Canada’s vet shortage looming as a total crisis

Every year more veterinarians retire than graduate, and while creating more space in veterinary schools seems like an obvious solution, most provincial governments will not pay.

Simon at work: Demand for veterinary services skyrocketed during the pandemic, but supply is flat (Photo by Jason Franson)

Simon at work: Demand for veterinary services skyrocketed during the pandemic, but supply is flat (Photo by Jason Franson)

Kate Simon, a registered veterinary technologist in Edmonton, went on maternity leave in March 2020 when the pandemic struck. She returned a year later to find the clinic where she works overwhelmed. “It was like, ‘What’s going on here? This is just weird, ‘”Simon recalls.

Outside of the Guardian Veterinary Center, clients sit overnight in cars with sick pets hoping to see a vet. Inside, a receptionist calls out: “Sorting technology. Stat. “Simon says,“ You’ll have a quick energy bar for dinner. [staffers] crying in the corners because there is no end in sight. “Pet owners, he adds, can be told to wait a 10-hour wait, only to be informed a few hours later that the vet is too overwhelmed to see his animal. “Those customers get mad,” says Simon, “and I get it. I’d get mad too.”

From an animal lover’s perspective, Canada’s veterinary deficit is shaping up to be a total crisis next year, from coast to coast. The Clarkson Village Animal Hospital in Mississauga was a 24-hour clinic. Recently, without staff, he reduced his hours from 8 am to 8 pm In Penticton, BC, a pet advocate went to city hall to request veterinary care. In Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pérade, west of Quebec City, the delay in seeing a vet for deworming medications has grown so long that breeder Marie Côté says her border collie puppies are slimmer and grow larger. more slowly. His vet ignored his calls for weeks. Only after going on TV to complain, he says, did he get results: “I got my medicine the next day.”

The demand for veterinary care increased before the pandemic. In 2018, around seven million dogs visited the vet, up from five million in the previous decade. Then came the COVID protocols: the clinics admitted the animals and spoke with the owners on the phone. This takes “three times as long,” says a vet. Additionally, thousands of Canadians, suddenly working from home, took in puppies or kittens for company. “More and more young people are adopting animals,” says Dr. Bikram Dayed, a Toronto veterinarian, who expanded his clinic’s 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 he quoted the price of cataract surgery for a dog, he would occasionally hear, “I’m not paying for that. A bullet is cheaper. “She doesn’t understand that now. Dr. Louis Kwantes, an Edmonton veterinarian who heads the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association, says owners’ expectations have risen. Veterinarians, she says,” pass the twice as much time with each pet as before. We have more tests, more tools. “

However, the supply of veterinarians has been stable for years. Canada’s five colleges of veterinary medicine get around 350 graduates a year, which is not enough. Every year more veterinarians retire than graduate, and while creating more space in veterinary schools seems like an obvious solution, provincial governments will not pay. The Atlantic Veterinary College in Charlottetown opened in 1986 with a capacity of 40 students per year from Atlantic Canada. Today it has 42 spaces of this type and rejects up to six qualified applicants for each one it accepts. To make ends meet, the school accepts an additional 26 students from other countries each year (up from 10 in 1986), who pay $ 69,000 per year, compared to $ 13,800 a year for Canadians. If they can afford it, rejected Canadian students head abroad to study veterinary medicine.

The problem is that expanding veterinary schools is expensive. Dr. Jeffrey Wichtel, dean of the Ontario Veterinary College in Guelph, Ontario, says that for universities, educating veterinarians costs more than educating students in any other field. “In human medicine, there is a taxpayer-funded health care system in which we can train human physicians.” And long before the veterinary shortage, Canadian farmers struggled with the veterinary shortage, especially in Quebec.

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But in that province there may be a ray of hope. Canada’s only French veterinary school, the Faculté de médecine vétérinaire de l’Université de Montréal, in Saint-Hyacinthe, admits just 96 students a year out of 1,000 qualified applicants, says dean, Dr. Christine Theoret, a specialist in equine surgery . Now, with $ 650,000 in provincial funding, his school has completed a feasibility study on opening a satellite veterinary campus at the Université du Québec à Rimouski, east of Quebec City. That plan would increase admissions by 25 students, who would learn primarily at Rimouski, with one year on the main campus.

Dr. Theoret’s plan calls for new buildings in Rimouski and Saint-Hyacinthe. He expects the province to decide in June. Côté supports the idea and other provinces are watching. “We’re looking at Quebec,” says Dr. Wichtel in Guelph, who dreams of opening a satellite campus in Thunder Bay, Ontario.

There’s a more immediate solution: Veterinarians can employ more work and better pay for 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, has a hard time finding good technicians. “Your technicians are your backbone,” she says. “We have lost many of them to exhaustion. They are on their feet all day, being bitten, scratched, lifting heavy dogs. “

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Kate Simon of Edmonton, for example, is a critic, an expert on blood transfusions and the administration of ventilation and feeding tubes, knowledge that she says technicians like her “need to be able to use.” Harassed vets and anxious animal owners would surely agree. In the coming months, animal health care skills will be among the products we cannot afford to waste.

This article appears in print in the January 2022 issue of Maclean’s magazine with the headline “Ruff Days at the Office.” Subscribe to the monthly print magazine here.

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