Date: 16 March 2023
Singapore Veterinary Association Position Statement on Staff Shortage and Longer Waiting Times in Veterinary Clinics/Hospitals
The role of the Singapore Veterinary Association (SVA) includes (i) supporting and fostering the character, status, interests, honour and dignity of the veterinary profession and; (ii) informing and acquainting the government & public of Singapore on matters relating to veterinary science and the veterinary profession.
2 In Singapore, there are currently 474 licensed veterinarians, with a significant portion currently not working fulltime. Based on data available, the estimated pet populations in Singapore in 2018 are as follows:
- Dog Population: 111,300
- Cat Population: 81,000
- Bird Population: 87,100
- Fish Population: 439,000
- Small Mammal Population: 90,700
- Total: 809,100
3 This means that 1 veterinarian needs to attend to about 1700 pets. In human medicine, the doctor to population ratio is 1:385 in Singapore. There is a shortage of staff in the veterinary workforce.
Staff Attrition Rate and Challenging Work Conditions
4 Over the years, veterinary professionals (including veterinary nurses and other support staff) leaving the industry has exacerbated the situation. Current estimates suggest that less than 5% of veterinary nurses remain in the veterinary industry after 5 years. A significant reason for this high turnover rate can be attributed to the working environment of veterinary clinics and hospitals, which include:
- Long working hours
- Short break times
- Compassion fatigue
- Psychological and emotional stress
- Relatively low remuneration
- Increasing pet owner expectations
5 As a result, veterinary practitioners and students are reported to be at higher risk of suicide, burnout, and depression compared to other occupational groups. In 2020, a study done by James Cook University in Singapore showed that veterinary professionals (veterinarians and support staff) had between 4-9 times higher prevalence of depression, anxiety, and stress symptoms compared to human healthcare professionals.
How Pet Owners Can Help
6 In these trying times, the SVA would like to thank members of public and pet owners to for their patience and understanding. To better prepare for visits to veterinary clinics, pet owners may wish to note the following:
- Look up information about changes in their local clinic's opening hours (which may be reduced due to recent staff shortages).
- Note the location of the nearest animal emergency clinic/hospital, and alternative primary care practitioners.
- Remember to always phone ahead to alert the practice if presenting with an emergency. In recent times, even emergency hospitals (both overseas and local) had to turn away patients due to shortage of manpower.
- Non-emergency walk-ins are generally discouraged as they disrupt the veterinary clinic's schedule and affect other pet patients and owners.
7 The SVA does not condone any form of abuse and bullying of veterinary professionals. Section 8.1 of the Code of Ethics for Veterinarians states: “Both the veterinarian and the client have the right to establish or decline a Veterinarian-Client-Patient Relationship (‘VCPR’) and to decide on treatment. The decision to accept or decline treatment and related cost should be based on appropriate and informed discussion of clinical findings, diagnostic techniques, treatment, likely outcome, estimated cost, and reasonable assurance of payment.” A veterinary clinic or hospital reserves the right to decline a VCPR and decline attending to an animal, except under certain professional obligations in the case of an emergency.
8 The veterinary industry is plagued with staff shortages and compassion fatigue. Just as how veterinary professionals care and empathise with pet patients, we urge pet owners to also show compassion and empathy to the veterinary team providing care to your pets; kindness and understanding encourages the remaining veterinary clinic staff to remain in this industry. This is the veterinary industry that chooses to come to work to provide medical care for your pets. A little kindness goes a long way towards making them feel valued and safe at work during these challenging times.
9 Because when good people leave the veterinary industry, our pets and community animals suffer the consequences.
The Executive Committee of the Singapore Veterinary Association
Some leaving the veterinary profession in S'pore due to long hours, fatigue, The Straits Times, published May 2022
S'pore vets call for welfare and mental health needs to be considered in review of sector, The Straits Times, published May 2021
Psychological Distress in Veterinary Professionals in Singapore, Singapore Veterinary Association, published December 2020
I cried every day: Why Singapore’s vets might be depressed, Channel Newsasia, published December 2018
Petcare in Singapore, Euromonitor International, published May 2018