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Are New Zealand's rural vets being pushed to the edge?

Ava Whitworth
VetLife New Brighton
Vetlife New Brighton - a Christchurch pet and rural farm vet  Ava Whitworth

Rural vets have recently been leaving the industry due to the pressures that come from the career.

The pressure on rural vets is multifactorial - the largest being critical shortages.

New Zealand has always been dependent on overseas vets coming to our country. 

The government's response to re-allowing key workers back into the country has significantly augmented this issue - leaving New Zealand chronically short of all vets, particularly rural. 

Founding shareholder of VetNZ and Director of Clinical Strategy, Mark Bryan has been a rural vet for 35 years.

He says he's passionate about the value of rural vets to a community and to the industry.

Mark Bryan VetNZ
Founding shareholder of VetNZ and Director of Clinical Strategy, Mark Bryan Photo Supplied by Mark Bryan

In his opinion, the profession is consistently over-represented in suicide and mental health rates. 

Vets are four times more likely to commit suicide than their non-vet peers, and this is particularly skewed by young females and older males. 

He outlined that rural rates of suicide and mental illness, in general, are higher than urban. 

VetNZ has been doing a lot over recent years to mitigate this, however, the rates remain similar to those 20 years ago. 

Brayan says they have recently completed some research with social scientists and looked at the issue of moral distress. 

“My personal belief is that this is an under-recognised risk and a potential source of a lot of the pressure on rural vets.” 
Rural vets face pressures
Rural vets face pressures Ava Whitworth

However, they are persevering by developing synergies with local vets, one of them being VetSouth. Their company was born over 15 years ago by the amalgamation of two smaller rural vet practices. 

The company allows pooling of resources, better support, opportunities for specialisation, lots of peer support, better rosters and a far better social culture. 

Since then they have started employing veterinary technicians. 

“They are fantastic for supporting the vet team, integrating into our daily lives, spreading the workload, and allowing vets to focus on other areas of their training,” Bryan says.

Cows at Farm
Rural vets face heavy workloads Ava Whitworth

Recent rural veterinarian graduate, Rach Hocking, believes there is adequate groundwork done at university, but as you get further through the degree, it becomes more eye-opening as to what is burnout and how common it really is.

“In vet school, we are exposed to activities that challenge our thinking around resilience and mental health.

"Outside of vet school, there has been a shift in our CPD (continuing professional development) to include mental health type learning as well as practical/scientific learning.”

To combat burnout VetNZ is ensuring they give vets sabbaticals, lots of time off and opportunities for extended leave. 

As well as inside work support they are allocating 25% of their CPD budget to personal welfare for things such as joining a gym, taking up art, or a hobby to ensure a good work-life balance.  

Most importantly they have used clinical psychologists to work with their team for 18 months to support, educate and raise awareness. 

This work is all being put in place in order for the profession to remain enjoyable and sustainable for those in it. 

If you, or anyone you know needs help, here are some resources.

Rural Support Trust - 0800 787 254 

Farm Strong - Live well, Farm Well: 

First Steps NZ: 


Need to talk? Free call or text 1737 any time for support from a trained counsellor.

Lifeline – 0800 543 354 (0800 LIFELINE) or free text 4357 (HELP).

Youthline – 0800 376 633, free text 234 or email or online chat.

Suicide Crisis Helpline – 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO).

Healthline – 0800 611 116