Shortage of veterinarians across Alberta causing burnout, stress on industry

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Many industries have suffered from the COVID-19 pandemic, and veterinary clinics are no different.

There is a shortage of veterinarians across the province, affecting the physical health of the animals and the mental health of the overworked veterinarians struggling to fill the gaps.

Lorenza Malaguti, medical director of McKnight Veterinary Hospital in northeast Calgary, says the bottlenecks are particularly widespread in the emergency sector.

“When your GP practice closes, we’ll be there for any emergency your pet may have,” she said, adding that her clinic is open 24/7, Sunday through Wednesday.

However, the shortage means that the clinic is not only open four days a week, but also only has four vets on board.

In a perfect world, Malaguti would like to have 10 full-time veterinarians in the emergency room.

“We all want to be there for the pets, but we’re doing everything we can to stay open. We can’t keep a hospital 24/7 with the vets we have. There just aren’t enough.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has also played a role as more and more people adopt pets.

“Having pets that are really, really sick with nowhere to go – that haunts me at night,” she said.

There are currently only two 24/7 emergency clinics in Calgary: the VCA Canada Calgary Animal Referal & Emergency Center and the Western Veterinary Specialist & Emergency Center.

And Malaguti says that they are slowly becoming overwhelmed.

“We all want to be here for the pets, but we’re trying to do everything we can to stay open,” she said.

Dozens of vacancies

There are approximately 1,800 practicing veterinarians and 370 open positions in the province, according to Pat Burrage, president of the Alberta Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA).

“The pandemic has created additional work for veterinarians, as well as human medicine. And, on top of the job shortage, it is draining people,” he said.

“We could certainly see that animals are affected, which means animal welfare issues arise if animals are not seen in time.”

Burrage says there are also concerns about the mental health of veterinarians.

“We need these people in our job. We certainly don’t want them to quit because they are overworked.”

He adds that the shortage of veterinarians is not limited to Alberta but is a global problem.

“There aren’t many internationally trained veterinarians wanting to come to Canada,” he said.

Also, an average of only 50 people complete the University of Calgary’s veterinary program each year.

“We haven’t changed the number of veterinarians in Alberta in the last 30 years,” he said. “And obviously in the last 10 to 15 years the demand for veterinary services has increased dramatically, and that’s not enough.”

He says the association is working on some solutions that will be presented to the state government in the fall.