Two Liberal MLAs, Coralee Oakes and Ian Paton, have expressed concern with the current landscape of B.C.’s veterinarian industry, as the sector has said it’s extremely short-handed.
Cariboo North MLA Coralee Oakes and Delta South MLA Paton have written a joint letter urging the B.C. NDP government to make moves to help the animal-care industry.
“The shortage of veterinarians is an ongoing issue and the situation is becoming much more serious,” the MLAs said in the letter.
“Pet owners are now finding it virtually impossible to find a practitioner able to take their pets as patients.”
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Ian Paton spoke with Global News on Thursday and said the issues stem from veterinarian schooling costs.
“We fought tooth and nail a few years ago for the exact same thing that we are fighting for now, and that is to subsidize 20 more seats at the Western College of Veterinarian Medicine at the University of Saskatoon for B.C. students,” he said.
“We have a severe shortage of veterinarians in B.C., and with the COVID-19 outbreak and so many people getting pets, it’s been very difficult for people to secure a veterinarian.”
Paton said the shortages have not only affected pet owners but the agriculture industry as well, as rural animal doctors are a scarcity.
The province did subsidize 40 seats for 2023 but has not officially committed to extending the subsidies to future years.
“Normally, (B.C.) would subsidize 20 seats at the college at about $11,000 a year in tuition. But the other 20 seats would have to be paid to a fee of $69,000 a year for the other students from B.C.,” Paton told Global News.
“We want all 40 seats to be subsidized for the students of British Columbia.”
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There are only five veterinary schools in the country — in Prince Edward Island, Quebec, Ontario, Saskatchewan, and Calgary — but out of the two western Canada schools, only Saskatoon’s takes B.C. students.
Global News spoke with B.C.’s chief veterinarian, Dr. Theresa Burns, and Pam Alexis, Minister of Agriculture and Food, at a press conference Thursday.
“The ministry is very much aware of the vet shortage and we are working closely with the B.C. Ministry of Advanced Education to ensure more spots are open,” Alexis said.
“It’s been the subject for a number of years and so we are working alongside the ministry to ensure there are more spaces available.”
Dr. Burns said in a question period Thursday that the province is extending the subsidies for the 40 seats into the future, but did not say for how long.
“Certainly, increasing the seats is one of the tools we are implementing,” she said.
“That will continue, that will be 40 veterinarians every year (coming out of the college).”
Other measures that could be taken would be foreign graduate training and increasing the role of vet technicians to help, according to Burns.
A 2019 labour market study, by the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association, found the province needs more than 100 new vets every year to keep up with demand and turnover.
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A veterinarian office in Maple Ridge, Dewdney Animal Hospital, said it hasn’t been able to hire any extra animal doctors to help out with their demand.
“I’ve had an ad up for a vet for 12 months and I’ve had five applicants. We are hoping to hear back from one applicant who accepted a position, to bring us up to two vets in July,” Dr. Adrian Walton said.
Walton said he has to work six days a week to try and address his patient’s needs.
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