with new candidates, Ms McCabe said. 

Veterinarians cited inadequate pay and poor working conditions as among their reasons for wanting to leave, with 13 per cent of those surveyed working more than 46 hours a week. 

Of those working overtime, more than one in three were going unpaid. 

One in five vets surveyed worked between five hours and 15 hours of overtime or more every week. 

Vets also noted a lack of work-life balance and wanting a career change as their reasons for leaving. 

"Pretty much everyone I know in the profession is burned out," one veterinarian said in their response to the survey.

Another said: "I'm tired of toxic work environments where staff are expected to work long hours under high stress conditions with caseloads that are unrealistic, where patient care suffers due to time constraints, client abuse is standard and practice owners are so preoccupied with money that they drive staff to breaking point regularly."

Ms Ellis notes vets have a high level of intrinsic motivation to do right by everyone and put the needs of animals and clients beyond their own. 

"They can be staying back and putting in extra hours, and coming in outside of rostered hours," she said.

"Eventually, they get burnt out."

The survey makes the case for measures proposed in the Albanese government's Secure Jobs, Better Pay bill, which will make bargaining more accessible for vets, Ms McCabe said. 

The union is looking at ways to improve conditions for vets, and will represent workers in a number of industries in a review about graduate pay rates this year. 

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