Vet shortage hits hard in northern British Columbia

British Columbia plans to double the number of spaces for subsidized students at Saskatoon college, but it’s not enough to meet demand. doctors feel the tension

Pet owners, farmers, ranchers and animal rescue groups are feeling the pinch of a province-wide shortage of veterinary services and the problem is expected to worsen in northern British Columbia because Prince George does not have a 24-hour, 365-day-a-year emergency call service. to deal with animal medical situations after normal working hours.

Overworked vets are struggling to keep up with patient demand, and the city has lost nearly 25% of its veterinarians in the past year.

Ben Bauman opened his Victoria Street practice, Birchwood Veterinary Clinic, about a year and a half ago and he is his sole vet, sharing the patient workload with three vet techs. Trying to balance his professional demands with his family life as a father of three young children, he feels the pressure of being understaffed.

“I don’t know how to fix it, I’ve had it for 12 years now and it’s gotten progressively worse since I’ve been in the profession,” said Bauman, 41. “The solution for us in Prince George is an emergency facility, but you probably need six doctors and 12 technicians for a (clinic) 365 days a year, 24 hours a day and we can’t even find one. to work. for us.

“People are leaving Prince George because of this situation. New grads don’t want to do after-hours duty. There’s no easy solution because you can’t just get more people. You can’t offer them more money to bring them here because they don’t want to work without facilities.

in the absence of an after-hours veterinary medical center similar to corporately run facilities in Kelowna, Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton, the number of veterinarians now serving the city, including part-time, is dropped to about 15. To meet the demand for after-hours care, Prince George veterinarians must take turns answering calls. For pet owners who are already clients of a certain practice, after-hours services are available. But for patients without an association with a local veterinary clinic, their options are limited.

“People have a misconception; they think there are people in our clinics 24 hours a day, but there is no one here,” Bauman said. “You hospitalize patents and they stay alone in kennels overnight. If it’s too critical, there’s always euthanasia, or you take them in your car and drive to Kelowna and hope they don’t pass by. It’s bad.”

At Birchwood, like other clinics in the city, appointments are booked months in advance and no new patients are accepted until the existing appointment list has been filled. .

“For pet owners, I can imagine how frustrating it is, so we always recommend if there is a waitlist to join the waitlist, because that way we can actually pull names if we’re ready to open,” said Birchwood manager Mel. Baumann. “We are a one-doctor practice and we are closed to (new) clients because we are just trying to catch up with everyone.

“We opened last year with 650 on our waiting list. We need a facility and we need more vets. All of these people are in this position because they love animals and we want them to stay healthy so they can keep practicing. They all work so hard and can work overtime, they just start to get tired.

Dr Bauman said he developed chronic intestinal pain, which he attributes to the stress of running his clinic.

The five other local clinics that share on-call veterinary duties with Birchwood – College Heights Veterinary Clinic, Hart Family Veterinary Clinic, Murdoch Veterinary Clinic, Ospika Animal Hospital and Prince George Veterinary Hospital – have formed an association known as the Prince George Veterinary After- Hours group care. They raised concerns about the lack of an after-hours emergency center during a presentation last week at the annual general meeting of the Prince George Chamber of Commerce.

In April, the province announced it would provide $10.7 million to double the number of subsidized spaces for students at the Western College for Veterinary Medicine in Saskatoon from 20 to 40. A labor market survey conducted in 2019 by the government’s Department of Further Education, Skills and Training there will be an annual shortage of 100 vets across the province to keep up with population growth and replace vets who have retired or left practice in due to burnout.

Saskatoon, where Bauman completed his veterinary education, is the only regional college serving Western Canada, and a shortage of places in its program led Alberta to open its own veterinary college in 2018 at the University of Calgary, which does not only accepts residents of Alberta. The U of C program produces 50 graduates each year and that number is expected to double to 100 over the next three years with additional funding to expand the program announced last month by the Government of Alberta. In Canada, the only other veterinary schools are in Guelph, Quebec and Charlottetown, PEI, and they also only accept regional students for subsidized entry into the program.

The shortage of veterinarians is particularly felt in the most remote and less populated regions of the province. Prince Rupert, the largest city in northwestern British Columbia, with a population of around 12,000, has no full-time veterinarian and is only served by locums who come in for short trips to other cities to see patients. Bauman, who graduated from Saskatoon in 2010, was a locum for 3½ years before opening his practice.

Melanie Bauman said the federal government could help ease the shortage by making it easier for vets from other countries to come to Canada to set up practices. Foreign doctors are required to retake and pass their competency exams before receiving their license. She said the shortage of technicians, who perform essential nursing tasks to help doctors in veterinary clinics, is also hampering existing practices across the country.

“The government has guaranteed two more years of seats (the next two academic years), which is great, but it would be nice to have some sort of draw to get them north,” Mel Bauman said. “When we ask new grads to come to the North, they’re going to have to do (on-call shifts after hours) and work 36 hours straight. Or you can move south and not have to.

“The shortage of veterinarians is a Canadian problem. If you look at the other provinces, everything is difficult for them, and Alberta has recognized this by opening a school.

An animal health technology program exists at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, but she said the demand for their services far exceeds the number of annual graduates. Having a similar technology program at the College of New Caledonia or UNBC could help retain students in the north, but it would take years to have an effect on increasing the number of trained professionals.

The shortage of veterinarians also extends to the region’s farming and herding communities, which are served by only a handful of mobile doctors.

“Farm animals no longer have vets in the North,” said Ben Bauman. “Dr. (Jodi) Green is doing her best and Westwinds (Mobile Veterinary Clinic) is traveling around northern BC trying to help. In Vanderhoof there is a person (at Nechako Valley Animal Health Services) now because that the veterinary clinic has closed. She does horses but I don’t know if she does cows.