Chief Health Officer at Royal Canin Tackles Vet Burnout


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Dr Bronwen MacRae isn’t just the new ANZ Chief Health Officer at Royal Canin, she’s also the first. The newly created role forms part of a new advocacy team. The team’s focus is on reducing veterinary burnout, something that leads to low vet retention and staff shortages, and on supporting dog and cat nutrition via a health lens.

“We focus on health through nutrition and we recognize that supporting vets and vet nurses is essential to the health of dogs and cats.”

– Dr Bronwen MacRae

PD spent some time talking with Dr MacRae about vet shortages, vet retention and how the profession is changing. We look at highlights and discuss why owners and the pet industry need to work as a team to achieve and maintain pet health.

Vet burnout isn’t just a vet issue

In recent years veterinary burnout has become something vets no longer face alone. The pet industry is collectively beginning to acknowledge the toll that long hours treating sick and injured animal patients, along with pet owner expectations and chasing bills, can have on vets and vet nurses.

“We don’t have enough vets and nurses in the world at the moment for the number of pets that we have.”

Dr MacRae says, “There’s a lot of research into the challenges faced by the veterinary profession at the moment. Pet owner expectations is clearly the major source of stress in a vet clinic. On top of that the profession requires long hours and a high workload.

This is exacerbated by current staff shortages. Like medical professionals, we vets experience vicarious trauma every day when we work with pets that are sick or injured.”

Bronwen MacRae, ANZ Chief Health Officer at Royal Canin is committed to reducing vet burnout

Preventing veterinary burnout

As a veterinarian herself, Bronwen understands the mounting pressures vets and vet nurses face in their line of work and their importance to the health of our pets.

“I’ve gone through my own mental health experience. I burnt out after six years and I loved being a vet. That’s why I’m so passionate about it now because I want to make sure it doesn’t happen to other vets. My goal is for vets to have long, healthy, happy, fulfilling careers. Preventing veterinary burnout is a really important part of that.”

That’s why veterinary burnout is something the pet industry and owners need to be aware of and address. To begin with, Dr MacRae outlines the following approach each of these ‘pet health stakeholders’ can take:

Working together for pet health

Pet ownersPet owners can show patience and kindness to our vets. Understand that your vet is under a lot of pressure. Despite that, they’re still working as hard as they can to do the best for your pet because they genuinely care about its health.
Practice managersPractice owners can look to institute hospital policies that prioritise the mental health of their staff. For example, ensuring consult times are long enough for vets to do what they need to. Upskilling vet nurses, allowing them to do more within the practice. Something as simple as ensuring vets and nurses get a lunch break – a proper uninterrupted lunch so they aren’t working through the whole day without taking a moment to rest – can make a difference.
Vets and vet nursesTo offer the best care, Vets and Vet Nurses need the space to prioritise their mental health.  It’s important to reduce the stigma around burnout and have honest conversations within the practice amongst the vet team.
While staff are currently high, the pet industry needs to continue to support vets by raising awareness.
Bronwen MacRae talks to experts about veterinarian burnout, vet shortages, and staff retention

It’s happening everywhere

Dr MacRae says, “I like to say that I wear two hats in my role as Chief Health Officer. The first is advocating for the health of dogs and cats through science-based nutrition. The second hat is advocating for the health and well-being of vets and nurses.

Part of this is identifying the pain points in vet clinical experience. This is coupled with identifying solutions, tools and resources that can help alleviate those pain points. We have a Chief Medical Officer Summit at Royal Canin every year with chief veterinary officers from around the world.

“When it comes to veterinary burnout, we are seeing the same trends globally. The same pressures occur in veterinary clinics worldwide.”

Through these collaborations I’m able to learn from some incredible people who are supporting veterinary wellbeing in other countries. It’s an opportunity to collaborate with global experts and share insights and solutions to help achieve these goals. We work together on finding ways to ensure the global veterinary industry can be sustainable.”

vet treats Ragdoll cat and the results of treatment go into the latest pet ownership research data

One small vet clinic, one mighty hospital

“A vet clinic is similar to a human hospital but there are significant differences. On the human side of things, a doctor will often focus on one area of specialty. For example, a surgeon, anaesthetist, or a dentist.”

