Veterinary Shortage – It All Depends

By Will Verboven, Contributing Editor

Will Verboven

MANY FOLKS MAY have seen the TV reality show featuring veterinarian Dr. Pol. It’s amusing and intriguing watching a veterinarian going about his daily business in such an enthusiastic manner. However, it’s not that realistic for many livestock operators who either can’t afford expensive vet services or don’t even have a local vet to call for help.

The latter is the case for many cattle producers in the more out-of-the- way places in western Canada. I refer specifically to large animal veterinarians, not city pet vets. Part of the issue is that there are not many young, graduating veterinarians who want a career dealing with large, dangerous animals under difficult conditions in remote areas with no way of making a viable living. Another problem is that most small/medium-sized livestock producers would rather do their own veterinary work and not hire expensive professional vets. Even those vets who do large animal veterinary work usually need a robust pet business to make their business viable.

I should note that this shortage situation doesn’t usually affect feedlot operators or intensive hog, dairy and poultry operations. That’s because they usually have animal health service contracts with large animal veterinary companies that provide ongoing health monitoring and emergency services on an as-need basis.

Here in Alberta, even those vet firms providing health services to large livestock operations are seeing a growing shortage of large animal vets. One would expect veterinary colleges and vet associations to take steps to address the shortage problem. Up here, human nature and political and bureaucratic hurdles are making the situation worse.

First is the demographics of vet college graduates – the vast majority are city-bred young ladies who want to be pet vets, go into research or join government service. I suggest that few graduates, male or female, are interested in the perils of large animal vet services in remote areas. Vet colleges in Canada are acutely aware of the shortage and want to change how vet students could be streamed into specializing in small animal, large animal or equine specializations. But they are being thwarted in that common- sense approach because they can only graduate veterinary generalists if they want to be accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association accreditation program. Why an American professional entity has such power over every vet college in Canada has been lost in the mist of time.

There is no reciprocal arrangement – that being every American vet college does not have to be accredited by the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association. It may all be a matter of convenience, but the U.S. accreditation process has thwarted any significant changes that Canadian vet colleges are trying to initiate. The right thing to do would be for the American Veterinary Medical Association to turn over Canadian vet college accreditation to their Canadian counterpart. There are hundreds of other professional associations and licensing authorities in Canada and the United States that have made reciprocal arrangements to recognize and accept each other’s authority in their respective countries.

But there is more, national and provincial professional vet associations (and government licensing entities) seem to erect unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles that thwart immigrant vets coming to Canada. They must pass language and qualification tests and have Canadian field experience. The tests alone can cost up to $15,000. It means, for instance, that a Danish veterinarian with 25 years of experience and is a graduate from a vet college older than any in North America is treated the same as a new Canadian graduate with no experience. This is an insult to those immigrant vets and a real loss to the Canadian livestock business, which could use more highly experienced large animal veterinarians.

This is not unique to the veterinary profession: the same bureaucratic hurdles face other immigrant professionals. Part of that problem is the underlying nature of professional associations. They were never set up to encourage immigrant professionals; they are there to protect the interests and integrity of their members.

Unfortunately, the vet establishment has developed a severe case of inertia in seeking a cure. Maybe we need to call Dr. Pol for an injection of common sense.