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Mountain View County council hears update regarding ongoing effort to address Alberta's veterinarian shortage

Mountain View County council told there is a shortage of more than 800 veterinarians and veterinary technicians in the province

MOUNTAIN VIEW COUNTY — County council has been given an update on the veterinarian shortage facing the province and some of the things that are being done and being considered to address the situation.

There is currently a shortage of more than 800 veterinarians and veterinary technicians in the province, officials said.

Dr. Renate Weller, dean of the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, appeared before council on May 25 as a delegation at the request of fellow veterinarian and Mountain View County councillor Gord Krebs.

“Indeed there is a veterinary profession workforce shortage happening here,” said Weller. “It needs drastic response or otherwise the gap gets bigger and bigger (going forward). This is not Alberta specific; it is the same in the whole of Canada and globally.”

A resolution prepared by Krebs and tabled at the recent Rural Municipalities of Alberta conference was key to getting the provincial government to provide new funding for more student positions and infrastructure at the school, she said.

The resolution called on the province to increase the number of students graduating from the school from 50 to 100 per year.

“A big thank you to everyone who supported the resolution because it did help,” she said. “I’m super pleased that the government has agreed to give us the funds to expand our program.”

The veterinary sector in the province has a significant direct and indirect economic impact in the province and nation, she said. 

“One of the limiting factors for economic growth is that there are not enough vets,” she said.

Veterinary organizations have put forward a six-initiative proposal to help address the need for more vets going forward, she said.

“When you look at it from an economical point of view, what we have is a leaky bucket phenomenon,” she said. “We have a sub-optimal retention rate. We need to fill the bucket more, but we also need to plug the holes.

“As a taxpayer I don’t mind putting money into producing experts who can look after my animals, but I do want to make sure that they don’t disappear pre-maturely. 

“It’s economically a disaster if you put someone through an expensive course and then they disappear out of that profession in the next five years.”

The province’s 2022 budget includes $59 million to build new infrastructure at the U of C faculty.

“We don’t have enough space; we are at capacity. So we needed an infrastructure investment. We can’t build a castle but we are going to come up with a very functional building,” she said.

The new funding also includes operational funding for 50 additional student placements at the school.

Weller said she would like to see changes to admission and the curriculum at the U of C faculty.

The school currently gets more than five applications for every available seat, she said.

“We have a bit of a challenge in terms of a lack of diversity, in terms of gender, socio-economic and geographical background,” she said. “So we are going to review our admission criteria.”

The future criteria will still focus on academic achievement, but also more on interviews and other things, she said.

“I would like to see a little more emphasis on resilience and other personality traits,” she said.

The school would like to work with municipal leaders, including at Mountain View County, to encourage more rural people to apply to become veterinarians.

“We need to start with the primary school kids,” she said. “Most vets decide that they want to become vets when they are younger than nine years old. 

“The only way to work that is a role model-based outreach program where we go into the communities with people who come from similar backgrounds and they act as a role model.”

The recent Aggie Days agriculture promotion event near Cremona was an excellent example of community involvement, she said.

The University of Calgary Faculty of Veterinary Medicine had one of the largest displays at Aggie Days, including demonstrations by faculty students and discussions with interested residents.

More effort should be made to recruit foreign graduate veterinarians through a tailored education program, she said, noting that continuous education, re-training and remediation efforts should also be encouraged.

A tele-veterinary support platform should be created to provide professional and personal support for vets in a timely manner, she said.

“That will help on the clinical side,” she said. “And it will increase the mental well-being of the vets.”

She would like to see the creation of a dedicated team from the faculty to visit rural communities to speak to interested young people and others about becoming vets.

Coun. Greg Harris thanked Weller for the faculty’s participation in Aggie Days.

“It was a huge success and we look forward to next year, and I like your idea of focusing, or one of the focuses, on young children because what you are going to do in you adult life can often be formed at a young age,” said Harris. 

Reeve Angela Aalbers said the county may have a possible role in helping get more foreign veterinarians to come to Alberta.

“I think there is an opportunity for Mountain View County to support a potential meeting with the immigration minister, so we are hoping that we can continue to work with you on that as well,” said Aalbers. 

Council accepted Weller’s presentation as information.