British Columbia

B.C. to pay $10M to train new veterinarians as those in the profession burn out

British Columbia is doubling the number of seats it will subsidize for first-year veterinary college to address a shortage of animal doctors in the province. The funding comes after those in the profession have warned about high rates of burnout and suicidal thoughts.

Burnout and suicidal thoughts are high among overworked animal doctors

Lana Popham, B.C.'s Minister of Agriculture and Food, holds a puppy while announcing new funding to train B.C. residents to be veterinarians. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

British Columbia is doubling the number of seats it will subsidize for first-year veterinary college to address a shortage of animal doctors.

Anne Kang, the minister of advanced education and skills training, says the province will provide $10.68 million to support 40 students entering the Western College of Veterinary Medicine this fall.

She says demand for subsidized seats at the Saskatchewan-based college has been high and tuition fees have been a barrier for aspiring veterinarians.

With more graduates in years to come, Kang says people in B.C. can expect shorter wait-times for their family pets to receive care, and farmers and ranchers will be able to access a veterinarian as they need for their livestock.

Agriculture Minister Lana Popham says extreme weather, including widespread flooding last fall, has been a major challenge for farmers and ensuring B.C. is home to more veterinarians will hopefully help to ease some of their worries.

She says the expanded funding means B.C. is maximizing the number of seats the province is allowed to subsidize at the veterinary college each year.

When asked on Monday if the expansion will be enough to address the effects of the veterinarian shortage, Kang said it's "one of the many solutions we're working on.'"

B.C. is also considering ways to improve recognition of foreign credentials and looking at opportunities for veterinarians who would like to move to B.C. to practise, she said.

Burnout, suicidal thoughts among B.C. veterinarians

The pandemic has increased the workload for veterinarians but the shortage of trained vets is what's straining the system more than anything else, according to the College of Veterinarians of B.C.

Dr. Helen Bell of the Pacific Cat Clinic in Victoria told the news conference that it has been difficult for people to access
timely care for their animals and veterinarians and their staff have been burning out "under the crushing workload.''

She said the expansion is "wonderful news for the profession."

Nanaimo, B.C.-based veterinarian Karissa Mitchell examines a feline client. Mitchell, 28, says she recently burned out after putting in 12-hour days during the pandemic. (Michael McArthur/CBC)

According to a survey conducted by the College of Veterinarians of B.C. in 2021, many practising vets in the province say they are heavily overworked and there are high rates of suicide within the profession.

Among those who say they have experienced burnout is Nanaimo, B.C.-based Dr. Karissa Mitchell who says she was working 12-hour days during the pandemic, leading her to quit her full-time job and take up shifts as a fill-in veterinarian instead.

"I was not able to be the veterinarian that I wanted to be, and I did burn out," she said in an interview with CBC.

The college also warned the province will be short by about 100 vets for the next five years without an increase in the number of people being trained for the profession.

Nationwide, the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association estimates that 30 per cent of Canadian veterinarians and 50 per cent of vet technicians are in the advanced stages of burnout

With files from Lyndsay Duncombe and CBC News

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