Veterinarian shortage impacting local clinics

Reporter: Taylor Petras
Published: Updated:

Nearly one out of five families adopted a pet during the pandemic, but now, there may not be enough veterinarians to take care of them all.

More pets, on top of vets retiring and only so many accredited vet schools in the country have complicated this shortage that’s been brewing for years.

It is impacting clinics in Southwest Florida, but there are possible solutions to the problem.

The Perspective from Local Clinics

The phones are always ringing at the Gulf Coast Humane Society Veterinary Clinic.

People are calling to get appointments for their pets, but in the back, the exam rooms are filled, and sometimes there’s only one doctor working.

“The need doesn’t slow down when we don’t have the ability to care for the pets,” said Gary Willoughby, Executive Director of the Gulf Coast Humane Society. “We’ve had to reduce our hours, so we don’t overwork our existing doctors as well.”

So now the clinic is closed on Saturdays, and if you want to book an appointment, prepare to wait a month or more.

Dr. Sharon Powell with Edison Park Animal Hospital hasn’t had to cut back hours or turn animals away, but …

“I personally know of local clinics that have had to close down because of staffing shortages,” Powell said. “Sometimes clients don’t understand, ‘Hey, we can’t see you right away.’ If it’s a nonemergent case, we have to put them off.”

The Vet School Compromise

The University of Florida, one of only 33 accredited vet schools in the country, is trying to fill the need, but admission is tight.

“Typically, we have had for the last couple years around 1,900 to 2,000 applicants into the program for 150 seats,” said Dr. Amanda House, Associate Dean For Academic And Student Affairs at UF’s veterinary program. “We have a lot of excellent and qualified applicants into veterinary school for about 150 seats, so it’s a very competitive program to get into.”

That’s why Florida lawmakers are trying to take some of the pressure off. They’ve sent a bill to the governor’s desk that would let veterinarians use telehealth to see first-time patients and prescribe certain medications.

“I mean that’s going to take your time up too, and we still have to take good medical records, regardless of its telehealth or in person,” Powell said.

Another bill that didn’t make it through this legislative session would create a mid-level veterinarian position akin to a physician’s assistant.

“There are many things doctors do every day that these folks with that master level program and all that experience will be able to do for them as well,” Willoughby said.

An employee at Gulf Coast Humane Society is set to graduate in May with her veterinary clinical care degree.

They believe she would be among the first in the country to go through it for shelter medicine.

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