Whitehorse Daily Star

Recruitment a concern as vet business booms

Veterinarian shortages are a global issue, says Duane Landals, registrar at the Alberta Veterinary Medical Association.

By Whitehorse Star on July 12, 2005

Veterinarian shortages are a global issue, says Duane Landals, registrar at the Alberta Veterinary Medical Association.

'It's a worldwide problem,' he said in a recent interview. 'It doesn't matter which jurisdiction you go to.'

It's a problem in Europe, just as much as it is in Canada, he says, adding that urban centres experience shortages just like rural Canada.

But, Dr. Eugene Janzen, associate dean of clinical programs at the University of Calgary's new faculty of veterinary medicine, says he doesn't believe there is a shortage of veterinarians in Canada.

What there is a problem with, says Janzen, is convincing Canadian veterinarians that they want to work in rural or northern areas.

'It's not a problem of shortages as opposed to a problem of being out of the way,' he says.

The Yukon has long experienced the challenges associated with attracting medical professionals to the territory. The doctor shortage is on the public's mind and the political stage as more and more Yukoners and new residents have trouble finding a family physician.

But, there are just as many challenges in attracting veterinarians to the territory, says Jim Kenyon, the Porter Creek North MLA and owner of Yukon Veterinary Services Clinic.

Kenyon, a Yukon Party cabinet minister, was one of the driving forces in establishing permanent veterinary facilities in the Yukon during the late '80s.

The Yukon Veterinary Services Clinic is the largest vet facility North of 60 at 10,000 sq. feet (approximately 930 sq. metres). It has three examination rooms and its own laboratory and surgical facilities.

However, the clinic is currently experiencing a shortage of veterinarians, is unable to schedule appointments and is not accepting new patients.

Kenyon says he could see the situation coming, as his clinic of five, including himself, slowly shrank over the last 12 months.

Between vets leaving to start their own clinics, a medical emergency and the final remaining veterinarian telling him that she didn't sign on to work alone, Kenyon says he knew he needed to get another vet to the territory.

He's been advertising the position for almost a year, but he hasn't received one application from a North American candidate.

'I haven't had a response to all the advertising for a year,' he says.

Landals says this isn't an uncommon situation.

He says he knows a vet just outside of Edmonton who has been trying to hire a veterinarian for his clinic for two years without success.

He adds that Lethbridge, Alta. is also experiencing a similar situation.

'Out of the way' areas have trouble attracting people, says Janzen.

Landals agrees, adding that fewer young vets are wanting to work long hours.

The veterinary profession has become a nine-to-five job for most vets, and students who really want to work in 24-hour facilities often end up at emergency clinics in urban centres, says Janzen.

'Vets come and go,' says Dr. Rick Brown of the Alpine Veterinary Medical Centre regarding the challenges of getting new veterinarians into the Yukon.

Vets coming to the territory are a lot like any other profession, he says, tending to be a transitory population.

Brown says he doesn't necessarily think there is a shortage of vets, but there is a greater demand for vets because people are willing to do more for their animals' health than ever before.

'It's busier than it's ever been,' he says.

His clinic has only been open since February and its two vet staff are already in need of a third vet who will be starting this month.

'There are more vets here than there has ever been before historically,' says Brown.

He considers himself lucky his third vet has been hired locally, but that isn't always the case for clinics that are hiring.

Kenyon says more applicants for vet jobs in Canada are coming from foreign students.

In the Yukon, it can be even easier for a vet from another country to find work in the territory because there is no legal definition of what constitutes a vet, he says.

Dr. Marina Alpeza of the Copper Road Veterinary Clinic says she has hired two new vets over the last year and during the selection process she noticed the increased interest from foreign applicants.

She says the foreign interest means she has had a surplus of applicants and, for the first time in her clinic's 11-year history, has had the ability to 'pick and choose the applicants.'

In the past, Alpeza has also experienced the challenges of vet shortages. Her clinic has five vets working, but it will likely be decreasing to four in the near future, she says.

Convincing young or new veterinarians to come to the Yukon, and if they do, getting them to stay for longer than the short term is a challenge, she says.

Kenyon says he is considering hiring a foreign applicant and is looking at a vet from Colombia, but would prefer to hire a Canadian, or at least a North American.

There are challenges involved in hiring a foreign vet, he says. One applicant's specialization is water buffalo, and another wants to focus solely on horses, he says.

Even though the Yukon may be considered out of the way by applicants, the mostly-urban setting means vets need to be willing to deal with predominantly household pets and with some large animals and livestock, Kenyon says.

But, Landals says, with the vet shortage Canada is experiencing, there needs to be a willingness to facilitate foreign applicants until the number of Canadian vets rises.

New vet colleges need to be opened and research has to be done into why veterinarians' willingness to move or to serve a full career in the profession seems to be dropping, he says.

But Janzen says the vet shortage isn't an issue that is the college's responsibility.

'It needs a community effort,' he says.

If communities are truly concerned about attracting animal doctors to their area, they should be willing to 'grow their own,' he adds.

He suggests communities pay for potential vets to go veterinary school in exchange for them signing onto a contract stating they will come back to the area to practise.

Kenyon says he is concerned media attention on his clinic and veterinary medicine in the Yukon last year during a perceived conflict of interest investigation may have negatively affected the possibility of potential candidates wanting to come to the territory.

Kenyon became entangled in the investigation after the Department of Education refused to fund a seat at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine for a past co-op student at the clinic and one of Kenyon's constituents.

The structure of veterinary colleges in Canada makes it almost impossible to get into a school outside of a potential student's region. Seats at the programs are funded by the provinces in the region.

The Yukon is in the Western College's region, but the territory is not required to provide funding unless an eligible student is accepted into the program. The cost of a seat for a year is approximately $25,000, with the student still being required to pay tuition.

Kenyon began to lobby to get back the funding. He told the Star recently that beyond concerns the student would be well within her rights to probably successfully sue YTG, he felt the situation was completely unfair to her.

The opposition asked Conflicts Commissioner David Jones to look into the matter of Kenyon lobbying for one student while another was apparently denied entrance into the school because the YTG had also refused to fund a seat in 2003.

There were concerns Kenyon's support of the student would be in his own interest because she could be a potential future vet for his clinic and she would also be coming back to help out at the clinic during her school holidays.

However, Jones found Kenyon was not in a conflict of interest situation.

Kenyon now says he suspects the student may not even want to come back to the Yukon to practise veterinary medicine after the ordeal. Reporters have continued to call her at home as well as calling her college's dean and instructors, he says.

He is also concerned the entire situation may have jaded other potential candidates from wanting to come to the territory or future Yukoners wanting to go into veterinary school.

Kenyon says that overall, he doesn't necessarily understand why young vets wouldn't be willing to come up to the Yukon and work for a few years.

'I've made a very good living,' says Kenyon. 'The cost of living isn't that much more. You can come here and make a little more money, but it doesn't seem to make sense to a lot of people.'

Janzen does admit that rural and northern practices can be more lucrative, but says many new graduates aren't willing to deal with the increased costs of living or the changes in their lifestyle.

Kenyon says he hasn't decided what will happen to his clinic if he isn't able to find a replacement soon, but he knows he needs to make a decision and likely will by the end of August.

In the meantime, he is trying to keep services available.

Kenyon hosted a vaccination clinic on July 9. He says it was entirely booked in fewer than 24 hours after its announcement, again proving the demand for veterinary services in the Yukon.

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