This is the third podcast in the series giving the background info as to why I’m supporting NZs veterinary sector by petitioning NZs parliament to change the classification of veterinarians to that of critical workers because the way it is now isn’t working.

In ep 006 = the first in this series – I gave an overview of what it takes to be a veterinarian in NZ – how they’re very similar to their human doctor counterparts but aren’t treated similarly at our current closed borders – despite our government already acknowledging there aren’t enough here in Godzone Aotearoa NZ otherwise they wouldn’t be on Immigration NZ’s long term skills shortage list.

In ep 007 – the second in this series – I gave a top-level introduction on the “we don’t talk about things like that” hard topics of suicide in the veterinary profession and compassion fatigue.

In this week’s episode we’ll talk about some of the other absolutely critical roles veterinarians play in the NZ economy because being a vet isn’t all cuddles and kisses from fur babies or on-farm herd pregnancy testing. 

Veterinarians play a critical role in helping to keep our country safe as well as making sure the food you eat, the milk you drink and the eggs you crack to make the typical kiwi bacon and egg pie, are all safe.

Together, we’ll hear some of the veterinarians’ stories I’ve found online and scouted for you.  So stay tuned.

As I’ve mentioned more than a few times over the last couple of weeks, I’m petitioning the NZ parliament to change the classification of veterinarians to critical workers – just like their human doctor counterparts.

Veterinary Council of New Zealand annual Workforce Surveys

To practice as a veterinarian in NZ you need an Annual Practising Certificate.  The Veterinary Council of NZ is the issuing and regulatory body for APCs.

Since 2009, the VCNZ has sent out a questionnaire to veterinarians when it was time to renew their Annual Practising Certificate. 

As I just said, you can’t practice as a veterinarian in NZ without a current APC. 

VCNZ hasn’t published the results for 2019/20 yet but in the 2018/19 year, it sent out APC renewals to the 3,049 previously registered veterinarians here in Godzone.

View all VCNZ Workforce Surveys

The response rate for the 2018-2019 Workforce Survey was 87% (2651 completed surveys

From the 3049 APC forms that were returned to VCNZ by 30 June 2019).

This is consistent with the 87% response rate reported for the previous year’s Workforce Survey.

As of 30 June 2019, the number of practising veterinarians increased by +3% compared with the

same time in 2018. This compares with changes (relative to the previous year) of +2.7% for

2018 and +2.6% for 2017.

All information for this survey was collected voluntarily.   

International veterinary graduates

In 2019 the proportion of international graduates – that is, veterinarians who obtained their primary

veterinary qualification in a country that wasn’t New Zealand, was 30% – or 805 of 2,633 returned Qs.

When it comes to overseas-qualified veterinarians working in Godzone, the levels are similar each year. 

For example, in the 2017/18 year 776 international veterinarians worked in Godzone.

And in the 2016/17 year, there were 702 international veterinarians.

Each year since the Vet Council has been conducting its Workforce Survey, it’s been necessary to top up our workforce from overseas to the tune of around 30%. 

Thirty per cent!

Hundreds – almost a thousand – veterinarians from overseas.

So, when the historical levels of overseas qualified vets working here wasn’t enough, you can see why it’s absolutely critical that we let more veterinarians into Godzone Aotearoa NZ without further delay, can’t you?

Similar to previous years, vets from the UK comprised the largest group of international graduates (268 of 2633 – representing 10%) followed by Australia (152 of 2633 at 6%).

Over the eleven years the workforce survey’s been carried out there have been steady increases in the numbers of international veterinary graduate from the European Union, North America, the United Kingdom and Australia, although these increases have appeared to stabilised in 2019. 

I’m sure that when the 2019/20 report comes out the numbers will be completely different.  

Attrition Rate

There’s industry talk that veterinarians have a high attrition rate – that is, they start in the profession as a veterinarian, but then they have a complete career change and stop working as an animal doctor. 

And that’s true – some have a completely different career, while others do something other than veterinary work that requires them to have an annual practicing certificate.

For example, they may work for one of the pharmaceutical industries that uses their veterinary skills and knowledge but doesn’t require them to hold an Annual Practising Certificate.

Anyway, those who don’t any more…

According to the VCNZ data, a little over 75% of New Zealand veterinary graduates continue to take out an APC 10 years after the date of first registration.

So it’s fair to assume the attrition rate is about 25% at about the 10-year mark.

In the 2018-19 report, MPI was responsible for employing 235 veterinarians.

We’ll look at what MPI veterinarians do later in this podcast.

Veterinarians by “type”

When it comes to the type of work veterinarians do, the majority are employed in the Companion Animal sector – 884. 

These are your fur baby doctors. 

They’re spread all over the country in a range of both privately owned kiwi clinics and corporately owned overseas clinics. 

The biggest group of clinics in NZ is the Vet Partners group – that has its head office in Sydney. 

According to the Vet Partners website, it consists of 125 clinics; but I think that must need updating, because at my last count, they had about 60 clinics here in Godzone and I’m pretty sure the split between Australia and NZ is bigger than 50:50.

