For those of you who are unfamiliar with population modelling (Figure 1), you may well think I have lost my senses. However, for those who take an interest in the balance between resource and population, you will know exactly where I am going with this article…
As a profession of equine vets, we face constant challenges. Recruitment and retention are not the first, and won’t be the last, but they are two of the current obstacles that seem to unify the equine vet world in real concern and fear. Equine vets are a declining demographic, and future generations do not seem tempted by our offering over that of other professions. So, in simple terms, we will fail our equine population by not having enough vets, or we can improve the offering and get the vets we want. But the question is, how?
This week, I am travelling to the Federation of European Equine Veterinary Associations (FEEVA) to present the findings of the BEVA Recruitment and Retention Survey at their congress. And this is a testament to the international concern in this area: almost every country shares our problem of increasing work with a decreasing number of vets. So, yet again, this topic is central to another equine vet conference.
But what will I say? Well, presenting the findings will be the easy part, as BEVA has acquired accurate comparative data, allowing for meaningful interpretation and actions. However, following on from the survey results, the crucial part of the presentation and discussions will be the recruitment and retention strategy for the future.
Equine vets are a declining demographic, and future generations do not seem tempted by our offering over that of other professions
A strategy for the future
My opinion is that we must use the recent changes to our advantage and not resent them as unfamiliar or foreign. During a stargazing dinner and discussion hosted by Agria last week, 25 representatives from the veterinary industry discussed the future of the veterinary profession and insurance worlds. It was simply an open chat to see what everyone thought. Having listened to the pros and cons of where we find ourselves from my colleagues across the industry, I felt that there was much good to be focused on.
We must use the recent changes to our advantage and not resent them as unfamiliar or foreign
For all the wrong reasons, COVID-19 has changed things forever. We have new lines in the sand which we could only have dreamed of a few years ago. Technology has advanced at an exponential rate, and clients have had to accept a new norm – for better or worse, the change has been accepted. People have also changed, and their drivers and ethos models are different.
But how does this translate to the equine world and our recruitment and retention crisis? I believe we should focus on the positives and find safe ways of exploring new methods for greater efficiency and satisfaction in our industry.
Telemedicine was a necessary evil during lockdowns over the past few years. However, used wisely and in a professional manner, tele-triage could form a standard part of any triage process, allowing a much more informed triage consultation than previously made over the telephone. I am certainly receiving tenfold more images and videos of horses than just a few years ago. Telemedicine is integrated into my business model and now forms an acceptable part of my client–patient–vet relationship.
What3Words and Arrivet are two examples of products that improve efficiencies and greatly reduce time waste. Equine vets waste vast amounts of time because of poor or missed communication. Removing these miscommunications will improve efficiency and satisfaction. Nobody wins when the vet is on-site but the client and/or patient is not ready.
While it does not replace face-to-face teaching, online CPD has vastly expanded the reach of learning to all equine vets. Travelling time and expense are no longer blockers in professional development and learning, and the variety of mediums is also expanding. Bite-sized learning, podcasts and clinical catch-ups are all now commonplace. Discussion forums also make communication and information sharing easier than ever.
While it does not replace face-to-face teaching, online CPD has vastly expanded the reach of learning to all equine vets
Independent out-of-hours provision
Out-of-hours services are becoming commonplace, and the equine world is accepting them. These will continue to increase and, in conjunction with immediate electronic records, may improve client care rather than risk continuity. If the regular vet has a better work–life balance, they will likely stay in their role for longer, and the individual animals will indirectly see the same vet more over their life than previously.
Upskilling our equine nurses
The looming veterinary workforce crisis is an ideal time to allow our equine nurses the clinical freedom they deserve. They have been clear in their desire to expand their role, and it is our responsibility to embrace this change. Qualified nurses have a skillset that is underutilised, and we can increase both our productivity and their job satisfaction at the same time.
The looming veterinary workforce crisis is an ideal time to allow our equine nurses the clinical freedom they deserve
As always, communication is key: we must engage with our clients and inform them of the upcoming changes. Further, we have a responsibility to communicate positively, embracing the inevitable. Reflecting on the “good old days” will not accelerate progress. Rather, positive messaging explaining how things will work and how we will jointly achieve a better future is the best way forward.
A changing world
As vets, we must also recognise that our clients are changing. Many equine owners will have differing needs to those in the past. We must evolve with our clients, and modernise our offerings to match their requirements. In the near future, sustainability and carbon offsetting will be questions asked when considering which veterinary provider to use. This would have seemed unthinkable only a few years ago.
We must continue to make the work fit the workforce rather than forcing the workforce to always fit the work
As I highlighted during my opening address at the recent BEVA Congress, we must continue to make the work fit the workforce rather than forcing the workforce to always fit the work.