Shortage of veterinarians a widespread issue

·3 min read

The vet shortage affecting Medicine Hat is not only an Alberta phenomenon, but nationwide. Dr. Daren Mandrusiak, president of the Alberta Veterinary Medical Association, added, “Many people and lots of the data suggest it may be worldwide to some extent.”

There is a shortage in support staff as well, for the technologists it might be even worse than for veterinarians.

Over the past several decades there has been a large population growth combined with a propensity for people to own more pets. However, there hasn’t been much increase in the number of trained individuals for veterinary care.

“We haven’t grown our educational capacity significantly over a period of time, recently that has changed in the last year or so,” stated Mandrusiak.

COVID caused the shortage to develop into a crisis when even more people got pets. Additionally, many clinics were left deficient due to some employees not being able to work because they were immunocompromised or for other reasons unique to the pandemic.

“COVID hit us hard, especially with the increase in the number of pets during lockdown,” said Mandrusiak.

Hardest hit were rural/remote areas and emergency clinics in large urban centres, which have “undergone some pretty drastic changes where they’ve gone into different types of triage systems where they only allow certain levels of critical illness in the door,” explained Mandrusiak.

Where it used to be a 24-hour type of walk-in clinic structure now you will be turned away if you show up with what is considered a non-emergency situation.

In centres such as Brooks, where one of their clinics shut down due to a lack of vets, it leaves a gaping hole. Not only has it left the local rescue centre without nearby vet care, such that they now must travel to Dunmore, but there are many large ranches in the area. “There is lots of agriculture in that area and it’s unfortunate they have to decrease vet capacity,” added Mandrusiak. “That could be an issue if you are a rancher and your livelihood is dependent on it. Its definitely a big issue.”

Unfortunately, in the short term there probably won’t be any immediate relief but there is hope for long-term gain.

“In the short term we are working with the provincial government and the federal government on immigration, trying to attract and streamline the pathways for immigration of qualified vets into the country. There are some countries where there is apparently a pool of applicants that might come to Canada to practice,” said Mandrusiak.

Training worldwide takes place in either accredited or non-accredited colleges. Those who have qualifications from accredited colleges can come to Canada and start practising. Those who trained at non-accredited would need to prove their credentials and pass certain exams once they came to Canada.

“There are a larger number from countries with non-accredited training,” stated Mandrusiak. “But it’s quite a process to get them licensed here.”

An increase of students to the University of Calgary recently happened but it will take vets four years to graduate. Additionally, the university will need time to build their capacity, and it is expected to be another three years for them to be able to take on even more students.

SAMANTHA JOHNSON, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Medicine Hat News