Province to fund seats at vet college


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Jenna Noordenbos faced a problem. Job offers were flying her way, but she couldn’t accept — she had more than a year left in university.

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Jenna Noordenbos faced a problem. Job offers were flying her way, but she couldn’t accept — she had more than a year left in university.

“By, like, midway through my (final) year, I already had five offers in play,” the veterinarian said.

That was in the 2019-20 school year. Manitoba, like many provinces, has been experiencing a veterinarian shortage the Manitoba Veterinary Medical Association says is at “crisis levels,” according to a letter it sent to the province.

The provincial government announced Thursday it will fund another five seats for Manitobans at the University of Saskatchewan’s Western College of Veterinary Medicine. Beginning next fall, the school is guaranteed to accept 20 Manitobans, as opposed to the 15 it’s been taking annually.

Manitoba’s $7,009,600 spend at WCVM during the 2023-24 school year will bring Manitoba’s student quota to 65 in the four-year program. The province will continue to subsidize 20 new students annually, with the eventual goal of 80 Manitobans studying at a time.

“It’s definitely a step in the right direction,” said Allison Pylypjuk, past president of the Manitoba Veterinary Medical Association.

Manitoba had 425 veterinarians in May. At least 68 full-time vets are needed, according to the association.

More than half of vacant positions are rural, and several are specific to large animals.

Retirements and fewer recruits are partly to blame for the shortage, Pylypjuk said. So is the increased need — there are more pets in houses and more services for domestic and farm animals.

“Thirty years ago, we weren’t seeing patients necessarily going through chemotherapy if they have cancer,” Pylypjuk said. “(There’s) more advanced veterinary need.”

Some vets specialize, taking extra years in school and steering clear of rural veterinary clinics, noted Noordenbos. She’s a vet at Central Veterinary Services in Oak Bluff.

“Even still, now, you’ll… get people offering you positions… just because of how much they need help, in small towns specifically,” Noordenbos said.

Burnout is around, she said — some veterinarians have cut back their hours. As a new graduate, she worked upwards of 14-hour days due to demand and learning on the job, she said.

Noordenbos called Thursday’s announcement a “really exciting step” but said incentives to bring Manitobans home from Saskatchewan— and keep them here — are crucial.

“You don’t necessarily have to come back to Manitoba,” she said.

Creating a veterinarian program in Manitoba is “cost-prohibitive” right now, said Advanced Education Minister Jon Reyes.

In its May note to government, the Manitoba Veterinary Medical Association requested funding for 10 new seats in Saskatchewan for the 2023-24 school year.

“It’s never going to be enough,” Reyes said of the five new seats. “Every opportunity that we have, whether it’s adding seats or welcoming new immigrants to become full-fledged professionals… is a benefit to our province.”

Reyes said the provincial government is working on incentives to draw immigrant professionals — including veterinarians — to rural Manitoba.

“That announcement is imminent,” said Agriculture Minister Derek Johnson, adding it will come within the month.

Pylypjuk, from the veterinary association, didn’t have access to daycare for her three kids while practising as a vet in rural Manitoba.

“That was kind of difficult, trying to balance the veterinary professional career and parenthood and living on a farm,” Pylypjuk said. “We… need to provide (rural veterinarians) with services when they’re here… to make sure that we can make their lives just as good as if they were working in larger cities.”

Some hog farmers have taken to videotaping their animals and sending the reels to vets. Veterinary assistants might come to a farm to draw blood, and farmers have “gotten very savvy on the health of the animals,” said Rick Préjet, chair of the Manitoba Pork Council.

“It’s not ideal, not like having a professional right here to address the issue or to diagnose,” Préjet said.

He noted the labour shortage is restricting growth in many industries, including Manitoba’s pork sector.

Gabrielle Piché

Gabrielle Piché

Gabby is a big fan of people, writing and learning. She graduated from Red River College’s Creative Communications program in the spring of 2020.

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