Too many vets chasing too few jobs keeps salaries in doldrums - Veterinary Practice
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Too many vets chasing too few jobs keeps salaries in doldrums

Periscope continues the series of reflections on issues of current concern.

The recent SPVS’ survey showing an overall reduction in veterinary surgeons’ salaries cannot be anything but a cause for concern. Contrary to popular belief, vets do not generally receive huge (or even large) salaries for the not inconsiderable workload many of them undertake. The fact that their remuneration in 2013 is below that of 2010 is in many respects a disgrace.

Clearly there has been a widespread recession which has affected the turnover of practices throughout the country. If that was the only cause then one could shrug and say that things were bound to pick up as the economy improved.

It is likely though that there is a more sinister underlying problem. There are probably too many vets chasing too few jobs and that good old capitalist rule of “supply and demand” is exerting its influence and applying downward pressure to salaries. Even when the economy improves, the increasing over-supply of vets is likely to keep salaries very much in the doldrums.

The reasons for the over-supply are numerous but in simple terms boils down to too many vets being trained and entering the job market. The source of this increase is to be found both in the almost year on year increase in the number of vets graduating from the original six vet schools, plus the contribution from Nottingham University over the recent past. Now there will be an eighth vet school at the University of Surrey throwing its hat into the ring.

There is, of course, a further pressure on supply. Freedom of movement within the European Union means (quite rightly) that vets graduating from vet schools across Europe are free to ply their trade in the UK. Just as UK graduates are able to work in continental Europe if they so wish and are able to master the language barrier that most of our European partners appear to take in their stride.

For some time, a number of countries in Europe have traditionally trained a relatively large number of veterinary surgeons and the opportunities for employment in their country of origin may be even more limited than for graduates in the UK.

Small wonder then that many of those vets choose to cross the channel and work here, often for salaries that are unattainable from whence they came. One should applaud, not criticise, them for having the get up and go to grab the opportunity with both hands.

In the context of the wider debate about current immigration into the UK and in order to leave no doubt in the mind of the reader, I should like to state categorically that this article is not in any way a xenophobic attack on vets who have come from abroad to work in the UK.

There are excellent, average and no doubt a few mediocre individuals amongst them just as there are amongst vets graduating from within the UK. The contribution that each of these European vets (and vets from third countries) make to veterinary practice in the UK is of equal worth to that of any UK graduate. The problem is that they (along with the increasing number of home-grown graduates) contribute to the over-supply.

The single market and the opportunities of Europe-wide employment have therefore created both opportunities and problems. Simply reducing the number of UK graduates will not solve the problem if the number of European graduates simply rises in response.

It also seems to me that it must be in the interests of veterinary graduates from throughout Europe (in order to safeguard all our livelihoods) that there be some sort of Europe-wide strategy to tackle this problem, which I see as likely to worsen as time goes on.

Worsen until, of course, there are so many unemployed vets (or vets who are employed in fields outside their area of undergraduate training simply in order to make a living) that school leavers finally get the message that this is not a profession that will lead to riches and high living.

I have no idea if any co-operative organisation exists (a pan-European SPVS?) or if there are discussions (formal or informal) at any level concerning this predicament. If not then it would seem appropriate that moves are taken to co-operate and formulate a strategy that can address the issue across Europe’s boundaries and perhaps come to some sort of consensus as to how many vets each country should sensibly produce.

If there are moves already afoot in this respect then it would be helpful if those involved publicised it more widely so that we at the sharp end could see what was being said and done on our behalf.

If, as I suspect, no such discussion is taking place, then maybe it is time that someone started it. BVA? SPVS? BVU? Any one of them could be the catalyst to take a hard, objective look at the number of vets produced in the EU and perhaps start a dialogue that seeks to address the problem before the inevitable gross oversupply happens.

As it happens, I suspect that the profession will continue to bury its head in the sand in the hope that market forces will miraculously rescue us from the mire. In my opinion, we are sleep-walking towards a cliff edge in much the same way as migrating lemmings, and I believe that the result will be very much the same as happens with that species.

There will, of course, be some survivors who will live to fight another day. The casualties, meanwhile, will simply have to pick up the pieces as best they can and hope that those £60,000 student debts will somehow disappear when the clock strikes midnight. The pantomime season is almost upon us after all.

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* Winners will be chosen at random from all correct entries. For a full set of competition rules go to References: 1. Kolm US and Kosztolich A. Eur J Comp Anim Pract (2000); X: 119-30. 2. The BENCH Study Group. J Vet Cardiol (1999); 1: 7-18. 3. Kitagawa H et al. J Vet Med (1997); 59(7): 513-520. 4. Kadence Quality of Life Study (Fortekor +/- other treatments) – Dec 2008. Fortekor POM in Ireland, POM-V in the UK contains benazepril. For further information contact Novartis Animal Health UK Ltd., Frimley Business Park, Frimley, Camberley, Surrey, GU16 7SR or call Novartis Animal Health UK Ltd. on 01276 694 402 in the UK or 051 377 201 in Ireland. FORTEKOR is a registered trademark of Novartis AG, Basel, Switzerland. © 2013 Novartis Animal Health UK Ltd. Use medicines responsibly ( UK/FOR/13/0136 09/13 Novartis Animal Health, maker of Fortekor®, is proud to support the charity Hounds for Heroes. The association of Hounds for Heroes with the ‘Helping Hearts’ competition does not imply that the charity endorses the use of Fortekor. Fortekor is a POM-V medicine and veterinarians should therefore make their own prescribing decisions over its appropriate use.
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NEW veterinary schools are not needed in the UK, was the conclusion of a debate held by at the BEVA congress in September. More than 70% of voters disagreed with the motion that new vet schools will benefit equine veterinary practice in the UK – reflecting a recent survey indicating that up to five times as many veterinary graduates may be seeking work in equine practice as there are jobs available. Chris Proudman, head of Surrey University’s new veterinary school, and Mark Bowen, associate professor of veterinary internal medicine at Nottingham, advocated that new UK vet schools were important for the advancement of the profession. “New schools will benefit the profession by improving the standards of veterinary education and creating what the consumer wants,” said Prof. Bowen. He argued that new schools would help improve teaching methods and clinical training, while the resultant smaller class sizes would provide greater opportunities for hands-on training. Chris Proudman said that new schools could deliver veterinary graduates better equipped with the
skills and knowledge to be the veterinary leaders of the future. Alastair Welch, of Donnington Grove Veterinary Group in Berkshire, and Lucy Grieve, of Darley PreTraining in Newmarket, argued that new schools would have a detrimental impact on the industry over the longer term and that their introduction demonstrated a slackening of the RCVS’s management of the profession. Miss Grieve contended that it was irresponsible and immoral to allow individuals to commit five or six years, and tens of thousands of pounds, towards a veterinary career without them first being made aware of the limited opportunities available in very popular sectors of the profession such as equine practice. Paul Jepson, the new president of BEVA, said: “With more than 70% of voters opposing the motion, there is clearly a discernible level of disquiet amongst BEVA members about the current job market in equine practice and the further dilution of opportunities that increased numbers of graduates will create.” n The debate can be viewed online for free at (webinar tab

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