Is proposed solution the most effective one?
By Janis McMath, Editor-in-Chief
Only around 10,000 vets practice in Canada. That may make it seem like the shortage of vets is everywhere, but in reality it is more an area specific issue that greatly impacts rural places.
It feels like each day the news unveils some fresh new horror the COVID-19 pandemic is gifting us. BC animal organizations have been raising awareness of the few veterinarians the province has to meet the rapidly growing demand. It was originally predicted in 2019 that the vet shortage would lead to BC being 500 vets short in 2024. The pandemic has accelerated the discussed shortage.
This shortage, in terrible fortune, coincides with the skyrocketing of pet adoptions. And important to note is that this impacts all types of veterinarians—including both the ones who care for our pets and those who work for the food industry to protect meat-eaters from zoonotic diseases (which is “a disease of animals, such as rabies or psittacosis, that can be transmitted to humans,” according to wordnik.)
DOGS AREN’T THE ONLY ONES THAT JUMP THROUGH HOOPS
As BC does not have its own veterinarian school, the majority of British Columbians must go to Saskatoon for the Western College of Veterinary Medicine. While BC subsidizes the education of 20 students, the Society of BC Veterinarians (SBCV) has been trying to get the total number of subsidized seats to 40 for a few years now.
While BC had over 145 applicants with the proper qualifications to be permitted into the program, the seat subsidy shortage is apparently the continuing issue. The seats are open—but cost students somewhere in the neighbourhood of $70,000 a year instead of the $11,000 students with government support pay. The average pay for a vet is $85,000 per year for BC—so clearly student loans will be needed for those without financial support from the government or family. (For reference, the average Canadian student had a student debt between $11,500 to $60,300 in 2015 according to Statistics Canada.)
The BC SPCA also put out a pledge campaign asking the BC government to put up the extra $8.3 million annually for the additional 20 seats for BC students. Craig Daniell, chief executive officer of the BC SPCA, also emphasizes on how the shortage has impacted existing vets—with the shortages leading to burnout and high levels of suicide. However, the Minister of Advanced Education has been denying this request for funding since 2019.
Wait times have grown during the COVID-19 pandemic; some Vancouver vets require six weeks of patience while rural areas have it even worse. The study “Veterinarian shortage areas: what determines the location of new graduates?” found that vets tend to cluster in areas, and that implies that vets are advancing their careers in pre-existing offices to minimize risks rather than working isolated in rural areas.
IS A SUBSIDY THE BEST SOLUTION?
However, the 2020 article “The demand for associate veterinarians: Surveying the ‘shortage’” published in peer-reviewed scientific journal The Canadian Veterinary Journal argues a different interpretation of the argued vet shortage in Canada and BC—and on the idea that subsidizing education is the solution for our province.
In reference to the idea that subsidizing more seats for students would solve the problem, the paper highlights that this method would take four years minimum to bear fruit—and goes on to point out that in 2015 the ads for wanted vets were low and clearly did not predict this change in the market. Trusting that job availability will not change in five years for veterinarians is ill-advised. For example, one of the key age groups that offer business to vets—Boomers—may age out of pet ownership.
The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association states that only around 10,000 vets practice in Canada. That may make it seem like the shortage of vets is everywhere, but in reality it is more an area specific issue that greatly impacts rural places—and cities much less if at all. (A survey from Ontario found job advertisements for vets had two to four responses on average in Ontario and Toronto and zero on average for rural areas.) This is important to consider as some areas receiving zero applicants can exasperate the perception of how dire the shortage is. For example, referencing the death of animals waiting for a single vet in a rural area does not reflect the reality of the number of practicing vets in the majority of populated areas.
The paper suggests increasing the pay for vets to increase the competition and draw attention of workers from other countries and provinces—and offers the results of the 2019 Provincial Surveys of Compensation and Benefits for Associate Veterinarians to show that this idea is already being implemented and the pay already has begun to climb. In all of Canada the wages for vets went up 6 percent between 2018 and 2019 (more than inflation so it is a definitely a wage increase); in BC alone, the median wage for a full-time associate veterinarian went from $90,000 to $100,000.