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Veterinarian shortage leaves clinics and hospitals in critical condition

Many clinics are having to booking routine appointments weeks and even months out.
Published: Jul. 14, 2021 at 6:13 PM EDT
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TOLEDO, Ohio (WTVG) - Veterinarians are a critical part of any community, but there’s a concerning shortage of them right now. It’s been fueled by several things, and many say there’s no end in sight.

At West Toledo Animal Hospital, vets treat thousands of pets every year. Doing that has become more challenging because of staff shortages. In fact, the clinic could use at least four more vets to keep up with demand.

“Vet hospitals all over are overwhelmed and understaffed. Here at West Toledo, that is true across the board from vets to the front desk staff. We are all working our tails off night and day. There is no end in sight, it gets to be daunting. We are doing our best by working together as a team.”

Dr. West says the shortage of vets is nothing new, but the problem has been exacerbated in recent months.

“Right now we are burning the candle at both ends. A lot of us are working from 7 in the morning until 7 at night. We are doing the best we can to keep our heads above water.”

The wait times at West Toledo are longer in most cases, and booking an appointment is also tougher than usual. “Getting in for a routine appointment can be 5-6 weeks right now.”

The staff understands that’s frustrating for people, but they have a few simple requests for clients. They ask everyone for patience and understanding.

“People don’t always understand the incredible volume we are working with and the amount of staff we have comparatively. We are trying to meet everyone’s needs and be there for everyone, but that takes time. We appreciate a little kindness, it goes a long way. I know people at vet clinics everywhere would appreciate that.”

The delays are a familiar story at most clinics around the region, including Humane Ohio. The low-cost spay/neuter clinic has a new facility that was designed to handle an increased number of surgeries, but that’s been tough because the clinic is down from four to two vets right now.

“Our goal when we moved into our new building was to only have a few weeks between the call and your appointment,” said executive director Julie Lyle. “Right now, we are scheduling into January. We don’t want to have to do that. It doesn’t make our clients happy, and we are not happy about it either. We went from four vets to two. We are not going to compromise safety to get more animals in for appointments. Our vets do a lot of surgeries every day, and we are all doing the best we can do.”

And when it comes to hiring at Humane Ohio. “We are a non-profit so we cannot compete with huge corporations. Some of them are offering housing, vehicles, paying off debt. We can’t do that and do what we do. It’s important to keep things affordable and accessible to people.”

Experts site several factors behind the shortages. For starters, more people got pets in the pandemic. People are also spending more time at home, so they’re noticing health issues with their animals they may not have otherwise.

Lyle says it’s also important to know there are more than 150 medical schools, and only 32 vet schools.

“There are only about 3,000 students who graduate from vet school every year. Right now, it feels like we could probably place ten times that number.”

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