OPINION: Rural NZ is again getting the rough end of the stick when it comes to services - this time in relation to Covid-19 vaccinations.
South told Rural News that even before Covid there was a shortfall in the number of vets in NZ. However, she says the closing of the border to experienced overseas candidates has made things worse and prospective candidates can’t get visas.
According to South, most of the vets that she recruits come from Ireland, the UK and South Africa. But she says others have come from places such as South America, Indonesia, Philippines, Australia and Europe.
“Historically, most of the vets who come to NZ do it as part of their OE, but this isn’t happening now,” she says. “Now it appears many want to come to NZ because of the way we’ve handled the pandemic and because we’re a politically safe country to live in.”
South says all vets from overseas have to be registered with the NZ Veterinary Council. The council only recognises degrees from certain overseas universities – and only those graduates are able to obtain a NZ annual practicing certificate (APC).
South says those with degrees from non-recognised institutions have to undergo further training and study in NZ and pass exams before they are allowed to practice as licensed veterinarians in NZ. Another aspect which compounds the shortage of veterinarians in NZ is the challenges that some have working with large farm animals.
“Production animals are big animals and moving them around so you can treat them is physically very hard work. In addition, using some of the equipment (e.g. an ultrasound scanning device) to treat large animals, takes its toll through wear and tear on the wrist and shoulders,” she explains.
“I know that people who are physically strong, but slender, find this very hard work and often suffer physically. Then there are those who have been injured by a horse, bull or cow, and need to get away from working with production animals.”
South says it is not simple for vets who have worked with large animals to suddenly move into a practice where they treat companion animals like cats and dogs.
“Because you know all about cows doesn’t mean you know everything you need to know about cats,” she says. “When they change ‘codes’ they need to demonstrate competency in the new code to the Vet Council before they can work as a licensed veterinarian in the new code without supervision.,”
South says vets who transfer from one type of practice to the other have to demonstrate to the Vet Council their competency which all takes time and further compounds the veterinary skill shortage.
Meanwhile, Gary Orr MPI’s director of compliance agrees there’s a shortage of vets and says the ministry is working very hard to get these roles filled. He says one of the things that will help is the news that government is to give a class exemption for some critical primary sector roles – including vets.
“At MPI, we have also got a voluntary bonding scheme for veterinarians where we try and attract and retain vets in rural practices to focus on production animals,” he told Rural News. “This year, we are funding 30 vets and last year 32. It seems that scheme is working very well and is something we will continue to support.”
Orr says vets are critical people in the primary sector and he likens them to the canary in a coalmine, in that they are often the first people to spot any trouble. He says vets are more than just a person who delivers medical aid or attention to animals.
“They are also confidants, as well, and play such an essential role and in the primary sector.”
Boost for vet grads
Thirty graduate vets will receive a financial boost from the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) Voluntary Bonding Scheme for Veterinarians.
Steve Penno, director investment programmes at MPI, says the scheme aims to help ease the shortage of veterinarians working with production animals in the regions.
“Since it began 11 years ago, our Voluntary Bonding Scheme for Veterinarians has made a huge difference in attracting graduate vets to rural areas that are traditionally challenging to staff,” Penno says.
“This year, we’ve added a new provision, enabling graduates to work part-time in an eligible practice after taking parental leave.”
Successful recipients this year will receive funding of $55,000 over five years – a total of $1.65 million.
“The graduate vets will be working with production animals, such as cows, sheep, and working dogs, which are essential in our primary industries,” Penno adds.