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Young vets don't want to work in mixed practice anymore and prefer to treat pets, says TV vet


His tales of veterinary practice and country life have been credited with inspiring a generation of vets.

But the days of a James Herriot-like existence – lovingly recalled in his memoirs All Creatures Great and Small and the subsequent TV drama series – may be over as some younger members of the profession are shunning rural and mixed-practice work in favour of treating cats and dogs, it has been claimed.

Julian Norton, who appears in The Yorkshire Vet, a reality television series based on Herriot’s old practice in Thirsk, North Yorks, said the number of applicants for jobs at rural mixed surgeries – where both farm animals and pets are treated – was in decline.

Instead, graduates are choosing positions in larger practices where they do not have to make difficult decisions on their own or be called out to muddy farms late at night, he said.

“People are turning to surgeries where there are more cats, dogs and rabbits, as there is a general perception that a small animal job is easier,” he told The Daily Telegraph. “There are often less out-of-hours complaints, you don’t have the 2am cow to calve and you don’t have to spend three hours in the mud and rain.

“In mixed practice, you have stretches of 19 days without a day off and 11 nights on call, rain lashing down. People don’t want to do that any more.”


A few years ago, an opening at Skeldale Veterinary Centre, in North Yorks, would have received at least 50 applications, he said. But recently, one opportunity drew just 10 replies.

His concerns are not unfounded; a survey of nearly 7,000 vets by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) in 2014 showed the share of respondents employed in mixed animal practices declined from more than 22 per cent to 15.8 per cent in four years, while the numbers working in small animal or exotic practices increased from 48.9 per cent to 53.6 per cent.

The RCVS suggested that while the number of vets working in clinical practices will increase, the proportion working for mixed or farm animal equivalents will continue to fall.

Part of the problem is that younger vets or trainees at rural practices cannot rely on colleagues or Google if they are unsure about what to do, making their job more difficult, Mr Norton said.

He also believes the issue is exacerbated by the fact that some specialists refuse to do jobs on animals outside their own area, possibly due to fears about legal action if they get something wrong.

“If you were to ask a vet who sees himself as a horse vet to go and do a different species they would say they are not doing it, they are a horse vet,” Mr Norton said. “A vet is a vet in my mind. Nowadays people are so entrenched in their small field there is quite a reluctance to do things out of their area of interest and that is becoming increasingly the problem across the whole of the veterinary profession.”

While he praises the majority of those who work in the industry, he added: “There needs to be an enthusiasm from some people in the veterinary profession to continue to embrace the mixed work.”

But one newly trained vet, who graduated from the University of Bristol last year, said while the majority of her year went into small animal practice, it was because of job availability.

“The majority of people in my year probably did go into small animal practice but it should be considered that there is a much wider job availability within this field,” she said. “It should be noted that true 'mixed' practice is now very far and few between.”

She put the change partly down to small animal practices being able to make more money. “Farming is a business and sadly the James Herriot days are rapidly disappearing,” she added.

Gudrun Ravetz, president of the British Veterinary Association, said she believed many graduates were still keen to work in mixed practice. In a 2015 survey, 43 per cent of veterinary students nearing graduation said they would consider working at one.

But she said young vets were no longer staying in rural or mixed-practice roles, often moving to more cosmopolitan or commercial surgeries.

She said issues included being isolated in rural areas and working longer hours than in a larger practice.

“I think the challenge is how do we help these small practices to provide those things that graduates rightly need?” she said.

“We need to understand the value of vets and value of the services they provide because we can’t continually have vets working excessive hours. If you’re going to be rural, you need to be able to enjoy the parts of being rural.”