Shortage of veterinarians, animal care in Youngstown, OH

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Boardman Animal Charity Humane Society Director of Operations Jane MacMurchy (left) and assistant vet Diana McIntyre examine Pongo at the Market Street premises on March 30, 2022.

[Editor’s note: This is the sixth report in our multipart series “Help Wanted,” in which Mahoning Matters reviews labor shortages in Mahoning County’s top employment sectors, focusing on jobs that are difficult to fill, have high turnover or are otherwise in high demand. Nationwide, 4.3 million people quit their jobs in December 2021 alone, according to federal data. This report focuses on veterinary jobs; future articles will focus on manufacturing and other sectors. Have something to say about local employment rates or in-demand jobs? Email us at [email protected], send us a confidential tip here or call us toll-free at 888-655-1012.]

[Editor’s note: This article has been updated to reflect that the Cleveland Clinic sponsored the travel visa for Animal Charity Humane Society’s part-time veterinarian, correcting erroneous information previously given to Mahoning Matters.]

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Local clinics and animal shelters are struggling to hire and keep veterinarians in the area to perform emergency surgeries and preventive care like vaccines, local animal shelter officials said.

Jane MacMurchy, director of operations for Animal Charity Humane Society at Boardman, said the shortage of vets has been a global problem for the past 10 years, but has started to impact local shelters over the past three years. last years.

The suicide rate among veterinarians is high, in part due to cases of animal cruelty and abuse and compassion fatigue, studies show.

More than 30% of US veterinarians have depressive episodes and 17% reported having had suicidal thoughts since leaving vet school, according to a 2019 study from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

That’s more than four times the national average of 4% of adults in the general public who reported having suicidal thoughts, according to a 2015 survey from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

“I will receive from one to 200 messages each day about personal animals and animals [abuse] they see on Facebook,” MacMurchy said. “Our veterinarian [who] arrives, who is responsible for the veterinary part of animal abuse investigations – she is there with us with the worst cases of abuse and neglect.

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Pictured is Jane MacMurchy, director of operations for Animal Charity Humane Society at Boardman, with Layla at the Market Street facility on March 30, 2022. (William D. Lewis | Mahoning Matters)

According to the CDC study, long working hours, overwork, poor work-life balance and high student debt are some of the factors that contribute to the high suicide rate.

MacMurchy said the shelter has been without a full-time veterinarian since 2019 and is no longer able to provide scheduled or emergency care for sick animals.

“We have a surgeon [who] comes one to two days a month and performs dental and massive removals [and] spaying and sterilization surgeries for clients,” she said.

Kimberly Carter, owner of the Humble Creatures veterinary clinic in Canton and the only veterinarian in the Humane Society, spoke to Mahoning Matters about the mental and emotional consequences of the work.

Carter said she graduated from Ohio State University and has been practicing for 13 years. But she interrupted her private practice for several years to avoid dealing with the general public and to overcome her own mental distress.

She said she restarted her private practice a few years ago and now has her own clinic. She said she battled depression and anxiety while working as a veterinarian and went to regular checkups to become “mentally and emotionally stronger”.

“We are not the kind of people [who] can just quit work and leave work at work. There are very few vets that I know of that can do that,” Carter said. “Most of us are the type to go home and replay the day [in our mind]think of things we could have done differently or should have said differently.

Carter said animal care staff and veterinarians can burn out quickly having to deliver unfortunate pet news and perform euthanasias, which can be difficult.

“Within minutes, you should be on your way to another date with a smile on your face,” she said. “Today we had a really difficult euthanasia that brought most of us to tears because [we saw] what the owners were going through and how hard they took it.

Carter said social media can also be a trigger for vets, when they read cruel public comments about a vet’s skills and private practice.

“A person who posts a cruel message about a particular business or person can go viral and can actually ruin a business,” she said. “I have read about several vets [who] committed suicide after that.

MacMurchy said the shelter is now dedicating more time to finding new veterinarians, while continuing to focus on caring for the shelter’s animals. But its services are now limited.

