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More students are just one piece of the puzzle to solve veterinary workforce shortages

Training more vets alone will not be enough to address workforce issues, says the BVA

30 September 2019, at 9:00am

Instead a holistic, long term approach to veterinary education is needed to ensure that the workforce remains resilient and can meet future demand in the areas of animal health and welfare and public health.

In its new position on UK Undergraduate Veterinary Education, launched on 23 September, BVA recognises that the professional landscape is "in flux" and sets out 50 recommendations to build on and support the UK’s leading reputation for veterinary education and to help produce a well-respected, inclusive and "future-proof" workforce.

The economic reality of veterinary education is that student tuition fees and government funding do not meet the costs of training vets. Due to the wide range of clinical and professional skills that graduates need to be equipped with, it is estimated that the cost of delivering the veterinary undergraduate degree is well in excess of £20,000 per student, per year of study.

In addition, the number of places for veterinary students is not capped, and Government funding for veterinary education is not calculated per capita. This means that funding does not automatically increase if a new vet school is created or if the intake of students at existing UK schools increases.

To maintain high standards, BVA is calling for additional government funding for veterinary education by increasing the unit of resource per student, and emphasises that any efforts to increase the number of vet students must be supported by additional government funding.

BVA has welcomed the decision by the UK Government to implement post-study work visas for overseas nationals who have graduated from a UK veterinary school. It says that this will help to sustain the domestic workforce and give graduates who are overseas nationals, longer to secure lasting employment.

The position places a priority on showcasing the wide range of career paths that a veterinary qualification can lead to and recognises that although the profession is relatively small, it has a significant and vital reach. With vets working in a multitude of settings, from clinical care through to academia, treatment of livestock, surveillance, animal welfare, research, throughout the food chain and government, it emphasises that all stakeholders should help to communicate the breadth of veterinary careers at key stages, including as early as primary school. Once in veterinary education, the position recommends that vet students are exposed to a range of learning environments and encouraged to select work-based placements that support this. It also recommends that EMS placements could provide more support to students by increasing training for staff in mentorship and education.

As part of supporting new veterinary graduates from education to the workplace, BVA says it is important for it and the profession to work collaboratively with the British Veterinary Ethnicity and Diversity Society (BVEDS), British Veterinary LGBT+ (BVLGBT+) and RCVS’ Diversity, Equality and Inclusion working group in order to help facilitate inclusivity and equality in both education settings and workplaces.

BVA also suggests that the profession should do more to highlight the range of existing widening participation schemes provided by UK veterinary schools and outlined by the Veterinary Schools Council in their admissions guide. It recognises these as an excellent tool to help encourage a more diverse and wider scope of potential students from across the UK that may previously may not have been reached or engaged with.

BVA President, Daniella Dos Santos said:

“The UK veterinary education system is rightly recognised as one of the best in the world. We recognise that workforce issues can be addressed, in part with veterinary undergraduate education policy, however an increase in the number of students into the system should not be viewed as a panacea for all workforce issues.

“We should look at the bigger picture and address issues at multiple points in the journey to becoming part of the veterinary workforce, including those that present after graduation. From widening participation schemes, communication of the diverse range of veterinary careers to the implementation of post-study work visas, there are many ways in which BVA and other stakeholders can help maintain a gold standard whilst making sure that we create a workforce that is capable, resilient, and inclusive.”