It's all hands on deck for Dr. Tracy Maione and her team at the Oz Animal Hospital in Chicago. They're one of the thousands of animal clinics in the U.S. trying to keep up with a growing demand for animal care, while navigating a nationwide shortage of veterinarians.
"Pretty much every veterinarian I know and every veterinary clinic I know of is dealing with a shortage right now," Maione said. "That means everyone is feeling the stress of just not having as much staff to make things go as smoothly as possible."
According to Mars Veterinary Health, with pet ownership on the rise, pet healthcare service spending is anticipated to grow 33% over the next decade. That means the industry needs to add roughly 41,000 veterinarians to the force by 2030 to meet the demand.
However, projected graduation numbers for veterinarians shows that the industry will likely fall short. This is due in part to how few veterinary programs there are available and factors that limit some people from being exposed to the profession.
"Veterinary school is often a bit more difficult to get into just because we don't have that many schools," Maione said. "In certain communities, especially communities of color, there seems to not be enough applicants."
Veterinary programs require four years of schooling following the completion of an undergraduate degree. Total cost of tuition can exceed $200,000.
But it's not just veterinarians that are in short supply. Many clinics are in desperate need of more veterinary technicians who play a critical role in the day-to-day care of animals.
"Technicians are like veterinary nurses of our industry," Maione said. "I'm really hoping that there's going to be more veterinary technical schools coming out because we really need our support staff."
The American Veterinary Medical Association is working to find ways to combat this worker shortage, and clinics are exploring new ways to reach their patients. But if those efforts are to succeed, Maione says owners need to be more understanding.
"We try our best to educate people that these are just not the times that they used to be," she said. "We used to be able to drop everything and see everyone's pet that day when they got sick. We certainly do the best that we can but it's a balancing act of that."