'Everyone is just desperate to find workers': N.B. facing veterinarian shortage

·4 min read

If you're contemplating a career caring for furry four-footed friends, now would be a good time to apply to vet school, according to a veterinarian with the New Brunswick Medical Veterinary Association.

In New Brunswick, across Canada and around the globe, the current veterinary shortage means that pet owners face longer wait lists for appointments, while vet clinics scramble to hire enough staff to fill positions, says Nicole Jewett, who works at the Douglas Animal Hospital in Fredericton.

And the coronavirus pandemic has only exacerbated the problem, as people working from home adopted new pets in record numbers.

"I have never seen so many job ads in our Canadian veterinary journal," said Jewett, a veterinarian of 14 years. "I've never seen so many job ads in every single jurisdiction in Canada."

With the shortage, now is an "optimal time" to be a new graduate because they can likely work anywhere in Canada, Jewitt said, and have plenty of options.

"Everyone is just desperate to find workers."

In 2020, the Canadian Veterinary Medicine Association (CVMA) authored a Canada-wide workforce study that looked at what, at the time, was considered a perceived veterinary shortage in the country.

The study revealed the demand for veterinary services will outpace the supply of veterinarians by 2040, according to a release from the association.

In the media release, CVMA president Dr. Enid Stiles said the issue isn't only a regional problem; it encompasses all of Canada.

"It affects all areas of the profession, from equine vets in rural communities to small animal urban vets," he said. "There is a need, and we feel it deeply."

According to Vet Strategy, a Canadian-owned and operated organization that manages veterinary practices for veterinary partners, there are 10 postings for positions in the province, eight of which are for vets.

But the New Brunswick vet association lists over 25 veterinary and vet technician jobs on its website.

A job posting for the 24-hour Riverview Animal Hospital offers attractive signing features, such as 24 months of accommodation reimbursement, a competitive salary and a signing bonus.

The newspaper reached out to Vet Strategy for a comment but did not hear back before publication.

In other provinces, the shortages are more extreme. According to the Alberta Veterinary Medical Association, there are about 1,800 practising veterinarians in the province and 370 vacancies.

The demand is exceeding the supply, and Jewett said much of that has to do with how many veterinarians can graduate from colleges across the country.

"Our colleges are basically graduating veterinarians at a rate that's equal to retirement but not for the increased demand," she explained. "Now we have to look at how we fix this deficit because we're kind of in a pickle."

She said increasing the number of students graduating requires more provincial funding, including money to increase the infrastructure capability at those colleges.

"It's a four- to five-year program, so say tomorrow we got all this funding and the infrastructure at the universities got expanded to meet the increased number of seats, we still won't be seeing the increase in veterinarians for five years."

Organizations are also looking abroad for animal doctors, but there are shortages around the globe too, she said.

In Australia, for example, the Australian Veterinary Association said in the spring 800 more vets are urgently needed across the country, citing the pandemic trend of buying new puppies. The U.K. is reporting a drastic shortage that's expected to balloon as new EU export rules kick in.

Before adding a pet to your family – whether it's a dog, cat, horse, goat or lizard – Jewett recommends checking how many vet clinics are in your area.

"Are they taking new patients? Perhaps check to make sure they treat the species you're thinking of getting because ... not every veterinarian has the training to deal with all kinds of species," she said. "Some will focus just on dogs and cats or horses, so the public should find out what services are available."

The newspaper reached out to the Mayfield Veterinary Clinic, the Riverview Animal Hospital, the Fundy Animal Hospital and the St. George Vet Clinic, but did not hear back before press time.

Robin Grant, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Telegraph-Journal

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