Veterinary Council: Highest ever number of vets on the register

The Veterinary Council of Ireland (VCI) currently has its highest ever number of vets and veterinary nurses registered.

With 3,031 vets and 1,083 veterinary nurses on the register, Niamh Muldoon, CEO and registrar of the VCI tells AgriLand that anecdotally, the council hears that recruitment can be challenging for rural areas.

However, the council does not feel “there is a significant problem”, and that there are also “sufficient numbers registered to meet the high demands and needs across the country”.

‘I don’t believe there are serious issues with recruitment’

“I think it depends – what is unappealing for one is very appealing for another – generally, I don’t believe that there are serious issues with recruitment,” Muldoon says.

“I don’t think that it’s unappealing to go to a rural area – it depends on the individual’s personality and their background. If someone grew up in the country, they’re probably a bit more familiar with the lifestyle.

“It depends on your interest as well; if in college, you’re in training and you develop a real interest for equine or for large animals, you know your interest ultimately dictates where you end up working. ”

Muldoon says that it is “not in the national interest” to have a situation whereby there are pockets of the country that don’t have veterinary services available.

There were some studies done last year in terms of availability of services and the initial indications are that there is a veterinary practice accessible by road from every herd in Ireland within 30km.

While the issue of availability of vets in rural areas may seem like a “niche issue”, it is something that needs to be kept a close eye on as it has a huge impact on society overall, according to Muldoon.

‘Vets are integral in the food supply chain’

“You can’t look at any one issue in the agriculture sector in isolation. Without vets and veterinary nurses, society doesn’t function as we know it, so we need to meet demands for them,” she says.

“Vets are integral in the food supply chain. Irish foods are really highly sought around the world so we have huge export levels, and the knock-off of that is the contribution that those exports bring to our national economy. We can’t maintain that standard without veterinary professionals.

The truth is, vets and veterinary nurses are not as valued in society as they should be – not that we take them for granted, but people traditionally think of companion animals, vaccinating a dog, but the truth is our food chain is very much reliant on those in the field.

“From inspectors in terms of food processing plants, safeguarding the integrity of the food in terms of the medicines and the drugs that are used, even from fertility aspects to ensuring the health of new herds coming through – they play a huge role and I often think they’re not quite as valued as they could or should be.”

Graduates meeting demands

In July of this year, the VCI predicted that the demands for large animal vets in rural areas will be met by graduates.

Combined with the increasing numbers of Irish veterinary students qualifying in universities abroad and the increasing number of foreign vets registering to practise in Ireland, the council believes this “influx of talent” will “benefit animal health and welfare”.

With only one course for veterinary medicine in the country, in University College Dublin (UCD), there aren’t enough places to meet the demand of people who want to pursue it.

“For those who study abroad, the indication is that they nearly all return home and practise here and that, for me, is a really good sign,” Muldoon continued.

“Actually, in truth, that helps for meeting demands of veterinary services across the country.”