“If they take medicine, then [clients] can go through us to get their refills. But deep down, [we just offer] starter shots, booster shots and grooming services,” she said. “We have to refer all other clients, and unfortunately we don’t have many places left to refer them to just because of this shortage.”

One of those places is Penn-Ohio Veterinary Services in West Middlesex, Pa., one of the few veterinary clinics in the area still accepting new clients, MacMurchy said.

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Vet Richard Nokes (right) examines a dog named Gracie at Angels For Animals in Canfield on March 30, 2022. At left is veterinary assistant Cindy Kingston. (William D. Lewis | Mahoning Matters)

But the biggest impact on pet welfare comes from affordability rather than the availability of veterinarians. MacMurchy said animals in emergency situations die more often because their keepers simply cannot afford private care, which costs more than care at a shelter.

“I think it’s just owners who are unable to provide their pets with the care they need – whether it’s a financial burden or [they’re] unable to enter a vet,” she said. “We’re not considered private practice, so we don’t have those exorbitant prices for private practice.”

MacMurchy said the shelter in the past was able to work with low-income clients so their animals got the right care, but without a full-time veterinarian, those people are now underserved.

The shelter has even begun recruiting vets from around the world to move to Youngstown and get licensed to practice in the state, MacMurchy said.

The shelter had previously hired a part-time Indian vet. He worked full-time at the Cleveland Clinic as a doctor and veterinarian on a hospital-sponsored travel visa, while also working with the Boardman Shelter, she said.

MacMurchy said she was communicating with an ethnic Ukrainian who is pursuing a veterinary degree in Russia. She said she hoped the student would consider taking a full-time job as a vet at Boardman so he doesn’t have to return to Ukraine.

“We are very grateful to have made contact with a veterinarian [who] hopes to leave the country in July and our goal would be to make sure that person is safe and cared for, but also to help the community,” she said.

A 10-year outlook for jobs in northeast Ohio predicts that veterinary care positions will be among the fastest growing occupations in the state through 2028. Job openings for veterinarians in particular are expected to grow 15% between 2018 and 2028, according to the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services — but that’s still only about 165 new openings each year.

After graduating, veterinarians tend to find work opportunities closer to their places of schooling, and students in northeast Ohio generally don’t plan to return home to work, MacMurchy said. .

There are several online vet tech schools across the country, including Eastern Gateway Community College’s vet tech program, where students can earn an associate’s degree in the field.

But to receive a doctorate, the only two schools closest to northeast Ohio are The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine in Columbus and Penn State University Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences in State College, Pennsylvania, a said MacMurchy. That makes it even harder to find and retain vets who want to work in northeast Ohio, she said.

Diane Less, director of Angels for Animals, said it’s hard to compete with veterinary clinics across the state for veterinary students who attended Ohio State University and are more likely to stay in the center of Ohio to work.

“We’re in rural Ohio, which isn’t usually the first place [veterinarians] want to move,” she said. “[There are] tons of opportunities for them in Columbus, so a lot of them stayed in Columbus because they loved it.

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A 6-day-old kitten is fed at the Animal Charity Human Society in Boardman, March 30, 2022. (William D. Lewis | Mahoning Matters)

Angel clients must now schedule animal care services a month to three months in advance, Less said. The nonprofit shelter and clinic currently has six full-time vets, but could use more.

“There is such a demand for it. I could put in three more surgeons if I could find them,” she said. “We cannot serve everyone who wants to use our business.”

Less says Angels for Animals pays these vets “significantly more than most nonprofits,” but sometimes that isn’t enough to keep vets interested out of the box.

The median salary for veterinarians in Youngstown is $95,296, according to Salary.com. In northeast Ohio, it’s $93,720, according to ODJFS.

Less said even though there are fewer hands to care for the animals at the shelter and in the community, she believes the quality of care for the animals they treat has not diminished.

“We cannot cut corners. … This is not acceptable,” she said. “[Shelter animals] will always be first for us, but we also want to provide animal care in the public.

This story was originally published March 31, 2022 04:00.

Benjamin M. Yerger