Animal 911: Atlantic Canada’s great vet shortage

Posted on August 31, 2023 | By Bill McGuire | 0 Comments


Prescriptive measures for Atlantic Canada’s great vet shortage

Stories about a shortage of large animal veterinarians in Atlantic Canada have been a topic of concern for many years. Reports in newspapers and on social media are similar, whether it’s in St. John’s, Sydney, Pictou, Charlottetown, Bathurst or Salisbury—an animal is sick and the worried owner can’t find a veterinarian. Why?

“Yes, there could be a shortage at that time and in that area, but is there a shortage of large animal vets across Atlantic Canada today? Maybe… it’s a hard question to answer,” said Shawn McKenna, farm service chief at the Atlantic Veterinary College (AVC) in Charlottetown. He noted that three AVC graduates this spring wanted to stay on P.E.I. and work with large animals, but there were no job openings.

If clinics are not hiring, is there a shortage? Or does it mean that clinics are reluctant to add staff because of economic issues?

Established in 1986 at the University of Prince Edward Island, the AVC is one of five veterinary colleges in Canada and the only institution in Atlantic Canada offering a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree. Questions about animal doctor shortages in the region are naturally directed their way. Are they not graduating enough doctors? Are graduates leaving the region for greener pastures elsewhere? Do they simply choose to work in other fields after graduation?

McKenna spends most mornings working with clients on their farms, usually dairy cattle. And he spends his afternoons teaching and doing research at the college. “Our job at the vet school is three-pronged,” he explained. “We’re here to teach students, provide exceptional service that maybe another clinic can’t—such as a referral system here for large animals—and we also do research.”

He graduated from the AVC in 1999 and his interest in large animal veterinary work led him to St. John’s, N.L. before he returned to the AVC for his masters, PhD and residency to pursue his dream of teaching vet students.

During the time he was in St. John’s, there were just two large animal vets for the entire Avalon Peninsula. McKenna and his fellow vet rode together for four days, then his partner left on holidays, leaving the rookie McKenna on his own. Today, those numbers haven’t changed.


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