Farm vet crisis as young graduates opt out of large animal practices

110 veterinary posts vacant in the west and dairy strongholds as graduates opt out of large animal practices

110 vets posts remain vacant nationwide
110 vets posts remain vacant nationwide

Claire Mc Cormack

A crisis is emerging in animal health services, veterinary experts have warned.

There are currently 110 unfilled posts for vets in large animal practices and while western counties are hardest hit, dairy strongholds in Cork and Waterford are also feeling the impact.

"About 110 vacancies are currently advertised and that's bearing in mind that some people aren't even bothered advertising because they've tried it before and they've got no reply," said Veterinary Ireland spokesman Conor Geraghty (pictured).

"The graduates we have now are not that interested in large animal practice in Ireland because the practices tend to be small with just three or four vets.

"If you are a young graduate and you're in a three-vet practice that means you have to work two nights a week and every third weekend and maybe up to a half day on Saturday. You're nearly working an extra week a month."

Smaller animal practices have also become more attractive than traditional practices, said Mr Geraghty.

Conor Geraghty.
Conor Geraghty.

"We've never had more graduates, but they are migrating to small animal jobs and they are looking at jobs in industry and the Department [of Agriculture]."

He said large British practices, which typically have 15 or more vets, are also luring new young vets.

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"A lot of our graduates go to Canada, the UK or Australia for a year or two which is normal enough but when they experience that they don't want to come back to traditional veterinary practice in Ireland."

Family life has also become an issue for vets in rural areas.

"Vets with a young family don't want to get up in the middle of the night," said Mr Geraghty.

"If you're doing it one night a week it isn't too bad, but if you're doing it three or four nights a week it gets tough," he said.

However, Michael Doherty, Dean of Veterinary Medicine at UCD, said over 60pc of this year's 121 graduates are taking up jobs in "mixed practice" in Ireland over the coming months. "The feedback from the class that graduated in 2017 was that the majority of them proposed to work in mixed veterinary practice post- graduation which exposes them to farm animal, small animal and equine work," he said.

While Prof Doherty is optimistic about the ability of veterinary practice to adapt with increased emphasis on developing herd health, he is concerned about the sustainability of some practices in Donegal and Mayo.

Dairy counties

Conor Geraghty warns the sustainability of practices is not an issue confined to the west.

"There was a practice in Waterford that spent nine months looking to fill a vacancy last year and all the practices in Cork are looking for vets at the moment.

"Even in big dairy counties there is difficulty - there are as many in the south looking for vets as the west or maybe more," he said.

Mr Geraghty, director at XLVets Ireland, a partnership of 25 independently-owned veterinary practices, predicts the veterinary issue will affect dairy and other agri-sector expansion targets.

"The more expansion that goes on the more vets are needed. Farmers need a strong and sustainable veterinary service more than ever," he said.

"We need to start a conversation with the Department, the veterinary council and UCD and we need to recognise that there is a problem. We need to look at ways of increasing the work we do during the day so that we can decrease out-of-hours work."

'Part-time farmers ramping up the pressure on vets'

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