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May 15, 2021

Veterinarians globally feel pandemic pressures

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Stress levels among veterinary professionals in companion animal practice worldwide are higher than ever before, with 64% being quite or very stressed as of November 2020, compared with 36% before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Those figures come from a survey of 5,000 veterinary professionals in 91 countries on every continent except Antarctica. The survey was conducted by CM Research, a United Kingdom–based market research agency specializing in the veterinary and pet sectors, in partnership with the World Small Animal Veterinary Association. CM Research presented survey results during the session “Global Impact of COVID-19: The Veterinarian’s Perspective” on March 24 at the joint virtual congress of the WSAVA and the Federation of European Companion Animal Veterinary Associations.

Almost all of the clinics represented by survey respondents implemented additional measures or policies because of the pandemic, said Maria Lindahl, an associate director at the company. The most common measures were wearing personal protective equipment and limiting clients inside clinics. The Americas and Europe put in place a broader array of measures.

“With this change in terms of minimizing face-to-face contact with people naturally also comes a shift in the way that we communicate with clients,” Lindahl said. Worldwide, as of November, 65% of clinics used the phone more than before the pandemic, and 52% of clinics used email more, while 20% used mail less. In addition, 30% of clinics reported using Facebook more than before.

Globally, 88% of veterinary professionals have experienced delivery delays or completely ran out of some products because of the pandemic. North America has been most affected, with only 7% of veterinary professionals not experiencing any supply issues. The most common supply issues globally and in North America involved pharmaceuticals and PPE.

“One thing that we’ve seen is that there’s actually been an increase in the number of clients for many practices,” Lindahl said. Worldwide, 48% of clinics have more clients than before the pandemic, with 77% of clinics in North America having more clients.

“In parallel with this surge in the number of animals, we’re also seeing changing behaviors in terms of things like preventative care,” Lindahl said. Globally, 44% of clinics had a reduction in routine checkups, while just 12% had an increase. In North America, 32% of clinics had a reduction in routine checkups, but 27% had an increase. In the United Kingdom, 60% of clinics had a reduction in vaccinations, compared with just 21% of clinics in the United States.

“What has the toll really been on clinic staff at both a personal and professional level during this pandemic?” Lindahl asked. In the United States, stress levels among veterinary professionals in companion animal practice reflect the worldwide trend, with 71% in the U.S. being quite or very stressed as of November, compared with 35% before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Globally, 26% of veterinary professionals were very or quite dissatisfied with their job as of November, up from 11% before the pandemic. In the U.S., 31% of veterinary professionals were very or quite dissatisfied with their job as of November, up from 13%.

The mean burnout score globally was 4.3 on a scale of 0 to 10 as of November. Broken down by roles, the score was 5.5 for veterinary technicians or nurses, 4.9 for full-time veterinarians who were not owners or partners, 3.8 for part-time or relief veterinarians, and 3.6 for owners or partners. Women had a mean burnout score of 4.6, compared with 3.6 for men. The burnout score decreased with increasing years of experience.

“We all know that this is a really high-pressure profession,” Lindahl said, and mental health issues from before the pandemic have worsened. “So that’s actually really concerning and something that is a conversation that we definitely need to keep going and really think about what can be done about this as we look to the future.”

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