Planning an effective veterinary workforce

One of the AVA's three strategic priorities is "Our Profession".  Several projects sit under this heading, which all seek to support the profession and its sustainability into the future. One such project is the AVA's work around planning an effective veterinary workforce. 

Veterinarians have important roles to play in animal, human and community wellbeing. It’s essential that the nation has the right number of vets to meet the needs of Australia’s animals and their owners, that those vets have the right skills and are the right places.

Veterinarians in rural and regional areas ensure the safety of the food we eat and export, care for the health and welfare of livestock, and are necessary to help identify and respond to a serious disease outbreak.

Two-thirds of households include companion animals, and pets are increasingly valued as important family members. Pet ownership has demonstrated advantages to people’s health and wellbeing, and contributes to strong communities.

Effective workforce planning seeks to ensure that these critical roles are filled and the veterinary profession has a healthy and sustainable future in Australia.

Supply and demand

There have been concerns within the profession for some time about a potential future imbalance between the veterinary workforce and the demand for their services. Over the past 15 years the establishment of three new veterinary schools combined with increased student intakes from the existing schools led to a significant growth in the number of veterinary graduates.

In 2015, the AVA commissioned the Australian veterinary workforce modelling report to provide long-term national projections and inform planning for the profession’s future veterinary workforce. The report was produced by independent and respected workforce planning experts, based on best available data. The tools and methodology were the same as those used by Health Workforce Australia to assess the human health workforce.

The projections contained in the 2015 report indicated that Australia was likley to experience a significant oversupply of veterinarians if graduate numbers were not capped. The concern at the time was that this would lead to significant unemployment or underemployment of veterinary graduates unless fewer veterinarians were trained or new demand for services was generated.

A subsequent workforce survey was undertaken in 2016 to keep track of changes and assess the 2015 predictions.

Feedback from members has not reflected an oversupply issue, and indeed the experience in clinical practice is quite the opposite - practice owners reporting ongoing difficulties in recruting veterinarians to fill practice vacancies.

Another workforce survey has been sent out in 2018, to gather additional information and to inform advocacy efforts. This survey will remain open to all veterinarians until 31 December 2018. A report will be generated in early 2019.

The 2015 workforce modelling report warned of a potential undersupply of government veterinarians, and the AVA has been advocating to governments to address this issue. These roles are critical to biosecurity, food safety and our agricultural industries. There is concern over a potential shortage of trained veterinary pathologists to work in government animal health laboratories, though recent initiatives to address this gap have been noted.

Program

Our program includes three streams – veterinary workforce advocacy, government veterinary workforce and higher education reform. The purpose of the program is to identify tangible goals to ensure a sustainable, effective veterinary workforce, and set in place an action plan to achieve those specific goals.

Workforce advocacy

The focus of the workforce advocacy platform is to ensure veterinary graduate numbers are appropriate to the needs of the profession. A biennial workforce survey of all Australian veterinarians is conducted, with use of the computer stock and flow model to observe changes over time.

Government veterinary workforce

The focus of this stream is the importance of maintaining a sustainable, quality veterinary public service, both federally and at state level. This means advocating for increased employment of government veterinarians in field, policy and laboratory positions, or at least no reduction in current capacity.

Higher education reforms

The aim of this stream is to ensure that veterinary student fees are maintained at a reasonable level and any higher education policies do not adversely affect veterinary students.

Submissions

Background information

  • Government pathology services - The availability and efficiency of government pathology services are vital in responding to emerging and exotic animal diseases.
  • Frawley report - Frawley's 2003 Review of Rural Veterinary Services was a comprehensive examination of veterinary workforce issues in Australia.
  • Craven and Neumann reports - The Craven report (2005) and the Neumann report (2007) further explored veterinary workforce issues and made important recommendations.
  • AVA 2016 Workforce Survey

 

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