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The average veterinarian in Canada worked an incredibly civilized number of annual hours in 2008. Last year, the median number of annual hours was 1632 h, which can be translated into 7 h/d, 5 d/wk, with 3 wk vacation and 2 wk of statutory holidays. This is a far cry from the 2130 annual hours recorded in 1992 (1). At an astonishing decrease of 31 fewer hours per year over the past 16 years, the average veterinarian in Canada is working 496 h less than was the case a decade ago. Increased wealth in the profession and the successful pursuit of a professional lifestyle have allowed veterinarians to earn more, while working less.
The information provided in this article comes from the results of the 2008 CVMA Practice Owner’s Economic Survey. The estimates are based on 1768 observations and are accurate to +/− 1.8%, 19 times out of 20.
While it is clear that the annual number of hours worked has gone down, there are significant variations around the average when the data are broken down by province, type of employment, and ownership status. Generally speaking, practice owners work longer hours than associates, mixed and large animal veterinarians work longer hours than companion animal veterinarians, and there are considerable variations in hours worked from province to province.
The widest disparity in hours was in the comparison between annual hours worked by practice type. Mixed and large animal veterinarians (classified by place of employment) included veterinarians working in mixed, equine, bovine, and exclusively large animal practices. For years, there have been numerous reports about the declining demand for large animal practice (2). Hours worked and onerous on-call schedules are cited as the reasons for the declining popularity of large animal practice among veterinarians across Canada. The discrepancy in hours worked between companion and large animal practice veterinarians provides clear evidence for this case. Veterinarians in mixed and large animal practice worked 423 h more per year than their companion animal counterparts. This means that mixed and large animal veterinarians worked 9 h more per week (Figure 1).
Scanning the provinces, there was little variation in mixed and large animal annual hours with the exception of Nova Scotia. Mixed and large animal veterinarians in most provinces worked within 5% of the national median but in Nova Scotia, mixed and large animal veterinarians worked 19% fewer hours, similar to the number of hours worked by companion animal veterinarians in that province.
Ownership status played an important role in how many hours veterinarians were prepared to work. The average associate veterinarian in Canada worked 250 h less than practice owners who put in 1800 h annually. The greatest variations between owners and associates were seen in Prince Edward Island and British Columbia where the annual hours of practice owners were similar to the national average, but the annual hours of associates fell far below the average. Three provinces, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Manitoba stood out as having strikingly similar annual hours for associates and practice owners. Interestingly, they reached parity by having different combinations of hours workd by owners and by associates. In Nova Scotia, the annual hours of associates were within 10 h of the national average, but practice owners worked 245 h less than average to match the associates’ work schedules. In Manitoba and New Brunswick, the reverse was true. Practice owners worked similar hours when compared with the national average, but associates worked between 249 and 297 hours more than the national average to reach parity with owners (Figure 2).
When it comes to lifestyle, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and New Brunswick stood out, as provinces in which veterinarians worked the longest hours. Saskatchewan had the highest number of annual hours, with 1950 h worked. New Brunswick followed at 1847 h, and Alberta and Manitoba at 1800 and 1799, respectively (Table 1). All other provinces were below the national average for annual hours worked. At first glance, one might suspect that the higher than average number of mixed and large animal practices were responsible for propping up annual hours because mixed and large animal veterinarians worked more hours. Closer examination of the data shows that practice type did not explain the difference. With the exception of Manitoba, the provinces in question were above the average in all categories including companion animal hours. The only difference was Manitoba, which reflected fewer than average annual hours in the mixed and large, and practice owner categories. Clearly, mixed and large animal practices were not skewing the hours.
All other provinces had annual hours that were less than the average; Prince Edward Island came in just above 1000 h. Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, and Ontario consistently had fewer hours worked in all categories, while other provinces were being skewed by 1 or 2 categories. For example, British Columbia looks like a safe haven for veterinarians wanting to reduce hours, but the statistics were being pulled down by extraordinarily low associate hours. Practice owners, and mixed and large animal veterinarians in British Columbia worked a number of annual hours that were very close to the average. Quebec and Prince Edward Island had attractive hours for associates and companion animal veterinarians, but mixed and large animal veterinarians work greater than 2 wk more than the national average.
Factoring in the cost-of-living adjusted net income, and information on annual hours worked, Nova Scotia had the most to offer veterinarians in Canada for 2008. Nova Scotia was in the top 3 financially, and was one of 3 provinces in which practice owners and associates worked fewer hours than the median in all practice types.
This article is provided as part of the CVMA Business Management Program, which is co-sponsored by Hill’s Pet Nutrition Canada Inc., Petsecure Insurance, Intervet Schering-Plough Animal Health, and Scotiabank.
Use of this article is limited to a single copy for personal study. Anyone interested in obtaining reprints should contact the CVMA office ( gro.vmca-amvc@nothguorbh) for additional copies or permission to use this material elsewhere.