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Using your practice software to help offset veterinary staff shortages

Using your practice software to help offset veterinary staff shortages

It’s no surprise to veterinarians that the industry is facing a staffing shortage. It’s also no surprise that the veterinary staff shortage leads to a variety of problems:

  • Clients who are unhappy because they can’t get an appointment for their pets 

  • Potential new clients who decide to choose a clinic with a shorter wait time

  • A negative impact on veterinary mental health, in addition to staff members who are burned out from long hours and stressed by having to fill multiple roles in the clinic

Moreover, all of these factors lead to decreased revenue in addition to the increased stress. 

The roots of the veterinary staff shortage

The current staff shortage is a result of several factors converging to create a crisis for veterinarians, their staff, and their clients.

More pets, fewer vets

The veterinary staff crisis is, in part, a simple matter of supply and demand. In the US, for instance, the number of households with pets has increased dramatically since the 1980s. According to the Pew Research Center, approximately 70% of American households now own at least one pet. In addition, they demand more care for those pets. Thanks to advances in research and technology, pets that would have been euthanized a decade ago can now be treated. Those two factors have led to an overall increase in demand for veterinary services. 

However, the number of veterinarians and veterinary nurses and technicians obtaining the necessary education hasn’t kept pace. That’s partly due to a lack of open “seats.” The US currently has only 33 accredited veterinary schools, and competition is stiff. Only about 3,000 new veterinarians graduate each year. 

Although more and more universities offer veterinary programs and existing programs offer more seats, it will take a while to close the gap. Even with the increased number of available spots, it’s estimated that there will be a shortage of more than 17,000 vets by 2032.

Lack of ROI

The average veterinary student graduates with an average of $188,853 in educational debt. It can take nearly 30 years – almost an entire career! – to pay that back. That causes a number of vets to leave clinical practice for more profitable jobs in research and related fields. Vet techs and nurses face a similar dilemma – their pay is often too low to live on without taking on a second job. So, many leave for more profitable careers.

Stressful working conditions

The shortage of veterinary staff means more work for everyone else. Trying to accommodate every pet that needs care creates a hectic, fast-paced environment where staff members sometimes have to do tasks outside of their job description – vet techs may find themselves answering phone calls and scheduling appointments, for instance. And receptionists may have to deal with clients who expect them to answer questions they’re not trained to answer.

Long hours

Fewer workers means longer hours for those who stay. It’s one thing to say that work-life balance is important; it’s another to leave a waiting room full of patients or to walk out knowing that a pet parent is on their way with a dog that’s been hit by a car. 

It’s the same dilemma common with doctors: It’s just not that easy to walk away from patients. Saying that the answer is for veterinary staff to stick to their scheduled shifts is asking them to turn off the empathy that drew them to the profession in the first place. They need to know that someone else will clock in when they clock out.

Unhappy clients

Nobody wants to hear that their sick pet can’t be seen for a week because the practice is booked solid. And spending a long time in the waiting room can cause even the nicest clients to complain. (Ironically, most staff members can relate to the client’s complaints; they just can’t do anything about it. Lack of agency in the workplace is a known psychological drain, so chalk up another reason for the veterinary staff shortage.) 

Heartbreaking moments

The sad reality is that pets don’t live as long as their human family. That means veterinary staff often have to deliver bad news about pets that are loved like family members. They have to help pet parents navigate difficult decisions like what to do if their pet needs life-saving treatment they can’t afford or, conversely, how long they should hold on to a pet with no quality of life. These patients can have a severe impact on veterinary mental health and push already stressed veterinary staff members to the breaking point.



You can’t fix all causes of stress in a veterinary clinic.

Things like struggling to restrain a huge dog who’s frightened and trying to escape, or sitting with a family while their pet is being euthanized – these are always going to be stressful. And even though the veterinary educational pipeline is expanding, it’ll take several years before those students are ready to take their places in veterinary clinics. 

Those are big issues with no easy solutions. But solving problems that can be solved now decreases veterinary staff stress, increases employee mental health, and improves patient care. One way to do that is to organize workflows and create efficiencies through your veterinary software, allowing you and your staff members to get back to doing what you love.

How veterinary software can ease the stress of the veterinary staff shortage

Nobody goes to vet tech school to answer phones or dig through file folders trying to find a patient’s records. And no veterinarian opens a practice intending to burn staff members out. 

But this is what often happens: A small veterinary practice delivers great care and cultivates close client relationships. As a result, the practice grows. And that’s a good thing – except that the growth happens so gradually that the practice keeps cobbling together ad-hoc bandaids that work. Until they don’t. Then the lack of organization turns what should be routine practice management tasks into a stressful mess where staff members always feel like they’re playing catch-up. Add the veterinary staff shortage to the mix, and it’s no wonder that people flee for jobs in other fields.

Fortunately, a good, cloud-based PIMS (practice management system) can streamline and automate many of the tasks that, while important, are not only unfulfilling, but add a lot of stress to a staff member’s day:

Some of the features that veterinary practices value the most include:

  • Automated appointment and medication refill reminders: Veterinary staff members spend a lot of time on the phone, reminding patients when their pet is due for a checkup or a vaccine booster, confirming scheduled appointments, or giving them a heads-up when their pet’s medications are due for a refill. Automating these tasks through veterinary software (via email or text messaging) frees staff members up to perform other tasks.

  • Online appointment scheduling: Online scheduling is as popular with clients as it is with veterinary staff. It makes things easier for everybody.

  • Fast and easy access to patient records: When a client calls the practice, having immediate access to the patient’s records helps staff members make decisions about how to respond based on medical history, be it ongoing conditions, recent surgeries, etc.

  • Scripts to help receptionists triage patients: Not only will a list of pre-determined questions help receptionists decide how urgently a patient needs to be seen, the receptionists can add the answers directly into the call record so the veterinarian or vet tech will know how to prepare for the visit.

  • Prompts for important conversations: At any given touchpoint (a phone call, checking in at the clinic, checking out, etc.), veterinary software can present a prompt – asking if the client needs more heartworm medication, for instance. Moreover, if records show that a client doesn’t have pet insurance, the software could prompt the staff member to initiate that conversation. (This isn’t just a time-saver; encouraging clients to purchase pet insurance can help eliminate those heartbreaking situations when pets need treatment the pet parents can’t afford.)

  • Easier invoicing: The veterinarian or practice manager can assign a fee to every service the clinic provides. Once that’s done, it’s a simple matter of checking the box next to services provided at that appointment.

  • Telemedicine or chat apps: Not every client concern requires an in-person visit (even if they think it does!). Chat apps can be a great way for pet parents to get answers to questions like post-surgical care, and telemedicine gives vets a way to look at a rash or injury without a visit to the clinic.

In addition, today’s veterinary school graduates grew up with technology and will expect it from any clinic they join. Not having automated systems can be a huge negative when it comes to attracting veterinary staff.

Want to know more about how veterinary software can make a difference in your practice? Download our ebook, or visit Provet Cloud to learn about our platform’s features and benefits as well as the many ways you can customize it to work the way your practice works, including integrations with many of the programs you may already use. 


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