March 9, 2022

$59M investment from provincial government will expand vet med program

Funding will be used to create capacity for more students to address shortage in veterinary sector
vet med students
Riley Brandt, University of Calgary

An investment from the provincial government, announced on Feb. 24, 2022, will help to create more spaces for students with the University of Calgary Veterinary Medicine (UCVM) program to help address a crisis-level shortage of veterinary professionals in the province.

The 2022 provincial budget has earmarked $59 million to expand the Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) program and address a critical emerging shortage of veterinarians in rural Alberta while also addressing needs in urban centres.

“This funding will help the University of Calgary Faculty of Veterinary Medicine create more space for students, to help address the shortage of veterinarians in our province while also supporting the growth of a major economic sector,” says Dr. Ed McCauley, president and vice-chancellor.

The crisis-point shortage of veterinary professionals in the province has been caused by two forces: a genuine lack of graduates due to expansion demand and the number of vets leaving the job prematurely, which combine to make a “leaky bucket” in the industry.

Renate Weller

Renate Weller

Riley Brandt, University of Calgary

“We will be working very closely with a number of stakeholders, including the Alberta Veterinary Medical Association (ABVMA), veterinary practices, agribusiness, pet owners, and municiplaities to significantly increase the number of veterinarians entering the market and reducing the number of professionals who leave the industry prematurely,” says Dr. Renate Weller, dean of the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine.

The UCVM team has developed a series of initiatives that will allow the university to address the shortage of vets in Alberta. These include utilizing a tele veterinary support platform, recruitment and onboarding of foreign graduate veterinarians, diversification of students with focus on under-served communities through a targeted outreach program, changes to the program to optimize market fit and an increase in the number of UCVM graduates per year.

Increasing the number of seats in our DVM program will allow more Alberta students to study veterinary medicine, providing the only long-term sustainable way to ensure animal care in Alberta.

- Renate Weller

She says to fulfill the demand in the next five years will require doubling of the current graduate number of 50 per year to 100 per year. However, following the recent expansion of UCVM’s student numbers from 30 students entering the program per year to 50, the UCVM staff and facilities are at capacity.

UCVM currently operates out of three sites: Foothills Campus, Spy Hill Campus and WA Ranches. Weller says Foothills will have sufficient space and closeness to the medical faculty to allow for needed interdisciplinary learning. The Spy Hill facility is currently at capacity, but the campus land has area for expansion to provide room for more teaching facilities to maintain the world-class standard that it currently holds. Recently donated to the UCVM, WA Ranches is a 19,000-acre, 1,000-cattle operation northwest of Calgary that can serve as a “real-life” learning space in cattle veterinary practice with the appropriate investment in infrastructure, Weller says.

On top of increasing learning spaces, Weller says an increase in students will require an increase in faculty members and support staff. She says due to the shortage, veterinarians are in high demand, so recruiting qualified clinicians will require UCVM to offer market-competitive incentives. Weller says these costs are necessary to maintain the world-class standard of the UCVM program and to provide the high standard of care the animals deserve and their owners expect.  

“Dedicated and motivated faculty and staff members are key to delivering an exceptional veterinary program.”