The shortage of veterinarians in Canada is shaping up to be a real crisis
Each year more vets retire than graduates, and while creating more places in vet schools seems an obvious solution, most provincial governments will not pay.
Kate Simon, a licensed veterinary technologist in Edmonton, took maternity leave in March 2020 as the pandemic struck. She returned a year later to find the clinic where she works overwhelmed. âIt was like, ‘What’s going on here? It’s just weird, âSimon recalls.
Outside the Guardian Veterinary Center, clients sit overnight in cars with sick animals hoping to see a veterinarian. Inside, a receptionist calls out, “Yard Tech. Statistics. Simon says, âYou would have a quick energy bar for dinner. You would have [staffers] cry in the corners because there is no end in sight. Pet owners, she adds, can be told to expect a 10-hour wait, only to be notified hours later that the vet is too overwhelmed to see their pet at all. âThese customers get angry,â says Simon, âand I get it. I would go crazy too.
From an animal lover’s perspective, the veterinarian shortage in Canada is shaping up to be a real crisis in the coming year, from coast to coast. The Clarkson Village Animal Hospital in Mississauga was a 24 hour clinic. Recently, understaffed, it reduced its hours of operation from 8 am to 8 pm. In Penticton, British Columbia, a pet advocate has approached city council to advocate for veterinary care. In Sainte-Anne-de-la-PÃ©rade, west of Quebec, the time to see a veterinarian for deworming drugs has grown so long that breeder Marie CÃ´tÃ© says her border collie puppies are thinner and growing. slower. Her vet ignored her calls for weeks. It was only after going to the television complaining, she says, that she got results: âI got my meds the next day.
The demand for veterinary care increased before the pandemic. In 2018, around seven million dogs visited the veterinarian, up from five million ten years earlier. Then came the COVID protocols: the clinics admitted the animals and spoke to the owners by phone. It takes “three times as long,” says a veterinarian. In addition, thousands of Canadians, suddenly working from home, have taken in puppies or kittens for companionship. âMore and more young people are adopting animals,â says Dr. Bikram Dayed, a Toronto veterinarian, who has reduced his staff from three to five.
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Our relationship with cats and dogs is also evolving. Simon, the veterinary technician, says that 20 years ago, when she quoted the cost of cataract surgery for a dog, she would sometimes hear, “I’m not paying for this. A bullet is cheaper. She doesn’t understand that now. Dr Louis Kwantes, an Edmonton veterinarian who heads the Canadian Association of Veterinarians, says owners’ expectations have increased. Veterinarians, he says, âspend twice as much time with each animal as before. We have more tests, more tools.
The supply of veterinarians, however, has remained stable for years. Canada’s five colleges of veterinary medicine produce about 350 graduates per year, which is nowhere near enough. Each year more vets retire than graduates, and while creating more places in vet schools seems an obvious solution, provincial governments will not pay. The Atlantic Veterinary College in Charlottetown opened in 1986 and could accommodate 40 students per year from Atlantic Canada. Today it has 42 such spaces and rejects up to six qualified applicants for each of them it accepts. To make ends meet, the school welcomes 26 additional students from other countries each year (up from 10 in 1986), who pay $ 69,000 per year, compared to $ 13,800 per year for Canadians. If they can afford it, rejected Canadian students go abroad to study veterinary medicine.
The problem is, the expansion of veterinary schools is expensive. Dr. Jeffrey Wichtel, dean of the Ontario Veterinary College in Guelph, Ont., Says for universities, training vets costs more than training students in any other field. âIn human medicine, you have a taxpayer funded health care system where we can train human doctors. And long before the pet veterinarian crisis, Canadian farmers faced a shortage of veterinarians, especially in Quebec.
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But in this province there may be a silver lining. The only French veterinary school in Canada, the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine of the University of Montreal, in Saint-Hyacinthe, welcomes only 96 students per year among 1,000 qualified candidates, declared the dean, Dr. Christine Theoret, specialist in equine surgery. Now, with provincial funding of $ 650,000, his school has completed a feasibility study on opening a satellite veterinary campus at the University of Quebec at Rimouski, east of Quebec City. This plan would increase admissions to 25 students, who would learn primarily in Rimouski, with one year on the main campus.
Dr. ThÃ©oret’s plan includes new buildings in Rimouski and Saint-Hyacinthe. She expects the province to decide in June. CÃ´tÃ© supports the idea, and other provinces are watching. âWe are looking to Quebec,â says Dr. Wichtel of Guelph, who dreams of opening a satellite campus in Thunder Bay, Ontario.
There is a more immediate solution: Vets can give more work and better pay to veterinary technologists, who, after two years of training, often start at $ 20 or $ 22 an hour. Like other vets, Dr. Erin Spence, who runs a practice of four vets in Toronto, struggles to find good technicians. âYour technicians are your backbone,â she says. âWe lost a lot to burnout. They are up all day, being bitten, scratched, lifting heavy dogs.
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Kate Simon of Edmonton, for her part, is a reviewer, skilled in blood transfusion and the administration of ventilation and feeding tubes. Harassed vets and anxious pet owners would certainly agree. In the coming months, animal health care skills will be one of the commodities we cannot afford to waste.
This article appears in print in the January 2022 issue of Maclean’s magazine with the title “Ruff Days at the Office”. Subscribe to the monthly print magazine here.