Regional Vet Crisis: Students Offer Help, Peak Body Reiterates HECS Debt Waiver

AVA

A recent survey of Australia’s veterinary students shows 100% of respondents would consider working in a regional or rural practice if their HECS debt was wiped.

The survey, run by peak body The Australian Veterinary Association (AVA), presents a clear solution to help address regional veterinary shortage which has now reached crisis point, leaving many communities without access to essential veterinary services.

The survey results follow the announcement from Education Minister Jason Clare that up to 2,000 of Australia’s most remote teachers can have their HECS debt cut by $35,000 this year.

This is on top of the Albanese Government’s announcement in November 2022 that it will wipe the HECS debt of doctors and nurse practitioners who live and work in the most remote parts of Australia.

AVA President Dr Bronwyn Orr said it’s now time for the Federal Government to prioritise veterinarians, particularly at a time when burnout and poor mental health is taking a huge toll on the sector.

“We are pleased to see the Federal Government make further progress that supports the education and health care of Australians in the regions,” Dr Orr said.

“But it’s high time that we saw a similar level of interest and support for our veterinarians.

“Vets are vital to the success of the agricultural sector, which contributed $71 billion to the Australian economy in 2020-21.

“The current skills shortage of vets in the regions is crippling the industry, and if urgent support is not delivered we may see the rural and regional veterinary workforce collapse.

“That’s why we have lodged a Budget Submission urging the Federal Government to better support the profession by wiping HECS debts for new grads, bolstering the biosecurity role of vets, and prioritising mental health support for the profession.”

The four recommendations put forward in the AVA 2023-24 Federal Pre-Budget Submission are:

1.Attract more vets to regional communities: Introduce a Rural Bonding Scheme (HECS Forgiveness Scheme) for graduate veterinarians. AVA estimates that this would cost $19.23 million over four years ($4.80 million per annum) and would wipe the HECS debt of 80 new graduates per year, boosting the veterinary workforce in these critically important regions.

2.Prioritise veterinary workforce sustainability: Invest in better data collection, analysis and workforce planning to ensure that future veterinary demand is matched by supply in a way that provides sufficient veterinarians, whilst realising the return on investment from veterinary training.

3.Formalise the role of veterinarians in biosecurity policy through funding models:The Australian government’s commitment to the biosecurity system should include increased investment in veterinary services, particularly rural and regional.

4.Improve mental health support for veterinarians: Introduce sectoral support of the veterinary profession ($3 million over four years) to establish a national veterinary profession-led approach to improve veterinarian wellbeing and improve career satisfaction and sustainability via veterinary-focused mental health education campaigns, whole career mentoring/ support and an accessible 24/7 veterinary friendly counselling service.

For more detail on the AVA’s key recommendations, read a copy of the body’s 2023-2024 Federal Pre-Budget Submission or visit www.ava.com.au

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