Manitoba

Manitoba veterinarian sounds alarm, warns province may fund fewer spots in vet college

A Manitoba veterinarian is raising concerns about potential cuts to provincial funding for veterinary students, which she says could exacerbate an existing shortage of veterinarians in the province.

Province says no decisions made on future funding to Western College of Veterinary Medicine in Sask.

Dr. Douglas Freeman, dean of the Western College of Veterinary Medicine, said Tuesday the province of Manitoba and the school have discussed the potential for reduced funding. (Kelly Bennett/CBC)

A Manitoba veterinarian is raising concerns about potential cuts to provincial funding for veterinary students, which she says could exacerbate an existing shortage of veterinarians in the province.

Dr. Keri Hudson Reykdal said a committee from the Manitoba Veterinary Medical Association met with government officials last week to discuss potential cuts. The cuts would reduce the province's annual payment to the Western College of Veterinary Medicine in Saskatoon, which educates western Canadian vets.

"That's certainly going to eliminate chances for people that are aspiring to be veterinarians — they're not going to be able to go to school," said Hudson Reykdal, a vet in Ashern, Man.

"For the province in general, it just means that there's fewer and fewer vets that are available to take over positions as they're needed."

The province currently allots roughly $100,000 per student per year to 60 Manitoba students to attend the college at the University of Saskatchewan, according to dean Dr. Douglas Freeman. Fifteen new Manitoba students enter the four-year program each year and pay an additional $11,000 each.

Manitoba, Alberta, Saskatchewan and B.C. have shared operating costs of the school since its creation by those provinces in 1963, Freeman said. But Alberta announced in 2017 it won't renew funding after the latest five-year agreement expires in 2020.

Discussions about possible changes to Manitoba's funding have been ongoing for the past two years, Freeman said. Hudson Reykdal said officials floated the idea of cutting funding by the equivalent of five students, dropping to 10 from 15 per year. Freeman said he's heard that number, too, but nothing is set in stone.

"I think they're considering options, including … decreasing their student allotment," Freeman said. "I'm not aware of a firm number yet."

A spokesperson for Manitoba Education Minister Kelvin Goertzen said in an email there has been no change to funding for students in the program, and nothing has been decided about future funding.

Province says it will continue to work with college

"No decisions have been made with respect to funding for the college in the future, except that Alberta will begin to train all its veterinarians through its own college and is phasing out funding to Western College as a result," the government spokesperson wrote in an email.

"We will continue to work closely with our colleagues in Saskatchewan to foster a positive relationship, which serves the best interest of our respective citizens."

Manitoba, Alberta, Saskatchewan and B.C. have funded the Western College of Veterinary Medicine since 1963, although Alberta announced in 2017 it won't renew its funding when the current agreement ends in 2020. (Submitted by Jeanette Neufeld/Western College of Veterinary Medicine/University of Saskatchewan)

Manitoba students who want to study veterinary medicine have few options to do so, Hudson Reykdal said. Canadian schools in other regions principally serve students in those regions and U.S. schools are expensive, she said.

Hudson Reykdal said provincial officials told her roughly 70 per cent of Manitoba students who receive funding to attend the Saskatchewan program actually return to Manitoba to practise. Freeman said he believes that number would be higher if not for fresh grads, who often leave the province temporarily for experience or internships, but return later.

Regardless, Hudson Reykdal said cutting funding won't mean a better return on investment: it will just result in an even lower number of new veterinarians coming to Manitoba, which already faces a vet shortage and high-pressure work environments for vets.

"Studies have shown that there is a large amount of the population that has pets, and not only that, the animal industry in Manitoba is one of the main industries that drives this economy," she said.

"And if we lose veterinarians, those producers — you know, swine, poultry, beef, dairy — they're not going to have access to veterinarians and they need those to run a healthy, safe business."

'Deal with that problem of retention': NDP

Opposition NDP Leader Wab Kinew said Tuesday Manitoba vet grads not returning to practise here is a problem with retention, not education.

"To me that means that the problem isn't doing enough to retain those recent graduates so that they stay and practise veterinary medicine here," Kinew said.

"So if that's a problem, deal with that problem of retention. Don't go upstream and try and cut off the students in a program."

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