Chicago animal hospitals seeing shortage of doctors

If you're a pet owner, good luck getting an appointment. There's a global staffing shortage of veterinarians and veterinary staff that's hitting local clinics and hospitals.

"Even before the pandemic there's some data from the American Veterinary Medical Association, that there were 18 available positions for every one veterinarian," said Dr. Jared Cohen, Medical Director at VCA Blum Animal Hospital.

When the pandemic hit, it impacted the vet world in two big ways. Industry-wide, vets and vet techs quit, retired and burned out — like what's happened in human health care.

At VCA Blum Animal Hospital in Chicago's Lake View neighborhood, they went from 11 doctors down to four in the past year.


At the same time, people brought home all those pandemic puppies and other pets during Covid.

"Data supports that millions of pets were adopted throughout the course of the pandemic, which is awesome, but that also means millions of new patients that need to be seen and when you're facing a staffing shortage, there has to be a little bit of a balance there. And that's kind of the new normal that we're trying to navigate," said Robyn Hagle, Hospital Manager.

Now, customers calling for an appointment likely must wait weeks to get in or perhaps not see a vet in person.

"Here at Blum, we have lots of access also to some phone triage, email. Owners can email pictures, videos of what might be going on with their pets," explained Dr. Cohen.

So, what does this mean for pet owners? You should schedule appointments for things like shots well in advance. And in case of emergency, have back up plans because your usual vet may not be able to see you.

"We reserve same day emergencies but those are usually gone within minutes of us opening, so that requires us to then rely on the local emergency departments. And unfortunately, the emergency veterinary hospitals are also experiencing the same staffing shortages as us, if not more," said Hagle.

The Lake View hospital has two new vets starting next month, but in a sign of how desperate this shortage is, clinics are hiring people still in veterinary school and years from graduation.