Estonian veterinary organizations concerned about vet shortages

Holstein/Frisian dairy cows.
Holstein/Frisian dairy cows. Source: Olev Kenk/ERR

Veterinary organizations in Estonia are concerned about the shortage of trained vets. To help rectify the problem, they believed the number of students admitted to veterinary training programs should increase. There are also concerns regarding the number of vets who complete their training in Estonia before moving abroad to work.

Madis Leivits, president of the Estonian Association of Veterinary Surgeons (ELU), said that Estonia currently has a shortage of at least 100 vets. He added, that a fifth of those currently practicing in Estonia are over 60.

"The Agriculture and Food Board (PTA), which is one of the biggest employers of vets – whether in animal welfare or food safety inspection roles - sees the need for at least ten more vets every year for the next ten years, just to make up for the vets they have, who will be retiring," Leivits said.

Another area of concern is the number of vets, who having comp completed their training in Estonia are now working abroad.

"In our veterinary register, people are actually often listed as being active local vets, when in fact they are not. There are around 10 percent of vets on the register who could be working in Estonia, but they are just not physically here," Leivits explained.

As requirements to practice veterinary surgery are the same throughout the European Union, it is also possible for vets trained in Estonia to work in other countries such as Finland, Sweden or Norway, explained Toomas Tiirats, director of the Institute of Veterinary Medicine and Animal Sciences at the Estonian University of Life Sciences.

Tiirats added that graduates also often go abroad to specialize and do not always opt to return to Estonia.

However, according to Leivits, the desire for vets to go abroad has decreased in recent years.

"Similar to the situation with doctors and nurses five years or so ago, a really large proportion of our Estonian graduates left for Finland and other countries. Since that so-called drought has eased, emigration has not been so high among trained veterinary surgeons either. However, in the meantime we have lost one or two generations of vets who have left (Estonia) and are unlikely to come back," Leivits said.

Currently, 34 students are admitted onto the Estonian Language veterinary training program at the University of Life Sciences each year. In recent years, less than 20 of these have managed to graduate. Leivits estimates that it could be possible to produce between 40 and 50 graduates a year. Tiirats agrees, adding that, as the need for veterinarians has grown over the years, more places on training programs should be created immediately.

"If you consider, that training to become a veterinary surgeon involves completing a six-year course, the initial benefits will only start to be seen in the long term. (Increasing the number of places) would be a highly strategic decision," said Tiirats.


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Editor: Michael Cole

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