Veterinarian shortage: "The problem is very serious"
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Veterinarian shortage: "The problem is very serious"

Darina Schweizer
Translation: machine translated

There is a shortage of veterinarians in Switzerland. Olivier Glardon, President of the Society of Swiss Veterinarians, says the situation is precarious. And this is despite the fact that there is great interest among the next generation.

Schools, hospitals, catering - wherever you look, there is a shortage of staff. You probably haven't noticed this much at the vet's surgery. But behind closed doors at the latest, it becomes clear: Swiss vets are running on empty. We urgently need more of them. Associations and political parties are campaigning for this with political initiatives. But the federal government does not see an acute problem. Olivier Glardon, President of the Society of Swiss Veterinarians, with whom I spoke on the phone, takes a completely different view.

Olivier Glardon is Switzerland's top veterinarian. He is concerned about developments in the veterinary sector.
Olivier Glardon is Switzerland's top veterinarian. He is concerned about developments in the veterinary sector.
Source: Gesellschaft Schweizer Tierärztinnen und Tierärzte

Olivier Glardon, how dramatic is the shortage of vets in Switzerland?
The problem is very serious. Veterinarians are often stretched to their limits to ensure that our pets and farm animals can still be treated appropriately. The situation is definitely overstretched.

What are the reasons?
The federal government has failed to recognise the shortage of specialists in the veterinary sector in recent years. It covered the need with foreign workers and thought that was enough.

How many are there in relation to the number of Swiss graduates in veterinary sciences?
Every year, 180 to 200 veterinarians are brought to Switzerland from the EU. Only 120 Swiss students graduate each year. The ratio is therefore around 60 to 40. In addition, many veterinarians from the baby boomer generation are now retiring.

Can they not be replaced?
Not one to one. Many young vets no longer want to work full-time, but part-time instead. We would currently have to replace the full-time positions with around 1.4 times as many part-time positions. Domestic graduates alone cannot cover this ratio.

Why is that? Is the profession no longer attractive?
On the contrary. Every year, around 600 Swiss students are interested in veterinary science. 450 take the entrance test. Of these, however, only 180 are admitted to the programme. And of these, the 150 best are selected after the first year.

So should the entry threshold be lowered?
From our point of view, yes. However, the Vetsuisse Faculty of the University of Bern does not share this view. It fears that quality will suffer as a result.

Don't you?
You could ask yourself whether the quality will not decrease if more and more foreign vets have to be brought into the country. There is much less control over standards there.

How else can the shortage of vets be explained?
The profession has become much more technical, patients are demanding more and more complex treatments and the diseases are more complex. This does not make it easy for graduates to enter the profession. Many do not even start working clinically. They stay at university or go into research or industry.

Young veterinarians find it particularly difficult to start their careers these days.
Young veterinarians find it particularly difficult to start their careers these days.
Source: Shutterstock/Gorodenkoff

Would the veterinary profession even be able to meet the needs of the next generation?
Yes, but we need new and more flexible working models.

For example?
Collaboration within the practice would have to be adapted. Veterinarians should only do veterinary work. It should be easier to delegate other tasks.

To whom?
In addition to practice assistants, new job profiles are also needed in veterinary practices. For example, practice managers, agricultural engineers or specialised veterinary assistants in the areas of livestock and small animals.

There are no figures on where there is the greatest shortage of veterinarians. Difficulties in filling vacancies are becoming apparent in all areas of veterinary medicine. Basic veterinary care and a comprehensive emergency service are particularly difficult to guarantee in peripheral and mountainous regions.

What are you doing as a veterinary association?
In 2023, we presented numerous veterinarians with well-run practices that they can use as a model. We also want to increase the number of students. We can count on some political support here. We are planning to support young veterinarians by providing mentoring and coaching to help them start their careers. We are also working with the Vetsuisse Faculty to adapt career information. This way, high school students know more precisely what to expect later on. We have developed a total of 30 measures.

What do you expect from the federal government?
That it fulfils its duty. If it is committed to improved animal welfare measures and disease prevention in Switzerland, it must also support domestic veterinarians. The same applies to the quality assurance of professional practice. Otherwise the system will soon collapse.

What do you think about the shortage of vets? Do you feel it or know any vets affected by it? Tell the Community and me in a comment.

Header image: Shutterstock/Gorodenkoff

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I like anything that has four legs or roots. The books I enjoy let me peer into the abyss of the human psyche. Unlike those wretched mountains that are forever blocking the view – especially of the sea. Lighthouses are a great place for getting some fresh air too, you know? 

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