Are our vets earning enough?

Considering the level of skill and decision-making required, we are vastly underpaying our vets

From 24 to 27 July, the South African Veterinary Association (SAVA) and the South African Society for Veterinary Epidemiology and Preventative Medicine (SASVEPM) held a congress at Birchwood Hotel and OR Tambo Conference Centre, Boksburg. The congress, now in its ninth year, invited veterinarians and industry specialists from all over the country to congregate at Birchwood’s impressive conference centre, which boasts over 60 venues. Approximately 500 delegates attended, as well as a further 150 exhibitors. HQ was fortunate to attend the congress. On the last day, all attendees gathered in the main dining hall for a plenary session. The topic of discussion was remuneration for vets. Are our South African vets earning enough? The simple answer is no.

Rands and cents

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It was stated that the average private practice veterinarian in South Africa with over 20 years of experience earns between R39,000 and R44,000 per month after expenses are paid. Considering the level of skill and decision-making required, we are vastly underpaying our vets. To put it in perspective, a benchmarking study was conducted in the UK and the average vet with only seven years of experience earns R90,000 per month.

The mutual agreement among the panel was that not enough money is being earned to pay vets and their staff working under them adequately. The solution? Push up the fees. It was agreed that fees are not there for client satisfaction, but rather to provide proper and fair income to the employees of the practice, and to have mentally healthy employees who are able to still live life outside of work. The fees should be set to create quality income and to help vets retain their expertise. Many South African vets have gone overseas where money is better or they’ve gone into state service.

What does this mean for clients?

In order for vets to make a sustainable income, fees will need to be increased, which essentially means that the customer will be paying more than what they’re used to. Vets would prefer that clients opt for taking up pet insurance and healthcare plans for their animals. In the UK, an insurance provider offers a basic plan for £10 (their equivalent cost of three cups of coffee), which covers two free consultations per month, free vaccinations and deworming, and discounts on standard procedures such as sterilisation. There are existing insurance and pet healthcare providers in South Africa with affordable and customisable rates, which owners are encouraged to consider going forward. It was argued that the majority of pet owners in South Africa don’t consider pet insurance for the simple reason that consultation, vaccination and standard surgical procedure fees are so affordable that they can be paid out of their disposable income.

Getting help

A looming problem among private practitioners is that they are not able to afford help. The average locum charges R4,000 per day, making it impossible for private practice to employ them because it’s not worth the turnover. As a result, the practice’s permanent vet is stuck having to work all hours and weekends, leaving very little time for mental and physical recovery and leisurely activities such as going out for a bite or spending time with family. This becomes detrimental to the mental wellbeing of vets, as many have already succumbed to serious depression and in more severe cases, suicide. Although locums charge more than the practice can expect to turn over, the panel stressed that vets should perceive the cost as buying themselves time.

Another issue in private practice that the panel identified is the reluctance to employ graduates. Practising vets aren’t willing to put in the time to mentor and train them. The panel also expressed a growing concern for the attitude that graduate vets seem to have towards their first job. Newly qualified vets don’t seem to be humble. They expect to walk into private practice and earn salaries upwards of R40,000. One of the panel members explained that while it’s all good and well of them to express their remuneration expectations, the graduate vets need to prove that they can then attract new clients and perform surgical procedures in a timely manner.

When it comes to employing help, the practice needs to consider what’s affordable per practice. Vets and staff should be paid based on what value they add to the practice. Everything should come down to negotiation between employer and employee.

The full article appears in the September issue (126) of HQ > Shop now