The True Cost of Being Understaffed in Veterinary Medicine - Vet Relief Staffing | Veterinary System Services

The True Cost of Being Understaffed in Veterinary Medicine

Being understaffed can take a huge toll on your veterinary hospital’s bottom line, and I’m not just talking about money. Being understaffed compromises productivity and growth opportunities, and it increases the frequency of careless errors. It’s crucial to take the time to examine how a staff shortage is affecting your business.


With the high concentration of veterinary hospitals in metro areas, you may already be at a competitive disadvantage. Disregarding customer service can decrease client satisfaction and revenue. Clients expect a higher level of customer service these days, and if you are short staffed, you likely aren’t able to take care of your clients the way they expect you to. Being short staffed can also impact the quality of care you provide your patients, which can mean the difference between life and death.

The human cost

Are you paying overtime? It may seem more cost effective to pay your employees overtime rather than get help, but this contributes to hospital-wide burnout and compassion fatigue and ultimately affects the hospital’s bottom line. Overtime is the most expensive way to handle staffing shortages, and hiring temporary or seasonal help can get you back on your feet and remove the burden from your staff. Everyone, including management, deserves to enjoy a health work-life balance. Stressful work environments can cause employees who care about doing a good job to suddenly feel burnt out and hopeless. And, working too much can lead to increased stress in your team’s personal lives.

Have you been short staffed for so long it seems to be your normal? Here are a few questions to ask yourself and your team:

  • Do your employees feel comfortable taking time off?
  • Do you have increased absenteeism or tardiness?
  • Are you dealing with increased employee turnover?
  • Are you missing deadlines?
  • Is your employee morale and motivation low?
  • Are you dealing with increased staff resentment?
  • Are you seeing increased illnesses and/or injuries?
  • Have you seen new or increased theft?
  • Are you seeing an increase in lost business?
  • Are you focused on getting the job done or getting the job done right?
  • Is management having to “put their shoulder to the wheel” to get things done?
  • Is there an increase in careless mistakes?

The nationwide certified veterinary technician shortage is placing a strain on veterinary medicine as a whole and making it more difficult to get out from underneath the crushing weight of being understaffed. Be creative to turn things around in your practice. Here are some creative solutions:

  • Use a skills/availability matrix to get some relief and be more effective with your current staff. The skills matrix feature produces an exhaustive list for managers with information such as:
    • Department
    • Team
    • Shift
    • Skill

This allows for thinking outside the box and taking a step back to allow some flexibility in scheduling employees. Flexibility makes staff happier, more productive, and is easier than you think.

  • Use a reputable relief company to take away many of the burdens of being short staffed. Some benefits of using relief staff include:
    • Current employees can take some much-needed time off.
    • You’ll have extra help during busy seasons.
    • You can use relief staff as long-term working interviews to potentially add to your team. Many hospital managers are already preoccupied with lending a helping hand in the hospital and don’t have time to interview applicants. The perks of hiring someone you already know works well with your team is priceless.
  • Make a plan! Involve your staff in your discussions and brainstorming sessions regarding hospital staffing. Creating a space for open, effective communication will help keep your staff in the loop and show them that you are trying to find a solution and that you appreciate their input and involvement. They might even have a great idea!
  • Determine how to better leverage your employees within your hospital and prioritize the workload. Many practices feel as though they are understaffed, but, more often than not, it comes down to poor management of the team.
  • Encourage teamwork. Teamwork solidifies a team and increases productivity exponentially.

The future success of your practice and of veterinary medicine as a whole is highly dependent on treating our employees well and appropriately staffing our practices. If you’re not making vital changes within your practice, you’re only adding to the problem. Let’s get creative and make veterinary medicine a better place for everyone!



April Willhide is an account manager for VSS, a Certified Veterinary Technician, and an army veteran.  She enjoys mountain living, beekeeping, and making everyone laugh. Her professional goals include making Veterinary Medicine better for everyone and being a great leader.