The veterinary profession on both sides of the Tasman is approaching a crisis, warns a new report by Veterinary Schools of Australia and New Zealand.
The report, Rethinking Veterinary Education, warns that the crisis is being driven by changing and complex needs for vets and more pressure on universities to trim costs and transform their teaching and research offerings.
It warns that the supply and retention of new vets for large and small animal practices cannot keep up with increasing demands from animal owners and employers.
“Current approaches to veterinary science education, research and service delivery will not be sustainable nor allow delivery of Australasia’s long-term needs for veterinary workforce renewal and enhanced research capability,” it says.
Training models need to change.
Where once vets were required to diagnose and deal with health issues in the field with few specialist facilities, most of those issues can be prevented and managed by vaccines or herd and flock management.
“There are, however, increasing demands from larger producers for holistic farm advisory services and preventative animal health programs.
“These need an in-depth knowledge of farming systems and more analytical skills from large animal practitioners.”
Demands have also changed for vet roles in biosecurity, food safety and public health.
A 2019 survey of NZ vets found 40% were in mixed, dairy cattle, equine or large animal practice, 38% were in companion animal practice and 10% in regulatory work.
The report’s recommendations include establishing a strategic change fund to allow resource sharing of specialisations among the veterinary schools, along with increased government support to address the gap between costs and funding, which it says is the greatest in the higher education sector.
Vet practices also need improved professional support to attract and retain graduates along with extending mentoring schemes, broadening student input criteria and providing debt relief for vets working in rural and regional areas through a bonding scheme.
The report notes a rural practice bonding scheme has proven successful in NZ, supporting 416 graduates since starting in 2009.
Participants are eligible for $55,000 before tax over five years provided they meet certain conditions.
The report notes Veterinary Science courses at both undergraduate and postgraduate level are among the most expensive professional courses for universities.
That high cost is in part due to competency requirements for new veterinary graduates, which are higher compared with those of other similar disciplines, in medicine and dentistry.
Unlike new veterinarians, medical graduates are not expected to be competent at graduation in skills such as primary clinical diagnosis and treatment of disease, anaesthesia, dentistry and surgery.
In NZ the Veterinary Science tuition subsidy paid by the government in 2022 was $32,516 per EFTS, up 10% from 2021, still far less than the tuition subsidy paid to dentistry and medicine of $55,519 and $45,779, respectively.
Domestic student tuition fees for Veterinary Science were approximately $13,000 per student.
The NZ Tertiary Education Commission confirmed that Veterinary Science funding rates are set at a level that requires cross-subsidisation by Massey University.