One person, many specialists

“As a vet you have to be all of those things. You have to be a dentist, optometrist, animal psychologist, surgeon, general practitioner and internal medicine specialist. You have to be a radiologist, understanding how to take and read X-rays.”

One clinic, many machines and medicines

“A vet hospital is a fully equipped hospital. It has X-ray machines, ultrasounds, surgical equipment, dental equipment and more. So the reason a vet bill can be quite high is because of the overhead costs of running a vet hospital. This includes the range of equipment you have to have onsite and the medication you have to have on stock ready to go.”

No subsidised pet vet care

“When it comes to a vet clinic, hospital bills aren’t subsidised. As a result, you see the actual costs when you get the bill from your vet compared to  a human hospital where you just pay the gap and the healthcare system covers most of it.”

Vet salaries are modest

“I’ve never met a vet who was in the profession for money. They do it because they genuinely care for animals, but unfortunately, we are seeing some leave the profession to pursue other careers with higher remuneration.”

Pet insurance can mitigate veterinary burnout

“Pet medical care in New Zealand and Australia isn’t government subsidised, Dr MacRae emphasizes “that’s why pet insurance is so important. I’ve had my dog insured from the very first day I got her. She’s a little Jack Russell and she’s just turned five. I got her from an animal rescue organisation.

“I’m a vet who has worked in practice and I’ve always had my pets insured. I want the peace of mind that if they need any medical care I would not have to worry about the cost of treatment.”

When you have the buffer of pet insurance, you can worry about your pet and less about the bill. Then you’re more likely to be kind and patient with vets and nurses..”

Read our pet health insurance claims data to see what the top concerns for Kiwi pets are. Then find out more about why vets recommend pet insurance in New Zealand. 
Veterinarian looks through a microscope that uses AI technology for slide reading

AI is changing the ways vets practice

Given the vet shortage in New Zealand (and Australia), young people considering joining the profession may hesitate.

“Don’t hesitate,” says Dr MacRae. She adds that, “If you have a passion for animals and if you love biology and medicine, then you’ll love being a vet. Being a vet or vet nurse is a very rewarding career and medicine is constantly improving.

We have better medications, diagnostic tools and technology then we had 13 years ago, when I graduated as a vet. We’ve now got Monoclonal antibody therapies coming out, which we didn’t have when I first graduated. It’s now possible to treat things that we couldn’t treat before.

“The vet industry is starting to incorporate artificial intelligence into our veterinary diagnostic tools. For example, there’s a microscope that can use AI to scan and interpret a sample slide.”

It’s a really rewarding career that allows you to make a direct significant impact in supporting your community. With every patient you touch you’re helping someone. Some of the most rewarding careers are the ones where you can see a result. Helping a patient recover is so rewarding.”

If you’re considering becoming a vet but aren’t sure, watch this PD Pet Care Vlog with Dr Cath Watson on pros and cons of becoming a vet:

Removing the stigma of veterinary burnout

For those in the profession, Dr MacRae says, “If you’re feeling stressed, and you think you’re heading towards burnout, it’s important to reach out for help. Speak to someone you trust and talk it through with them. Ideally, speak to your manager and ask them for what you need. For example, you might need support or time off.

Part of the solution to veterinary burnout is reducing the stigma around mental health and this starts by talking openly amongst our peers. Getting the basics right in terms of maintaining your own mental health is something that we medical professionals often don’t do. This includes making sure we get enough sleep, and that we are eating healthy and exercising.  

It’s important to build your support network around you so that you have people in your life who support you.  Participating in social activities helps you fill up your cup and get into a different head space.”

Read about advances in dog and cat nutrition in our article on pet food with Purina and Royal Canin. 
veterinarian and vet nurses prep dog for surgery - a procedure that can eventually lead to burnout

Let’s reduce vet shortages together

PD would like to thank Dr Bronwen MacRae, Chief Health Officer at Royal Canin, for her insights on veterinary burnout in New Zealand and Australia. Together as a pet care industry, we can all help alleviate the pressures vets face, helping to reduce the vet shortage and increase vet retention.

As well as helping educate people about the issue, PD helps by offering low-cost, high-value award winning pet insurance. As breeders, retailers, vets and other pet professionals you can join our pet care partner rewards programme. Every client you sign up for our plans will earn your business or organisation rewards. Click here to find out more.

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