British Columbia

Shortage of veterinarians in B.C. has regulatory body worried about mental health of those working

B.C.'s regulatory body for veterinarians is sounding the alarm about the mental health impact of heavy workloads on those trying to meet the increasing demand for their services, while the number of new graduates remains low.

Province will be short of 100 vets a year for next 5 years, college says, as many report suicidal thoughts

The College of Veterinarians of B.C would like to see more provincial funding dedicated to creating spaces for veterinarian students at the nearest eligible college for B.C. residents, which is in Saskatoon. Approximately 1,800 veterinarians are working in the province, but more are needed. (Shutterstock/Antonio Diaz)

British Columbia is in dire need of more veterinarians and the regulatory body for the industry is sounding the alarm about the mental health impact of heavy workloads on those currently trying to meet the increasing demand for their services.

According to the College of Veterinarians of B.C., the shortage is expected to continue for years based on the projected number of new graduates versus those leaving the profession.

Many practising vets say they are already overworked — and with high rates of suicide in the profession, the college is concerned.

"We're short 100 veterinarians a year for the next five years, and we're only graduating 20 veterinarians from the Western College of Veterinary Medicine," said Michele Martins, council vice-president for the college.

There are only five veterinary schools in Canada and only 20 seats are currently available for B.C. residents at Western College, which is in Saskatoon. The only other school west of Ontario, Quebec or the Atlantic region is in Alberta and only Albertans can attend that one.

Martins says one way to help get this province's vet numbers up would be to provide funding to add 20 more seats for B.C. residents at Western College.

More colleagues would be welcome relief for Marco Veenis, a Kelowna, B.C.-based vet with three decades on the job.

He said he sees upward of 40 patients a day, works 10-plus hour shifts, and is no longer able to hold the daily appointment slots he once purposely left open for emergency cases.

The pandemic has increased his workload, he said, but the shortage of trained vets is what's straining the system more than anything else.

"There's more vets leaving the profession at this moment then are entering the profession," said Veenis, speaking Thursday on CBC's The Early Edition.

Suicidal thoughts 

Veenis said he has seen new graduates who have entered the workforce "really struggle" with the emotional demands of the job. He said many are also weighted down by student debt and trying to balance the responsibility of starting or raising families.

"We see a frighteningly high suicide rate, which, of course, is a big problem for our industry," said Veenis.

According to research published last year by the Ontario Veterinary College, more than a quarter of Canadian veterinarians reported suicidal thoughts in the previous 12 months.

The pandemic is adding to the load that the veterinary community has to bear.

Many Canadians became new pet owners during the pandemic, increasing demand for animal care, while at the same time, health and safety protocols meant clinics moved patients through slower and sometimes had to close altogether if there were COVID-19 exposures.

Veenis said he is one of about 1,800 vets in private practice in the province and they could easily use another 150 to 200 veterinarians right now.

"There's just not enough of us and the problem is getting worse," he said.

Yet another profession is facing a labour shortage. We speak to one B.C. veterinarian about what this means for animal care and the mental health of those currently working.

If you're thinking about suicide, are worried about a friend or loved one, the Canada Suicide Prevention Service is available 24/7. Their number is 1.833.456.4566 

With files from The Early Edition

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