by Hollie Anne Hills
The Covid-19 pandemic has had an enormous impact on recruitment in the veterinary sector around the globe, and the profession continues to face various challenges and changes in working practices as a direct consequence. The farm veterinary sector faces its own unique set of changes and challenges, as it works to keep putting high-welfare food on our plates.
New Ways of Working
Around the world, lockdowns and restrictions have forced farm vets to change the way they operate day-to-day. Although vets working within the food chain have been granted essential worker status throughout the pandemic and have been allowed to continue much of their work — with only short pauses on disease surveillance schemes — the way they do so has changed.
There has been a rapid rise in the use of technology, with video consultations and telephone calls enabling herd health planning, consultancy work, and farm assurance to continue without veterinarians setting foot on a farm.
Not only does this minimize contact, save on driving time, and reduce emissions, it also presents exciting new opportunities for the application of technology in the future.
Contact time with the rest of the team has also changed – many farm vets now only go into the clinic to collect equipment and drugs, then do the rest of their work from home. Although the lack of social contact can be challenging, it does lead to a better work-life balance and potentially better staff retention.
Recent years have seen a decline in the number of newly qualified vets wanting to go into the farm sector due to the long working hours, adverse weather conditions, and the physical demands of the job. But with some of these changes likely to be permanent, more young vets may choose to enter the sector.
Availability of Jobs
Staff shortages across all industries have been a huge challenge for businesses to navigate throughout the pandemic, and the farm veterinary sector is no exception. Veterinary recruitment has been challenging for several years now, and the pandemic has not only further highlighted this but also worsened it.
Disease surveillance and meat hygiene
The largest increase in job availability in the farm veterinary sector has been in disease surveillance and meat hygiene. In the UK, these roles have traditionally been filled by veterinarians from Europe, but Brexit coupled with Covid has driven a large portion of this workforce back to their home countries, leaving many roles waiting to be filled in TB testing, meat hygiene, and exports.
Other countries around the world also rely heavily on a foreign workforce that has been forcibly lost since the start of the pandemic. Approximately one-third of veterinary roles in New Zealand are filled by foreign vets, but the country’s strict border controls have led to a shortfall in vets.
The government has been hesitant to allow exemptions for veterinarians, despite the role being on the long-term skills shortage list. As one of the world’s largest exporters of agricultural products, New Zealand has always had a disproportionate need for farm vets, and many foreign vets flock there during the busy seasons to develop their skills and offer their assistance.
However, in the past 18 months, veterinary teams have been understaffed, overstretched, and overworked and largely unable to fill vacancies with overseas vets.
Farm vets are certainly in high demand, and it does appear to be easier to find jobs than it has been previously.
However, fewer jobs are being advertised to overseas applicants due to travel restrictions and the complexities of quarantine/testing and visa availability.
What’s on Offer?
Despite an increase in the number of farm vet jobs available, there has been no great change in what’s on offer for prospective applicants.
Salaries have not increased particularly (although with more farm practices becoming part of large corporate groups, salaries and benefits are better than they have been previously).
Some of the organizations that employ vets to do government work are having to offer more money in order to attract domestic applicants, but low wages, as well as a lack of clinical work, are often why vets are unlikely to apply for these roles.
The biggest change in what’s on offer comes in the form of work-life balance – something that the pandemic has highlighted as being crucial for many when considering jobs. With the new ways of working since the start of the pandemic, the work-life balance that farm vet jobs can offer appears more appealing to many vets.
Not only are people more likely to want to work and spend time outdoors, but the reduced driving time and increased time spent doing paperwork and telephone calls from home means that farm jobs are more accessible and appealing to many.
For clinics wanting to employ foreign vets and encourage them to their country, there is more support than ever before for the few jobs that are available to overseas vets. Most overseas jobs can assist with visas, accreditation to practice, and travel.
But since the Covid-19 pandemic has led to difficulties entering many countries, employers have been assisting applicants in navigating the quarantine/testing systems, as well as offering excellent relocation packages, meaning that if you want to make the move there may be more help available than there has ever been, making what can be a lengthy and daunting process much easier.
The Covid-19 pandemic has forced change to working practices in all sectors, worldwide, with veterinary medicine being no exception. And it seems that countries around the world are facing the same challenges with staff shortages, increased job vacancies, and a lack of foreign workers arriving to help spread the workload in busy periods.
But the pandemic has also brought positive changes through the use of technology and allowed vets a better work-life balance through home-based working and less time on the road.
It is inevitable that the profession will continue to evolve and adapt to the emerging challenges and new ways of working, and as the world begins to open up, we all hope that many of these difficulties will start to fizzle out.