April 24 marks World Veterinary Day, and the BC SPCA is highlighting the day with a call to British Columbians to speak out about the growing veterinary shortage in the province. The non-profit animal welfare society has launched a pledge campaign asking the provincial government to provide funding for 20 additional spaces for B.C. students at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM) – B.C.’s regional vet school in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.
“The demand for veterinary services in B.C. already outstrips the number of vets available, and this situation is only going to get more urgent,” says Craig Daniell, chief executive officer of the BC SPCA. “Not only does this put our pets and other animals at risk, but the shortage has led to increasing levels of exhaustion, burn-out and, sadly, suicide, within the veterinary profession.”
A labour market study conducted by the B.C. Ministry of Advanced Education, Skills and Training in 2019 indicated that B.C. would be short 100 veterinarians per year for each of the subsequent five years, culminating in a shortage of 500 veterinarians by 2024. “The shortage is particularly serious outside of urban areas, where access to veterinary care is already limited and in fields of specialization, such as large animal care.”
Daniell says British Columbia has an opportunity to alleviate the growing vet shortage in the province by providing government funding to support 20 additional spaces for B.C. veterinary students at Western College. “B.C. currently has 20 designated spaces at the college, but in 2018 the Province of Alberta, which has its own college, decided to relinquish the 20 spots it had at Western. The Society of British Columbia Veterinarians has requested that these spots be made available for B.C. veterinary students.
“The key issue is funding,” says Daniell. “Veterinary students pay part of their tuition, with the balance of funding coming from the Ministry of Advanced Education, Skills and Training. We are urging the provincial government to protect B.C. animals by providing funding for B.C. students to access the 20 open spaces at Western – a cost of approximately $8.3 million annually.”
Without action to address the increasing vet shortage, Daniell says both animals and people are at risk. “We are already seeing the negative impact on animals, as access to veterinary care diminishes,” he says. “This includes both individual pet owners and rescue groups such as the BC SPCA, which rely heavily on support from veterinarians in saving the lives of abused and neglected animals.” He adds that veterinarians also play a key role in protecting public health through their expertise in identifying and mitigating the impact of zoonotic diseases.