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Veterinary Career landscape UK & Ireland 2024

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5 months ago

by Ciaran

Veterinary Career landscape UK & Ireland 2024

The current recruitment picture in Northern Ireland remains difficult. The current shortfall of vets is an estimated 10% of the workforce or roughly 120 vets. For a region dependent on animal based food production the number is concerning. It’s easy to say the same old problems still exist of too many vacancies and not enough vets. But that is a far too simplistic view of the market at the moment, with not all practices suffering shortages and not all areas. 

Vets continue to be in demand across Northern Ireland, practices in Belfast tend to find it a little bit easier to recruit however experienced talent is always sought after.

Province wide the picture is slightly different. Small animal vets are still in demand in most areas but by far and away farm and mixed vets are most in demand. Smaller practices again bare the brunt of the shortages with vets opting for larger practices with a bigger team that can offer a more favourable rota. This is especially true for farm and mixed vets with candidates trying to achieve a more favourable 1:4 or 1:5 out of hours rota.

Across Ireland the picture is much the same, save for Dublin where we have seen significant competition for roles amongst candidates, with practices now holding more formal interview processes and able to choose between multiple applicants, even for experienced candidates. Finding an opportunity for a graduate or candidate with 1 or 2 years experience in Dublin is very difficult currently. Outside of Dublin the picture is much the same as Northern Ireland with shortages of vets for mixed and farm work as well as small animal in rural areas. 

Equine as always is an outlier. Those roles have a steady stream of applicants with competition between candidates for the very best roles. 

Across the UK the trend continues, London, Edinburgh and Bristol are by far and away the most popular locations meaning opportunities are difficult to find for all levels of vets. However as we all know veterinary reaches to every town and village so outside of these locations, in the UK and Ireland the recruitment picture for practices remains challenging. 

Salaries continue to rise across Northern Ireland as practices try to attract and retain the best talent. Newly qualified small animal vets starting anywhere in the range of £33k - £35K in 2023 with some practices stretching close to £40k

For mixed and large animal roles salaries start in the £35k range and will include accommodation and a vehicle. In absence of accommodation practices will offer a higher base circa £40k and above.
Experienced small animal vets with 3-4 years plus of experience, can command salaries north of £50k, with mixed and farm vets, with similar experience are on base salaries close to £55k. 

We have seen salaries of £65k - £80k for the best talent in Northern Ireland and across the UK. 

So from a candidate's perspective packages have never been better. Of course every individual's circumstances are unique, and we would encourage anyone who wants to know their value to reach out in confidence to one of our specialist consultants. 

Benefits wise, many employers are offering 4 day weeks, enhanced pensions, increased holidays, private medical insurance, relocation packages, housing or a housing allowance, professional memberships, training and CPD and staff discounts. 

However, salaries and benefits alone aren’t enough to attract talent to Northern Ireland. With no Veterinary College we are reliant on young vets training elsewhere and then returning. Of course many do but some don’t. With a lack of functioning government and cuts to services candidates think twice. Add into this mix Brexit. All EU candidates require a visa to work in the UK. This extra layer of complication and cost puts an administrative barrier between candidates and clients. For many, if the choice is between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland they choose ROI, as the process is simpler, with no need for cumbersome visa processes and costs. It’s a no contest. Additionally Northern Ireland is seen as a less progressive and welcoming place than say Ireland and no matter if that is correct or not, there can be no doubt it is the perception. Where candidates do want to come to the UK many will choose GB over NI.  

Would a new vet school solve our recruitment issues? Possibly. An additional vet school supplying homegrown talent has been mentioned for years in Northern Ireland and there can be no doubt additional vets would be a huge help. But there are still huge question marks over retention of vets in the industry with many choosing to leave after just a few years. In a recent survey up to a third of young vets are considering leaving in the next 2 years. Although a new vet school is envisaged in Limerick, it is highly unlikely that one will appear in Northern Ireland. At the time of writing there isn’t even a functioning government and with no political will it is doubtful the idea will gain any traction. Even suspending reality for a moment, if a new school opened in the morning you would still be five years away from any fruits it may deliver, which means there is no quick fix. 

What’s the solution? A greater focus must be put on retaining vets. Here’s a few ideas that employers could consider. Firstly an uplift in salaries. Some practices in my view should increase baseline pay for all their veterinary and nursing staff. With the cost of living increasing, veterinary staff see that their money doesn’t stretch as far. Many move jobs to obtain an uplift. Secondly, practices ought to look at golden handshakes and retention bonuses paid after 2 or 3 years of service in the practice. If an employee completes 2,4,6, or 8 years service, reward them, because the costs of going out to replace them will be far greater than the 5k or 10k bonus that a practice may pay. Thirdly, a greater focus on work life balance with support for vets, whether that be mental health supports, or additional training. Practices must put their protective arm around their staff and look after them both at work and away from work. Many practices already offer 4 day weeks, term time working, weekends only or no out of hours. We have even seen one of the larger groups offer farm work with no out of hours cover, with that falling to a dedicated out of hours service. More and more practices are replicating the shift patterns mentioned and they need to continue to do so.

Furthermore technology including automation and Artificial Intelligence (AI) will become a bigger part of veterinary life. From appointment scheduling, streamlining processes to diagnosis and treatment. The use of AI in clinical diagnostic imaging practice will continue to grow, largely because much of the data—radiographs, ultrasound, CT, MRI, and their corresponding reports are in digital form.
Scare stories exist around the impact and threats of AI, (insert Terminator and Skynet references here) but for me it is something that should be embraced and veterinary medicine will be a perfect opportunity to showcase what exactly it can do. This should help to reduce the workload of not only the vet but also the nursing and auxiliary staff in the business. 

Veterinary also needs to offer the entrepreneurial vet an opportunity. Buying a practice now is beyond the reach of many and corporates might struggle to get experienced vets to take on additional responsibilities in the practice. In my view, practices including veterinary corporations need to move to an equity share that doesn’t involve a huge sum to buy in with no opportunity to sell. Practices should be offering vets a percentage after a period of service, with a guaranteed buyout every number of years based on the EBIT of the practice. What they gain would be an experienced vet or vets, focussed on building a successful team and profitable practice. They should remove the concerns that many vets have. What if I need to get out? Can I afford or obtain the loan? This is a radical solution but insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. 

In the USA, Canada and Asian markets bonuses are already based upon turnover or profit generated by the veterinarian and once again this is an option that the UK and Ireland must look at. 

So 2024 and beyond will remain a challenging environment to recruit in. But practices have shown that they are willing to adapt and try new approaches. 

Lloyd & Cowan is a Northern Irish based veterinary recruitment agency. We cover all of the UK and Ireland as well as Canada, USA, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong and Singapore. If you would like some assistance with your recruitment needs feel free to contact one of the team at Lloyd & Cowan. 

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