The next largest bloc by type is the production animal veterinarians.

These are the guys n gals our farmers and primary industry businesses rely on to keep them in business. 

They’re the dairy / beef cattle vets, equine and other large animals.

As a subset of the production animal veterinarians are the Mixed Animal guys and gals. 

Mixed Animal clinics are usually found in the provincial centres – because the bulk of their work is on-farm.  

What a lot of townies don’t realise is that provincial veterinary clinics are major employers in their regional centres. 

Mixed Animal clinics have both companion animal veterinarians and large / production vets on their payrolls.

When it comes to gender breakdown, females outnumber males in the companion animal clinics by almost 2:1.  Of those who responded to the survey, there were 583 females and 302 males looking after Godzone’s fur babies.

Equal numbers of men and women looked after beef cattle.

With Equine, the women slightly outnumbered the men:

93 females looked after equines with 72 men of those who responded.

With large animals it was the other way around – the men slightly outnumbered women at 67 men cf 49 women.

Under the heading of “regulatory” – that’s the MPI type positions – both genders are almost equally represented:  113 females cf 123 males.

When it comes to practice management though, the men almost outnumber the women by 3:1 – with 32 men in practice management roles and 12 women.

Gender distribution within work type has changed relatively little over the eleven years in which the VCNZ workforce survey has been carried out.

My goal to chat with kiwis at the front line is taking longer than I expected but in the meantime, here’s someone closer to home than the US – Australia – Dr Belinda of Rouse Hill Family Vets – a mobile veterinary service.

As you can see from her account – the compassion fatigue I mentioned last week is real and it’s taking its toll on our shores too.  So please support the parliamentary petition I’m running by signing it straight away because the clock is ticking and soon it’ll be too late.  

The easiest way to sign it is to visit and hit “sign the petition” button – all online signatures are confidential.

MPI – the Ministry for Primary Industries – is responsible for ensuring the safety and suitability of New Zealand exports for overseas and domestic markets.

It does this by providing official assurances and certification requirements for exporting New Zealand’s food and animal products to overseas markets. 

Maintaining and growing international market access for New Zealand depends on the excellent work that our vets provide on the front line.

MPI is also the government department that the various veterinary bodies – like the Vet Council of NZ and the NZ Veterinary Association, liaise with. 

In last week’s episode I mentioned that vets need to be detectives as well as doctors because their patients can’t talk.  Because their patients can’t talk, animal doctors need to be investigators and ask lots of questions.  They need to be able to connect dots.

Tenacity and Mycoplasma bovis

It was because of the tenaciousness of Dr Merlyn Hay – an Otago large animal veterinarian – that NZ is heading towards being the only country in the world to eradicate the bovine disease Mycoplasma bovis.

Dr Merlyn Hay. Photo: Federated Farmers / RNZ article

Mycoplasma bovis – or M bovis – is a bacterium that can cause a range of serious conditions in cattle – including mastitis that doesn’t respond to treatment – pneumonia, arthritis, and late-term abortions.

The disease may be dormant in an animal – causing no symptoms at all.

But in times of stress (for example, calving, drying-off, transporting, or being exposed to extreme weather), the animal may shed bacteria in milk and nasal secretions.

As a result, other animals may be infected and become ill or carriers themselves.

The bacteria is an Unwanted Organism under the Biosecurity Act 1993.

It was estimated that allowing M. bovis to spread could cause $1.3 billion in economic losses in the first 10 years alone, along with substantial animal welfare issues, and serious ongoing challenges for farmers having to manage the disease within their herds. 

Back in July last year, Biosecurity & Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor, said that “one key measure of success of NZs 10-year eradication plan, the Estimated Dissemination Rate (EDR), shows strongly that we have M. bovis firmly in our sights.

He said that if the EDR is greater than one, then the disease is growing. If it’s below one, we’re shrinking the disease. The EDR in July 2020 was at 0.4, which is down from over 2 at the start of the outbreak.  He said they’re looking harder to find fewer infected animals.

As a country I think l’il ole Godzone can be proud of itself.  We’ve show we’ve been able to do what other countries haven’t.  It’s because of veterinarians like Dr Merlyn Hay and her peers, that we’re where we’re at today.   

If Dr Hay hadn’t been the detective she was back in 2017 and asked the questions that needed asking, the disease could have spread further than it did.  If that had happened, NZs beef and dairy sectors would have taken a huge hit and rocked our primary industries economy even more than they’ve already been rocked.

Talking of primary produce export and the importance of that to NZs economy, the General Manager of Apiculture and Master Beekeeper of Manuka Health is a veterinarian. 

Actually, until a couple of weeks’ ago, I hadn’t even thought about the different types of veterinarians it takes to help keep Godzone safe.  All of that changed after I was approached by an overseas qualified bee veterinarian to help him find a job here. 

Veterinarians play such an important role in everyone’s lives – you don’t need to be an animal – or bee keeper – to benefit from their skills and expertise.

