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WHEREAS over the past 30 years increasing demand in Alberta for rural based veterinary medical professionals (veterinarians and veterinary technologists) combined with most veterinary students choosing urban centered careers has created a labour shortage that has reached a crisis level; and
WHEREAS veterinary medicine is critical to rural Alberta’s economy, rural community sustainability and quality of life via its contributions to agriculture, food safety, and animal health and welfare; and
WHEREAS rural veterinary practices are located outside of major urban centers and provide services to four common domestic species (Bovine, Equine, Canine and Feline); and
WHEREAS students choosing to locate and remain in rural veterinary practice are more likely to be those originating from and living in rural Alberta and/or having significant interest in and experience with rural veterinary practice and the rural lifestyle; and
WHEREAS there are not enough training spaces in Alberta veterinary medicine and animal health technology programs (including at the University of Calgary Veterinary Medicine Faculty) for Alberta students choosing a career in rural veterinary medicine; and
WHEREAS in 2020, veterinary medicine in Alberta generated 10,211 full time employees who contributed over $206 million in federal, provincial and municipal taxes; and
WHEREAS rural municipalities have a considerable role in attracting and retaining a local and regional workforce including veterinary medical professionals;
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Rural Municipalities of Alberta (RMA) supports attraction and retention actions to reduce veterinary professional shortages, especially in rural Alberta; and
FURTHER BE IT RESOLVED that the RMA urge the Government of Alberta to improve veterinary education opportunities and officially support the development of new programs at the University of Calgary Veterinary Medicine Faculty (UCVM) through actions that include:
FURTHER BE IT RESOLVED that the RMA work with UCVM to expand the UCVM admissions committee and provide, on an ongoing basis, a selected number of committee members who are located in, and familiar, with rural Alberta needs; and
FURTHER BE IT RESOLVED that the RMA examine and implement best practices to conduct outreach to recruit veterinary students and retain veterinary professionals who will work and reside in rural Alberta.
ABVMA – Alberta Veterinary Medical Association
GOA – Government of Alberta
GPA – Grade Point Average
MCAT- Medical College Admissions Test
MMI – Multiple Mini Interview
RMA – Rural Municipalities of Alberta
UCVM – University of Calgary Faculty of Veterinary Medicine
There is a crisis level global shortage of veterinarians and veterinary technologists, affecting Alberta. It is estimated that there are currently at minimum 864 veterinary professional vacancies in Alberta (377 veterinarians and 487 veterinary technologists). The job vacancy rates for veterinarians (16.7%) and veterinary technologists (18.8%) far exceeds the provincial average of 2.6% for all professions. The April 2021 ABVMA/ABVTA Veterinary Professional Workforce Study projected that due to increasing expansion demand (demand for service increases due to pet ownership, increased disposable income and increasing livestock numbers) and due to replacement demand, the shortage of professionals will increase more than 3.5 times by 2040. Using current trends, in 18 years, the shortage of veterinary professionals is estimated to be more than 3371 people (1331 veterinarians and 2407 technologists).
While the labour shortage is an issue throughout Alberta, rural practices are particularly impacted due partly to recruitment and admissions challenges. Further, rural communities are impacted acutely in the current environment and face restricted economic growth post-COVID without targeted and immediate actions to address the shortages. Attraction and retention of rural based veterinary medical professionals has not been keeping pace with increasing demand.
UCVM is one of five veterinary schools in Canada and was the last Canadian veterinarian program to begin operations. It was developed to meet Alberta’s need for highly skilled veterinary graduates to support rural Alberta, production animal and equine industries, animal and human health research, and public health. In the 15 years since inception, UCVM has become one of the top 40 veterinary schools in the world. In 1999, RMA passed resolution 3-99F “Establishment of a School of Veterinary Medicine in Alberta.”
Established in 2005, UCVM commenced with a class of 30 students which was augmented by the transfer of the 20 funded Alberta students at Saskatchewan’s Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM). In 2017, Alberta’s government reduced funding for the 20 WCVM seats and transferred the funding to UCVM. These 50 seats for veterinary education of Alberta students have remained unchanged despite shifting demand pressures. The RMA passed resolution 16-01F that urged “the Government of Alberta to provide additional funding to the Western College of Veterinary Medicine in order to ensure future accreditation and to provide sufficient veterinary graduates to meet Alberta’s needs.” Today, UCVM needs RMA’s support to expand its capacity and to adapt its programming.
