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Remote learning advances rural Saskatchewan veterinary services

Weyburn vet tech student Mollie Hastings is able to take all of her training on the job at the Prairie Animal Health Clinic in Weyburn.
Kristin Caldwell of the Prairie Animal Health Centre is happy to have Mollie Hastings taking her vet tech training from Sask Polytechnic at the Weyburn vet clinic

WEYBURN – How does a rural veterinary business advance the career of a valued employee when relocating to take training isn't an option? They partner with Saskatchewan Polytechnic and bring the training to the learner. Through a combination of delivery methods, the Sask Polytech Veterinary Technology program is being offered in rural Saskatchewan. Now in its second year, the distance delivery option of the program is already proving to be a success.

“We are in a small centre with a dedicated employee who can’t pick up her life and move for post-secondary training,” said Kristin Caldwell, chief of veterinary operations at Prairie Animal Health Centre of Weyburn. “Through this program she can access the education she needs in her home community to reach her career goals. It helps our clinic; it allows our profession to grow; and it provides her with hands-on education. It’s win-win-win.”

“Applicants must find a mixed-animal veterinary practice to support in-clinic learning for the duration of this two-year program,” said Cemaine Tsang, program head of the Sask Polytech Veterinary Technology program. “Practices must be licensed and in good standing in Canada and provide access to dog, cat, horse and cattle cases. Lectures are delivered by live and asynchronous streaming; and clinics provide onsite mentorship for technical skills and clinical training. It is truly a collaborative learning experience.”

The Veterinary Technology, distance delivery option includes online lectures and discussion as well as self-study labs. Students also learn at their clinical site with their mentor and travel to Saskatoon campus six times throughout the program for in-person training.

Mollie Hastings worked in customer care at Prairie Animal Health Centre and was looking for a way to advance her career in the veterinary technology field when the rural program was introduced. Family commitments, which prevented Hastings from moving to Saskatoon to pursue further training, were eliminated with the distance delivery option.

“I have a baby, a husband, a mortgage,” she said. “I couldn’t just pick up and move to Saskatoon for two years. But through the distance delivery program, I'm able to attend lectures virtually and complete my lab assignments at the clinic in Weyburn with review from Kristin.”

Now in her second year of the program, Hastings has had the opportunity to develop her skills through regular assignments and gain additional experience through the support and encouragement of the clinic team.

“We help her with her skills and then introduce live patients when she’s ready,” said Caldwell, as she praised Hastings for stepping up whenever a learning opportunity presents itself. “Mollie is eager to learn and embraces the chance to practice her skills hands-on.”

She added that it’s been a great experience for other staff at the clinic as well. 

“We move into teaching mode and are able to share our passion and our skills with someone who is eager to learn.” 

As a mentor in the program, Caldwell is pleased with the support she’s received from Sask Polytech and recommends the Vet Tech distance delivery program to others. 

Tsang reports that the program has eight distance students in their first year and an additional five in their second.

“This program addresses the need for veterinary services in rural Saskatchewan,” said Dr. Larry Rosia, Sask Polytech president and CEO. “The goal of the Veterinary Technology distance delivery program is to graduate an additional 10 students per year. The training has been designed to provide students with hands-on learning experiences in community clinics, which in turn benefit from the additional support.”

“Veterinary technologists play an integral role in protecting the health of our animals,” Advanced Education Minister Gordon Wyant said. “This program is important to addressing a labour market shortage in rural Saskatchewan and our government is pleased to work alongside Saskatchewan Polytechnic to ensure we are able to meet the growing demand now and into the future.”

In 2021-22, the Ministry of Advanced Education provided $687,000 for development and operating costs of the program, with an additional $145,000 in 2022-23. In addition, veterinarians and veterinary technologists who work in rural and remote communities for up to five years, will have up to $20,000 of their Saskatchewan Student Loans forgiven.