Veterinary service providers struggle to keep up with growing demand for animal care

MIDDLETON, Wis. – Recent veterinary school graduates are having no trouble landing jobs — even before they complete their degrees they’re fielding three to five job offers — but the bad news is the veterinarian void is too large for them to fill.

According to staff at Middleton’s All For Pets Veterinary Clinic, between people buying more pets during the pandemic, long-time owners being more watchful of their existing pets and older staff retiring, the demand for vets has increased dramatically in the last three years.

Clinic veterinarian Julie James said right now, appointments are harder to come by and wait times are much longer than in years past, frustrating both clients and staff.

“A lot of our front staff, particularly our receptionists, sometimes have to deal with some very difficult people and people who get angry and people can get belligerent,” she said. “We have a higher turnover of front staff because they’re having to deal with those kinds of things.”

James said luckily All for Pets is currently fully staffed, but many emergency clinics in Dane County are having a hard time finding employees. She said in the worst cases that has led to eight-hour wait times and clinics having to close early.

Dr. Mark Markel, the dean of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s School of Veterinary Medicine, said the problem isn’t a lack of people interested in the profession. In fact, he said the school saw twice in the last two years as applicants than years prior.

Even though UW has expanded its class size, that still leaves 2,000 hopeful students competing for fewer than 100 slots.

It’s one of the reason’s the vet school is expanding its current facility by constructing a new $150 million building next door. It’s a project Markel has been pushing for since 2002, and since construction began in June of last year he’s been eagerly watching the progress through his office window.

“It’s a delight to see it going up,” he said of the view. “It will position the school I think to excel in the coming decades for sure.”

The new building, with move-in set for next fall, will double the size of the school’s large animal hospital, provide a better space to educate more students and allow them to see more patients.

“It’s a very challenging situation to say the least,” Markel said. “The difficulty if you’re the dean of a veterinary medical school is even if you decide you’re going to increase your class sizes it’s at least four years if not five before you can even have those students graduate.”

He also said in addition to expanding class size, new vet schools have opened up and more foreign schools are being accredited.

Still, in the meantime, it seems people will have to make peace with longer wait times as schools begin the slow and steady process of providing pets with better care.

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