Struggling With Veterinary Retention? This Might Be Why

Veterinary retention

Unless you have been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard about the veterinarian and veterinary nurse/tech shortage.

All across the US, UK, Australia, and beyond, veterinary practices have been tearing out their hair trying to find recruits to fill their ranks. 

According to the Society of Practicing Veterinary Surgeons (SPVS), 52.3% of veterinary businesses have experienced a shortage of veterinary surgeons; despite an increase in graduates in this area. Alongside this, the veterinary profession has seen a rise in vets leaving the industry, with around 9.5% citing that they planned to jump ship soon[1].

At the crux of it all is staff retention. Veterinary medicine is seriously struggling with holding on to recruits- exacerbating an already tumultuous economic climate[2].

But why are practices struggling to retain their staff- and what can they do about it?

Why Practices Are Struggling With Veterinary Retention

Practices Aren’t Offering Work-Life Balance

This will come as no surprise to many. 

In a BVA paper on veterinary retention, researchers found that 41.2% of vets planning to leave their jobs cited this as to why. When asked about the one thing they would change about their work, 29.6% cited work hours- complaining about excessive out-of-hours scheduling and overtime expectations. 

Although the concept of work-life balance is complicated and often misconstrued (find out why here), overworking can be seriously detrimental to our health. Overworking has been associated with depression and anxiety, alongside several sleep conditions[3]. It is also associated with a few physical health conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease[4].

Many practices struggle to offer sufficient downtime for vets due to understaffing. This is particularly problematic as it is a self-perpetuating problem. As employees leave, remaining staff must work longer and harder, leading to decreased morale in practice and burnout. A vicious cycle the profession is in grave danger of riding to the bottom.

To remedy this, practices need to look at their systems and evaluate how they distribute work throughout their businesses. Although this is not a simple solution, measures must be taken to manage work-life balance if employers hope to retain their staff. 

Job one is to stop the rot. Job two is to rebuild from a more solid core. Does this mean radical short-term service ‘right sizing’ to help teams cope? According to VetX CEO and practice owner Dr. Dave Nicol, the answer is yes:

‘We simply cannot keep cranking the pressure up in the face of a huge increase in pet ownership – those chasing short-term profit are really risking the long-term viability of their practice as staff exit.’

They’re Not Focusing On Management 

 Around 36.9% of vets cite leaving their job because of management-related problems. Issues surrounding organization, autonomy, and regulation were all drivers for wanting to find a new position. 

 Practice managers play a central role in several areas and are responsible for managing employee’s workloads and schedules. Mismanagement of these areas can create a toxic work atmosphere that drives employee dissatisfaction and resentment. It can also affect workplace relationships, a cornerstone of veterinary gratification. 

fAlthough management problems are a primary cause of employee dissatisfaction, many practice managers seem to be unaware of this. When asked why they thought employees would leave their place of employment in one survey, many managers cited external factors (such as family) rather than internal factors related to management (factors commonly referenced by vets). 

This research suggests that managers are failing to understand the needs of their workforce. This disconnection is likely exacerbating turnover problems, given that employers don’t seem to have a clear understanding of what their employees want.

Practices, therefore, need to communicate and listen to their employees and learn what they value in practice. If business owners work on creating practices capable of meeting their staff needs, they stand a far better chance of encouraging employees to stay.

They’re Not Offering Salary Incentives

In countries such as the UK and the US, salaries have stagnated, causing a real problem for veterinarians. 

‘Based on my own experience, new hires are being compensated at about roughly the same level I was, two decades ago, at the outset of my career’ said Dr. Nicol.

‘My basic pay was lower, but I benefited from the addition of a car and a house in which to live, rent-free. Plus, I got a bonus cheque on top of that. Factor in inflation over the past 20 years, and you quickly realize that new hires are receiving a lot less than new vets did circa 1998. Their buying power has degraded by approximately 25%’.

According to the BVA, around 33.8% of vets were considering leaving their job because of this. This highlights a real discrepancy between employer and employee pay expectations. 

It seems vets feel there is a discrepancy between the demands of the job and the wages offered. The issue isn’t necessarily whether vets can afford to live on existing wages but whether they think it is worth it. Additional stressors within the profession (such as work-life balance) have created an effort-reward imbalance, driving many out of practice[5]. 

What Does This Mean For Veterinary Retention In The Future?

Although veterinary retention is a problem, it’s not all bad news for practice owners and managers. 

Though some vets want to leave the profession entirely, many are just bouncing from practice to practice. This is good news for employers, as it means that vets aren’t disillusioned with their work but with the practices they are working in.

This gives practices that do things differently the prime opportunity to capitalize on the poor employment experience. By working on workplace culture, practices can offer vets a unique workspace where employee values are recognized. This can help attract and retain veterinary candidates, significantly easing hiring headaches in the future.

Happy teams are frequently better performing too, so in theory, at least, there should be more profitable to offer back as a reward- further increasing your attractiveness to staff. 

If you want to learn a little bit about how you can improve your practice culture, check out this article on the: Three Ways To Maximise The Happiness Of Your Veterinary Team.


1- ‘Investigation of factors affecting recruitment and retention in the UK ….’ 31 Oct. 2020, Accessed 15 Jul. 2021.

2- ‘Recruitment and retention in the veterinary profession – News – BSAVA.’ 15 May. 2019, Accessed 15 Jul. 2021.

3- ‘Investigation of factors affecting recruitment and retention in the UK ….’ 31 Oct. 2020, Accessed 14 Jul. 2021.

4- ‘The Effect of Long Working Hours and Overtime on … – NCBI – NIH.’ 13 Jun. 2019, Accessed 15 Jul. 2021.

5-  ‘Investigation of factors affecting recruitment and retention in the UK ….’ 31 Oct. 2020, Accessed 15 Jul. 2021.

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