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Graduates head to Waikato clinics to help combat shortage of rural vets

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Veterinarian Ryan Oleson, of Morrinsville, is one of 33 graduate vets around New Zealand who received a financial boost from the Ministry for Primary Industries this year.

The nationwide veterinarian shortage is also being felt in the Waikato, but three recent vet graduates are doing their part to combat the problem in the region’s rural areas.

The New Zealand Vet Council said there were 3700 veterinarians with an annual practicing certificate in New Zealand. That’s not enough, but the council couldn’t say how many more were needed until its annual workforce survey next month.

Anexa Vets, which runs 11 practices across the Waikato and Hauraki Plains, said it “absolutely” felt the vet shortage across all areas of veterinary medicine.

The company’s operations manager for production animals, Jill Harrison, said rural roles were especially hard to fill.

“We have between 45 and 50 staff across all our clinics but would need at least two more vets for the workload to be comfortably manageable.

“We have been trying to fill roles in Raglan and Te Kauwhata for quite some time now, but it has been difficult.

“We don’t get a big volume of applications … In rural areas, vets would largely work on their own, but vets need to feel they are connected to other vets.”

All new vets come out of university as generalists and are able to work in any type of practice in New Zealand.

Rural practices are usually not the first choice for young vets, but Ian Laing, of Maramarua, and Ryan Oleson and Oscar Porras, of Morrinsville, have all taken the leap.

They are three out of 33 graduate vets from across New Zealand who have been selected for a grant scheme run by the Ministry for Primary Industries.

Vet graduate Ian Laing now works in Maramarua, north Waikato.
Vet graduate Ian Laing now works in Maramarua, north Waikato.

The Voluntary Bonding Scheme, where successful recipients each receive $55,000 of funding in return for working across rural communities, was set up by the MPI in 2009 to help ease the shortage of rural vets.

Laing and Oleson both moved to the Waikato from Palmerston North and are enthusiastic about working as rural vets.

Laing, now working for Anexa Maramarua, said a city job can be more appealing to young graduates, however, the Voluntary Bonding Scheme was an incentive to get into rural communities instead.

“After six years of [studying at Massey] university I have a large student loan. Going back into the rural community that I grew up in was no big decision but the VBS allows me to be able to pay off my student loan a lot sooner.

“Working in a rural community allows for better relationships to develop as everyone wants to be involved and connected in a smaller community,” Laing said.

Vet graduate Oscar Porras now works in Morrinsville.
Vet graduate Oscar Porras now works in Morrinsville.

Oleson, working at Veterinary Clinic Morrinsville, added the prospects of a special “office” had contributed to his decision to become a rural vet.

“I’m 6′2″ so being outside, I can stretch and feel a lot more suited to my environment. It feels so good to drive through the countryside knowing this is your office.”

Porras, also working at Veterinary Clinic Morrinsville, echoed their sentiments saying he liked going on farm visits.

“Having a job that allows me to not be in the clinic all the time has been great.”

Since its inception, the Voluntary Bonding Scheme has supported 449 graduate vets.

Agriculture Minister Todd McClay said this year’s recipients of the scheme were working in 24 rural New Zealand communities.

“Vets are a vital part of the community and this scheme helps attract some of the brightest and best new graduates to our regions.

“This helps graduate vets pay off their student loans, which provides a significant head start to their careers.”

However, apart from the low number of new graduate vets interested in rural practices, Anexa Vets said another problem was the loss of medium-experienced vets.

“We are losing reasonably experienced vets because they are going into other roles like agricultural research,” Harrison said.

Danielle Zollickhofer is a multimedia journalist and assistant news director for the Waikato Herald. She joined NZME in 2021 and is based in Hamilton.

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