Veterinarians suffering burnout, forcing some Calgary animal clinics and hospitals to reduce hours

As the pandemic wears on, veterinarians are getting worn out. Everyone is impacted by COVID-19 and the restrictions brought in to protect people's health, but those in the veterinary medicine field are also dealing with more patients, higher stress and staff shortages.

"It's a snowball effect in that we feel overwhelmed a lot of the time and its burnt out a lot of staff," said Dr. Lorenza Malaguti, the medical director at Calgary's McKnight Veterinary Hospital.

A recent survey by ROYALE found that one in six Canadians adopted a cat or dog during the pandemic. Some of those pets turn into patients, with animal clinics and hospitals seeing an increase in the last 13 months.

On top of that, veterinarians say they had already been dealing with a lack of resources.

"We have a shortage in many areas of the country for veterinarians, vet technicians and then you have a pandemic interfering with the training, education and licensing," said Dr. Maggie Brown-Bury, a veterinarian in Newfoundland and member of the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association.

MENTAL HEALTH RISK

Even before the pandemic, people in the veterinary field were at a greater risk of mental health issues than the general public.

A University of Guelph report released in February of 2020 showed about 17 per cent of Canadian veterinarians had considered suicide or experienced suicidal thoughts. In comparison, a survey from the Canadian Mental Health Association found about six per cent of Canadians had suicidal thoughts.

Staff burnout, stress leave and added staff shortages due to vets having to isolate during the pandemic has caused some clinics to limit hours.

"Some of the other hospitals in the city have had to close at night because they don't have an emergency doctor. We've actually had to do it as well," said Dr. Malaguti.

"It puts even more stress on us, because we want to be there for people."

More pet patients means longer wait times and vets say job losses caused by the pandemic have put some people in difficult financial situations when they bring their animals in.

"It's a moral stress to have to decide between protecting your own health and your own staff... or providing care for these animals that you went into the industry to care for," said Dr. Brown-Bury.