Student vets require 52 weeks of ‘placement poverty’ to graduate. They’re devastated by study support snub

Student vets require 52 weeks of ‘placement poverty’ to graduate. They’re devastated by study support snub

Student vets are being forced into poverty due to a lack of government support, according to the Australian Veterinary Association (AVA).

Earlier this month the federal government announced it would establish the Commonwealth Prac Payment for teaching, nursing, and social work students to help manage the costs of mandatory, unpaid placements.

But veterinary students have been left off the list of eligible professions.

Association president Diana Barker said it was “another blow” to an industry already grappling with a shortage of skilled workers, student debt and high suicide rates.

Diana Barker says vet students have been dealt a huge blow from the federal government.(Supplied: Diana Barker)

The announcement came four months after the AVA called on the government to forgive the HECS-HELP debts of 80 students per year at a cost of $19.23 million over four years.

The association also wanted to see veterinary professionals included in existing subsidy schemes in rural and regional areas, as well as greater mental health support across the sector.

Dr Barker said the government was yet to respond to her organisation’s submission, but expected to be waiting a while.

“The last I’d heard was the education fee relief we were requesting would be reviewed in 2025,” she said.

Many student vets are likely to take placements close to home or family to save money.(ABC Central Victoria: Shannon Schubert )

‘Not prepared to invest’

The AVA says a veterinary degree is one of the most expensive in Australia, but vets are paid about two thirds less than GPs.

Dr Barker said she could not understand why veterinary students had been overlooked.

“It just shows the government doesn’t really seem to respect us or see us as essential,” she said.

“They’re not prepared to invest in our profession and make sure it continues.

“It’s just devastating and I cannot believe that veterinarians have been simply left off the list like we don’t matter.”

Student veterinarians undertake 52 weeks of mandatory placements during the five-year degree.(ABC News: Donal Sheil)

Education Minister Jason Clare said the Universities Accord recommended the Commonwealth Prac Payment focus first on teaching, nursing, midwifery, early education and social work students.

“The Commonwealth Prac Payment will give people who have signed up to do some of the most important jobs in this country a bit of extra help to get the qualifications they need,” he said.

“Placement poverty is a real thing … some students say prac means they have to give up their part-time job and they don’t have the money to pay the bills.”

Mr Clare did not say why veterinary students had been left off the list.

Regan Lynch says the financial hardship of unpaid placements is limiting where students can learn the ropes.(Supplied: Regan Lynch)

‘Very intense’ part of life

Rural mixed vet Regan Lynch said the lack of support has led to many students abandoning the field without graduating.

“It’s a very intense part of your life and huge commitment as a young person,” she said.

“A year of placement over their degree means that students have to make decisions around not only where they go, but [whether] they need to put their degree on pause.

“Drawing out that process makes it a lot harder for students to get out there and to complete their degree.”

Student vets are required to do 52 weeks of placement across their five-year degree, which Ms Lynch said put financial pressure on students, particularly if they were doing a placement away from home or support network.

“It’s a barrier, because financially we’re asking our young students to really run themselves into debt in order to graduate, let alone get a job,” she said.

“We know there’s a shortage of vets and we’re looking to get young professionals back into regional Australia … and placements are a big part of that.”

A veterinary degree is one of the most expensive, on average, in Australia.(Supplied: Manuka Vet Hospital)

Limitations ‘a real shame’

The lack of support for students means many choose not to travel to regional or rural parts of the country, where they would have to cover the cost of accommodation, travel and food while working without pay.

Ms Lynch said she was limited to locations where she had family or friends to stay with because she could not afford to cover the costs associated with long placements.

“For a lot of students it means they can’t get out and experience a huge variety of clinics and placements because they’re limited as to where they can go financially,” she said.

“That’s a real shame that we can’t make that accessible for a lot of students.

“We’re limiting how much of the veterinary world and their career that students can see because of financial decisions they’ve got to make.”

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