LUMSDEN - Dr. Tanya Marshall has provided large and small animal services in Lumsden for 22 years. In November, she sent a letter informing her large animal clients that she would be closing the large-animal part of her practice. The reasons; are her health and a lack of veterinarians in the province willing to work with large animals.
In her letter, she wrote, “I have not taken this decision lightly and have spent many sleepless nights trying to figure out how I can further care for my clients in the area.” Marshall goes on to say that out of the limited number of new veterinarians, “...few of them have a passion for large animal medicine. Those that do would rather be in warmer climates or live in the urban areas close to amenities.” She said she doesn’t have anyone to mentor or pass her skills to.
As Marshall sees it, the issue is there need to be more seats for Saskatchewan students, and the government needs to find ways to retain those students after graduation. “It’s unfortunate. I love to mentor/teach and share my skill set with new graduates, but when everyone is looking for vets - it’s hard to compete with the mountains and climate etc that other places have. Unless they are from the area … it’s hard to attract someone to Sask.”
Marshall said there is less interest in large-animal service because of the on-call responsibilities. “It’s hard to attract a mixed animal vet to a practice with one or two vets because of the on-call load…” she also attributes it to the rural setting. She told LMT that many veterinarians from the USA have answered her ads for large-animal service and that, while it would be their dream job, many say they couldn’t see themselves living here. “Wage is not the issue in attracting; it’s location, location, location or climate, climate, climate..”
Dr. Greg Parks is the Registrar and Chief Executive Officer of the Saskatchewan Veterinary Medicine Association (SVMA), a regulatory and advocacy organization in Saskatchewan. He says there are approximately 150 approved practices in Saskatchewan, 770 licensed veterinarians and 570 registered veterinary technologists. “There are jobs everywhere so when there is that many to choose from, of course, then everybody can start being more selective in where they want to go.” “Our advocacy has been on supporting the funding on the seats from Saskatchewan, the loan forgiveness program for veterinarians and veterinary technologists that return to rural mixed-practices in the province,” Marshall said they can’t put a hypothetical number on increasing the number of seats because the infrastructure isn’t in place to support the increase.
The University of Saskatchewan’s Western College of Veterinary Medicine has 88 seats for its Fall 2023 admission. It primarily serves the provinces of British Columbia, Manitoba and Saskatchewan. In 2022 the government of Saskatchewan increased its funding, adding five seats to its current allocation of 20, bringing the total number of seats for Saskatchewan students to 25. It also provided $11.9 million to the WCVM in 2022-23; implemented a remote Veterinary Technology program offered by Sask Polytechnic; in conjunction with the Sask Vet Medical Association, the Ministry of Agriculture supports the Summer Student Mentorship Program by providing funding to support first and second-year students with summer experience in a rural vet practice.
She advocates for Saskatchewan students and is worried for them. She says it’s not fair when they can’t get a seat in their own Province’s quota because many students come from elsewhere to live in Saskatchewan before applying to meet the residency requirements and then return home after graduation. “Sask students who dream to be vets and get outcompeted by these students, it’s hard to see and sad. Those students from Sask. have more chance to be lifers in this province than a non-resident applying.”
She wants to see more stringent acceptance policies for the Saskatchewan seats, ensuring they are given to long-term residents or finding a way to retain them in the Province for a number of years after graduation. The cost of tuition plus student fees for a subsidized provincial seat over the four years is around $57k. The cost for a non-subsidized seat rises substantially to $277k over the four years. She also proposed that those who leave should pay back the money they took from the heavily subsidized seat marked for a Saskatchewan resident.
To encourage vets and vet techs to work in rural areas, the Province of Saskatchewan’s Student Loan Forgiveness Program will forgive up to 20% of Saskatchewan student loan debt up to $4,000 per year to a maximum of $20,000.
In 2020 the Canadian Veterinary Medicine Association (CVMA) put out a Workforce Study. Its executive summary noted, “In all provinces, there is anecdotal evidence of shortages of veterinarians in specific, remote communities or regions. While there is no doubt such situations are unfortunate, many are unlikely able to provide a veterinarian with sufficient income to move to this area without rich grants or income support programs. The pool of potential candidates is also affected by the ability of a veterinarian’s spouse/partner to find gainful employment in remote communities.”
One of its recommendations says, “There is no cost-effective and easy solution for the absence of veterinary care in remote areas. The gap in threshold client demand to support veterinary services is at least as important as the willingness of veterinarians to service these areas. CVMA should investigate the degree to which telemedicine and training of local “nurse practitioners” can suffice for day-to-day well-care needs.”
Dr. Marshall had been planning an expansion of her large animal clinic, but that has now been shelved. She works over 80 hours in her six-day work week. “I can’t pay for an expansion when I can’t find associates and technicians to help provide the services that an expansion would create. An expansion creates more clientele, and I can’t do it all myself.” she is thankful to those who entrusted her to care for their large animals over the years. And maybe there is hope yet, “..and, if in the future, I am able to find another vet or two who love mixed animal practice, then I will entertain opening the large animal part of the practice again.”