On Thursday 13 January 2022 the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons published two reports on the impact that the coronavirus pandemic has had on the personal and professional lives of individual veterinary surgeons and veterinary nurses since March 2020.
The reports summarise the results of two surveys that were conducted with veterinary surgeons and veterinary nurses respectively between July and August last year by the Institute for Employment Studies on behalf of the RCVS. All members of the professions were asked to complete the surveys, which focused on the impact of coronavirus in areas such as hours worked, shift patterns, pay and changes in workload, and whether individuals were furloughed, had to self-isolate at certain times or were shielding due to being clinically vulnerable.
The surveys also encompassed questions on: the impact of increased caring responsibilities on working life; whether individuals worked remotely and, if so when; any concerns individuals had for their personal safety aside from coronavirus; and the overall mental health and wellbeing impact of the pandemic.
Of the 28,718 veterinary surgeons who were sent the survey, some 22% fully completed and submitted the questionnaire, while 17% of the 19,925 veterinary nurses who were sent the survey fully completed and submitted the questionnaire.
Some of the key findings amongst respondents across the two surveys were:
- 67% of veterinary nurses experienced a change in shift patterns at some point in the pandemic, compared with 57% of veterinary surgeons;
- 49% of veterinary nurses worked additional hours due to others being furloughed, compared to 40% of veterinary surgeons;
- 37% of veterinary nurses were furloughed, compared with 23% of veterinary surgeons;
- Many veterinary nurses reported taking on extra responsibilities such as: general domestic cleaning (70%), clinical cleaning (65%) and reception work (63%);
- 53% of veterinary surgeons who worked extra hours did so completely unpaid or mostly unpaid, compared to 21% of veterinary nurses;
- 38% of veterinary surgeons and 40% of veterinary nurses had to self-isolate at some point during the pandemic;
- 38% of veterinary surgeons said they worked remotely at some point during the pandemic – with the peaks being in the earliest phase of the pandemic in March to May 2020. In comparison, 23.5% of veterinary nurses worked remotely during the pandemic;
- 7% of veterinary surgeons and 8% of veterinary nurses had to shield at some point during the pandemic due to being clinically vulnerable;
- Around 40% of veterinary surgeons and over 40% of veterinary nurses said they had experienced concerns for their personal safety aside from catching Covid. These safety concerns mostly related to client interactions at the practice either during the day or out-of-hours and the majority of both vets and VNs said this was more frequent than before the pandemic;
- Many respondents experienced conflict between their personal wellbeing and professional role, and found it difficult to juggle their work and caring responsibilities. Many respondents also said their mental health was adversely affected by the experience of working during the pandemic;
- A large majority of respondents said they had personally seen an increase in caseload due to new animal ownership.
Lizzie Lockett, RCVS CEO, commented: “While many of the results of the survey may not be especially surprising and confirm what we have already been told anecdotally, it is very important that we have this hard data to hand on the overall impact of the pandemic on individual members of the professions.
“These two reports complement the six surveys that we have conducted with veterinary practices on the economic impact of the pandemic to give us as clear and holistic a picture as possible about the challenges that the professions and the veterinary sector as a whole have faced since March 2020. This not only provides a useful historical snapshot, but builds an evidence base to inform future temporary changes should the pandemic continue into more waves, or should future such crises arise.
“The results of the two individual surveys make it clear it has been a tough time for the professions. A good proportion of respondents also acknowledged that positive developments have come from the past two years, including the way the profession has demonstrated remarkable resilience, flexibility and adaptability, as well as forging a stronger team spirit under such difficult circumstances.
“However, a large number of both vets and vet nurses who responded said that the experiences since March 2020 have left them feeling more pessimistic about veterinary work and their place within it. I would like to reassure members of the veterinary team that the RCVS is aware and understands. We tried throughout the pandemic to support the professions with relevant temporary guidance changes, and we are now working with a range of stakeholders on critical issues such as the workforce crisis, which has been in part caused by Covid. We are also developing tools, training and resources to support the professions, via our programmes such as RCVS Leadership and Mind Matters.”
The full coronavirus impact survey reports for veterinary surgeons and veterinary nurses respectively can be found at www.rcvs.org.uk/publications. On this same page the reports of the six surveys conducted with veterinary practices on the business and financial impact of the pandemic are also available.