Making a profession less appealing will not increase numbers

I first heard about an attempt to make vets perform community service last year. There is a decent reason for the community service, there aren’t enough vets, particularly in rural areas, and this will put vets where they are needed. That bill is currently being presented and would require newly-qualified veterinarians to perform one year of community service before being allowed to practice or before the government will give a reference. This in the hopes of stopping the 45% of vets that leave the country after qualifying from doing so.

Funnily enough the article mentions that this is an attempt to make vets do the same sort of community service as doctors. This is funny because we have a large shortage of doctors so community service doesn’t seem to be helping much. What we should be doing is identifying the reasons why people leave and then trying to remove those reasons. There’s a post from last year on Health24 that looks at the shortage of doctors in South Africa. The first two problems identified on that list are also identified as problems in correspondence sent to the South African Medical Journal in 2010. They are poor pay and poor working conditions. It’s quite likely that those are same problems that new vets face, especially if they have to go out into the rural areas.

Even more interesting is the Health24 piece has one reason doctors leave that wasn’t in the SAMJ…

Dodging Community Service. Some practitioners go abroad to escape the one-year community service. Many study further abroad to become specialists; upon their return, they are obliged to serve their community as a medical practitioner, not as a specialist.

Doctors will leave specifically to avoid community service! Vets are just as human as doctors so you’ll actually be pushing more of them away than leave at present. It’s not even surprising that they would leave to avoid community service as that seems directly linked to issue of payment. Studying is not cheap and then having to wait a year before you can start trying to pay off debts is not an appealing prospect. Community service where you don’t get to choose where you go is also not attractive though that’s how it will almost certainly work, particularly to push people into rural areas. No one wants to be forced to live somewhere, especially if that place has a lack of services, may not be safe or is removed from your family.

I think if the government really wants more vets they should be making it easier to study veterinary science, which, to my knowledge, is currently only offered at a single university, work to improve the working conditions of vets and make remuneration more attractive. Making it hard to study and then forcing them to do community service for a year is more likely to drive potential vets away than attract them.

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