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‘We sleep in the office’: East Texas veterinarians work overtime to fill staffing gaps

"The hiring rate is just about 10%," said Dr. Gary Spence with Spence and White Veterinary Hospital.

TYLER, Texas — In the 40 years Dr. Gary Spence has owned Spence and White Veterinary Hospital, the past two have shown how hard it can be to get doctors in the door.

"They're just not wanting to work," said Dr. Spence. "And we've been looking for someone to work with our emergency clinic for almost two years.”

It’s the same amount of time we’ve been in a pandemic. 

Dr. Spence says vet clinics are facing the same staffing struggle many other industries are, which is why when he’s not at his main clinic, he’s one of 10 owners at Tyler Animal Emergency Clinic on rotation to fill in for the skeleton crew.

“As the owners, we shouldn't have to be doing that," Dr. Spence said. "We can't get a permanent to come in and work in our state."

Some of the doctors on rotation commute upwards of two hours to help out.

Dr. Spence says sometimes doctors are pulled in so many directions that they’ll work at the emergency clinic from 6 p.m. until it closes at 8 a.m. and then and go back for a full shift at their own clinics. Some ultimately work 24 hours straight.

“Yeah, that's a pretty routine for some of the guys that work over there,” Dr. Spence said. “We sleep in the office.”

For pet owners, this lack of help means you may need to make an appointment instead of walking into clinics and once you’re in the vet said prepare see some pretty tired doctors.

“If you've seen 25, 30 emergencies that day, you know, toward the end of the day, you start getting a little forgetful," he said.