MPI – Ministry for Primary Industries

Veterinarians who work for NZs Ministry for Primary Industries, talk to all sorts of people every day – from farmers to senior management at cold stores and processing plants.  It’s the veterinarians who’re involved in helping them innovate and grow their international market share.

They also work on-site at processing facilities – conducting ante- and post-mortem inspections, monitoring animal welfare compliance, reviewing post-mortem processes, certifying products for export, and working with on-site managers to ensure safe and efficient processes.

For those who want to work overseas, there are also roles for veterinarians working at some of our embassies and diplomatic posts.

Typical Day – MPI Verification Services

Is there a typical day in Verification Services?

You may be facilitating and providing official assurances supporting the export of food and animal products to worldwide consumers, working in a rural or urban area, or you may be verifying and certifying meat, seafood, game, and dairy facilities at one of approximately 2000 locations in New Zealand.

You could be monitoring biosecurity containment and transitional facilities at zoos to ensure that organisms that are not allowed in the New Zealand environment, stay out of New Zealand.

As a Circuit vet, you may be auditing the processing in a cold store, a deer or chicken farm.  Meeting with the managers of these facilities, you would ensure that animal welfare is upheld, and you would review documentation, verify processes, make recommendations, and provide official certification that allow products to be exported and that market access is retained.  

MPI vets who are on-site at processing facilities provide ante mortem inspections as well as a review of post-mortem processes, monitor animal welfare compliance (including on-farm verification), and provide export certification.  They also partner with senior management on site to ensure that production is maximised and that processes are safe and efficient.

A few years ago MPI invested in a recruitment drive to get more vets to work for them.  Here’re a few quick clips of some of the different roles veterinarians do that many townies have no idea about.   

MPI recruitment drive – April 2017

I guess like most people – well, most townies, when I thought of what being a vet entails, I just imagined cats and dogs.  I think my cognisance would have extended to farming, because Alan’s family has such a big connection to it in Taranaki.  But until I started working in the veterinary sector I had no idea of the other types of roles veterinarians fulfil.  Jobs that help keep NZ safe and viable on the world stage.   

I mentioned earlier that NZ owes a huge amount to Dr Merlyn Hay regarding m Bovis.  In this year’s New Year’s honours list another Mainlander was recognised.

Dunedin’s Wildlife Hospital founder and director Dr Lisa Argilla received an MNZM for services to animal welfare and conservation.

PHOTO: Wildlife Animal Hospital Dunedin

Dr Argilla said founding the Wildlife Hospital in 2018 was her proudest achievement although not something she could have done alone.

Since opening, the hospital has treated more than 1,300 animals across 63 different species, and more than 34% of patients were classified as nationally threatened.

Between 2011 and 2015, Dr Argilla was veterinary science manager at Wellington Zoo, where she played a pivotal role in establishing a world-class native wildlife treatment facility and began her involvement with the Kea Conservation Trust.

She’s volunteered with the kakapo and takahe recovery groups, the Yellow-Eyed Penguin Trust and the Department of Conservation over the past 12 years.

In addition, she’s provided hand-rearing and veterinary support during the 2016 kakapo breeding season, and if you remember the Emperor Penguin which was stranded in NZ on its way back to the Antarctic in 2011 – named Happy Feet – that was also one of Dr Argilla’s projects.

For her services to the environment, she also won a Wellingtonian of the Year award in 2011.

All of these stories bring me back full circle to my petition to parliament.

Minimum salary threshold set by Immigration New Zealand

Yes – INZ quietly committed to a change just prior to Christmas.  It undertook to follow the criteria it’s already meant to be following!

Even if it starts doing what it’s meant to have been doing all along, the way Immigration NZ has got things set up now means that only those vets with more than about 8 or so years’ experience will be able to work here. 

New grads excluded

It’ll exclude new graduates – men and women who want to start their professional careers here.  

It’ll also exclude those who earn below $106,080 per annum – which includes the really essential locums – the temps.  These are men and women who’re here on their OE – working their way around NZ.  

These same men and women who do all the touristy things that our tourist sector is so badly in need of now.   

I know one British locum who’s travelled up and down both Islands tramping, skydiving, skiing, climbing, hiking … he works for a few weeks or months and then goes and spends it all seeing the great outdoors.  When he needs more money he asks me to find him another assignment in another part of Godzone where he can experience that part of the country. 

The locums that are currently prohibited are important not only to the veterinary sector, but to NZ’s economy at large.  They’re paying for bed nights.  Eating out at restaurants and pubs, and spending lots of money doing things NZ is famous for. 

Please help our country get back on its feet again by signing my petition at GetVets.NZ.  Please also share it among your rellies, friends and whanau and ask them to sign it as well.

Thank you for listening to Paws Claws and Wet Noses.  If you liked this show you can help us by subscribing and giving us a 6-star review or thumbs up wherever you’re listening.  You can subscribe to Paws Claws and Wet Noses at all of the podcast places:  Apple, Spotify, iHeartRadio, Stitcher and just about everywhere else.  You can find show notes mentioned at paws claws wet noses dot fm. You can contact me – Julie on 0800 483 869