Want to be a veterinarian? English-only Quebecers face uphill battle

Canada's five veterinary schools admit students based on what region they live in, and with only one school in Quebec, in Sainte-Hyacinthe, Quebecers not proficient in French have nowhere to study.

Language requirements, region-locked system mean Quebecers not proficient in French can't study in Canada

Tanya Iozzo, shown here with Lucy, works as a veterinary technician in Montreal. (David Gutnick/CBC)

Tania Iozzo was eight years old when she first tried to save an animal. It was a small kitten that she found, frozen, in her backyard.

Iozzo took it inside and tried blow-drying it back to life but was unable to revive the kitten. Even so, that experience was enough to set her life course: She was going to become a veterinarian.

That dream was shattered when Iozzo found out that, as an English-speaking Quebecer not perfectly fluent in French, there was no path straight out of university to a veterinary college in Canada.

Canadian veterinary colleges are region-locked, meaning that interested Canadian candidates can only apply to the school located in the province or region in which they are a permanent resident.

The Canadian vet school landscape 

There are only five veterinary colleges in Canada:

  • Atlantic Veterinary College in Charlottetown, P.E.I.
  • Université de Montréal's faculty of veterinary medicine in Saint-Hyacinthe, Que.
  • Ontario Veterinary College in Guelph, Ont.
  • Western College of Veterinary Medicine in Saskatoon, Sask.
  • Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Calgary, Alta. 

The Université de Montréal — as the only French-language veterinary school in the country — does, in fact, allow any Canadian to apply, regardless of their province of residency, provided the applicant meets the French-language proficiency requirement, demonstrated by either the successful completion of the CEGEP-level Épreuve uniforme de langue et littérature française or by a score of at least 785 out of 990 on the test de français international (TFI), an international French test.

Iozzo, who grew up in Laval, did all her studies in English. She's just finishing a bachelor of science in biology at Concordia University.

She speaks and understands French, but not at the level that Université de Montréal requires.

Even if Iozzo was able to meet the French language requirements and was accepted, she's fearful of trying to get through five years of a highly technical degree in her second language. 

"I don't just want to pass, I want to understand, so I can actually become a great veterinarian," Iozzo told CBC News.

For now, Iozzo, at 27, is working as a veterinary technician in Montreal.

The Caribbean route

Kathleen Giguère had to move to St. Kitts in the Caribbean to pursue a veterinary degree because she was not eligible for any Canadian school. (Kathleen Giguère)

Iozzo is not alone.

Kathleen Giguère, who is originally from Halifax but lived in Montreal for 10 years, was hoping to attend veterinary school after finishing her degree at McGill University.

When Giguère applied to Atlantic Veterinary College in P.E.I., she was told she was no longer considered a resident of the Atlantic provinces and so was ineligible. Her French wasn't strong enough to apply to Université de Montréal, and so there were no veterinary schools she could attend in Canada.

Giguère ended up moving to St. Kitts in the Caribbean to pursue a veterinary degree at Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine.

Tuition is not cheap. The program runs 10 semesters, at a cost of $18,300 US per semester.

Regional system tightened up

The existing region-locked system, which reduces English-speaking Quebecers' options, has not always been so strict.

Before 2010, Quebec anglophones were allowed to apply to the Ontario Veterinary College (OVC), at the University of Guelph in Ontario.

But the OVC has since eliminated that option. 

The Faculté de Médecine Vétérinaire in Saint-Hyacinthe, Que., requires its students to be fluent in French. (Google Maps)

Dr. Tamara Brown, one of the last English-speaking Quebecers to be accepted to the OVC, says the new policy is discriminatory.

"I don't find it fair, because I know people who could make amazing veterinarians and don't even have a chance to apply," Brown told CBC News.

Brown is trying to have the policy reversed to allow others to have the chance she did. 

She has appealed to the OVC, the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities and Quebec's education ministry, to no avail.

The Ontario ministry told CBC News in a statement that "universities are autonomous institutions responsible for setting their own admissions policies."

Peter Conlon, the associate dean of students at the OVC, said the change in admissions policy was driven by a need to prioritize Ontario students.

"An Ontario resident who might be displaced from a seat in the OVC program by a resident in another province may not really be a happy camper," said Dr. Conlon.

Conlon insists that students from other provinces are not entirely barred from applying.

Out-of-province students can become Ontario residents, which entails living in Ontario for 12 months. This does not include time spent in Ontario as a student.

He says there are students from other provinces that move to attain residency.

"In the big picture, to get to where they want to be in their professional career, it is certainly doable," said Dr. Conlon.

But while Iozzo has not ruled out moving to Ontario for residency, she does not consider it a "certainly doable" option.

"You have to find a job, you have to find a place to live and then you have to apply," says Iozzo. "You're taking a huge risk of moving somewhere when you don't even know you're going to get accepted."

Iozzo is certainly discouraged, but she has yet to give up on fulfilling the veterinary dreams of her eight-year-old self.

"I don't know anything else but to become a veterinarian," she said. "That's what I want to do."


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