A British survey suggests there may be up to five times as many veterinary graduates wishing to work in equine practice as there are jobs available.
The British Equine Veterinary Association (BEVA) described the finding as an alarming mismatch, and said the issue had been a growing concern to the association.
The mismatch was highlighted in a survey of BEVA members’ practices conducted earlier this year.
BEVA represents 2500 vets and vet students who work with horses in Britain and overseas. The survey was carried out amongst members in spring to ascertain manpower requirements of equine practices in the UK.
Of the 819 new veterinary graduates in Britain in 2012, it is conservatively estimated that 10-15 percent intend to work in equine practice.
The extrapolated results of the survey suggest that in 2012 there was less than 1 per cent growth in fulltime equine vet positions and as few as 24 new permanent jobs available in the UK.
In line with the survey’s suggestion of restricted opportunities, some BEVA members are also finding that internships, commonly the domain of new graduates to gain paid, supervised experience in practice, are now often taken by vets with some post-graduate experience.
Furthermore, unpaid externships, which traditionally gave vet students valuable work experience, appear to be being filled by unemployed veterinary graduates wanting to gain experience in order to improve their chances of securing a job in equine practice.
“Earlier this year we had more than 80 applications for just one internship,” said Tim Mair, a partner at Bell Equine Veterinary Clinic in Kent.
“Several years ago we would expect 50 or so applications for an advertised intern post but now, without advertising at all, we are constantly receiving applications, not just from new graduates but also from those who have been qualified for a year or more.”
Charlie Schreiber, a partner at Donnington Grove Veterinary Surgery in Berkshire, said of internships: “We take on an average of two externs a month and over the past four years have had more than 350 applicants but their calibre is noticeably changing.
“We used to hear primarily from students but now it tends to be recent graduates or those who have already done a job in mixed practice and are keen to move into equine but can’t find an internship.”
Andrew Harrison, a partner at Three Counties Equine Hospital in Gloucestershire, continued: “In addition to the numerous applications we received for our recently advertised internship position, we are inundated with unsolicited enquiries about job opportunities from recent veterinary graduates from across the globe.
“Our most recent advertisement for an equine veterinary nurse has attracted interest from a handful of recently qualified vets desperate to find work.
“This employment problem is not confined to internships; some of our recent interns have found it very difficult, if not impossible to find a job in horse practice, once they’ve completed their internship.”
A recent graduate, Amanda Piggot, has first-hand experience of the challenge of finding a suitable placement.
“I have always wanted to work in equine practice and my approach has been very strategic. It took me five months to find my current position at Kessock Equine Vets in Inverness, which necessitated moving 500 miles further north than I ideally wanted. For my next position I applied to Liphook twice and had no luck, but I have now been accepted by Rossdales for a two-year internship.”
The British Veterinary Association (BVA) says the problem is not confined to equine practice. Its president, Peter Jones, said: “The findings of the BEVA survey make sober reading and reflect the growing concerns in the wider veterinary profession about opportunities for new graduates in all types of veterinary practice.
“The issue has recently been brought into sharp focus by the announcement of a new veterinary school opening at the University of Surrey in 2014, with many BVA and BEVA members worried about an oversupply of veterinary graduates into an already competitive market.
“We are expecting the results of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons survey of recent graduates shortly and, alongside the findings of the BEVA survey, they will provide an evidence-base to build on as we continue to assess the UK veterinary manpower implications of potential new veterinary schools in the future.”
BEVA said it was keen to help both potential employees and employers tackle the situation as constructively as possible.
BEVA president Keith Chandler said the association was proud that equine practice was attractive to so many younger members of the profession.
“It can provide a rewarding and fulfilling career. However, we urge all stakeholders to ensure that current and prospective veterinary students are fully aware of the very limited opportunities in equine practice.
“Most of all, we urge the students themselves to consider carefully their career path and prospects before making their final decisions.”