Currently, UCVM selects 50 Alberta students per year to enter the four-year veterinary medicine program. In August 2021, there were 5.4 qualified applicants for every educational seat at UCVM. Alberta students are demanding veterinary education be available at home rather than pursuing their education and career in other jurisdictions.
Starting with the incoming class for 2022, all applicants must write the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). A pre-determined minimum MCAT score is required to advance to the interview stage of the application process. This minimum score is to ensure that successful applicants can handle the academic requirements of the curriculum. Applicants who successfully meet the pre-determined MCAT score then enter an interview process that involves multiple mini interview (MMI) scenarios. The MMI is designed to gauge a successful applicant’s knowledge of a career in veterinary medicine and their likelihood to succeed in such a career. It would be advantageous for RMA to establish a strong relationship with UCVM which would provide opportunity for RMA to be part of the recruitment, selection and retention of UCVM graduates.
The long-standing shortage of rural veterinary practitioners in Alberta is well known. It has been shown that the likelihood of someone entering and succeeding in rural veterinary practice is much higher if they have significant knowledge and experience with rural practice and the rural lifestyle. A UCVM partnership with RMA will assist in identifying suitable candidates for the DVM program. Members of these communities are in the ideal position to judge “best fit”. The “grow your own vet” model will increase the likelihood that veterinary students will go back to their home community after graduation.
In 2020, there were 1832 registered veterinarians in Alberta and 1852 registered veterinary technologists, working in 554 veterinary practices, employing over 6600 full time equivalent employees. The total output of Alberta veterinary practices was estimated to be $2.021 billion. This does not include the contributions made by veterinarians to Alberta’s agriculture sector, which contributed $9.68 billion in GDP and employed 69,800 Albertans. As such, access to local veterinary services for farmers and livestock producers is essential for the sustainability of the primary agriculture industry as well as Alberta’s overall economy. Further, sustainability and growth of our rural communities is dependent on access to veterinary services both today and in the foreseeable future.
RMA has no active resolutions directly related to this issue.
Alberta Agriculture, Forestry and Rural Economic Development
Thank you for your March 30, 2022, email regarding RMA Resolution 3-22S: Attraction and Retention of Veterinarians to Rural Veterinary Practice. The Government of Alberta recognizes the importance of the veterinary profession to the health of the province and recognizes the veterinary workforce shortage is a pressing issue. We will continue to work collaboratively with stakeholders to address it.
As you are aware, the issue of attracting and retaining veterinary professionals in rural areas, as with other health professions, is a complex and multifaceted problem with no simple solutions. University of Calgary’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine (UCVM) and other schools have been extensively studying the admissions process so more graduates enter and remain in rural veterinary practice. The faculty’s most recent approach, which was implemented just this past year, requires a minimum academic performance. Following that requirement, the majority of ranking is based on a comprehensive file review of the applicants. The department remains engaged through the participation of the Chief Provincial Veterinarian in the UCVM Stakeholder Advisory Committee.
With respect to the need to increase training spaces for veterinary professionals, I am pleased to say that through the Alberta at Work initiative, Budget 2022 provided $59 million in capital investment over three years to expand UCVM infrastructure. This initiative will also enable targeted expansion in enrollment for veterinarians and veterinary technologists at the UCVM and technical colleges in Alberta. In addition, a three-year grant was provided to the UCVM in 2021 for veterinary diagnostics to support livestock producers in Alberta and enhance training opportunities for students from those submissions.
The Ministry of Labour and Immigration will also provide support to the Alberta Veterinary Medicine Association. This will include identifying potential Labour Market Partnership grant projects that support veterinary attraction and retention initiatives, promotion of occupation and opportunities, exploring international labour pools and labour mobility matters. The Ministry of Labour and Immigration will also support sector employers with the guidance and resources they need for attraction, recruitment and retention activities.
The Government of Alberta response indicates several initiatives that support the intent of the resolution. The new admissions process is of interest, as it appears to focus on elements outside of academic achievement. RMA will monitor how this process is impacting rural veterinarian availability.
The $59 million capital investment is welcomed by RMA, and will certainly increase the capacity of UCVM to train more veterinarians. Additionally, the work of the Ministry of Labour and Immigration to support the Alberta Veterinary Medicine Association is a positive step, and RMA will monitor how this initiative progresses.
RMA is engaged with UCVM to address the operative clauses in the resolution related to RMA working with UCVM. The goal of this partnership is to address the shortage of rural veterinarians through a collaborative approach, and partnering formally with UCVM as appropriate. As this work is still underway, this resolution is assigned a status of Accepted In Principle.