Clinic business

West Shore Veterinary Clinic suspends emergency service as industry faces labor shortage

Veterinary clinics across Canada are facing a shortage of licensed veterinarians and veterinary technicians as new graduates fail to keep pace with retirements

The temporary closure of an emergency veterinary clinic on the West Bank is a sign of an industry in the grip of a lingering labor crisis, industry experts say.

Langford-based West Coast Animal Veterinary Emergency Specialty Hospital has suspended emergency services effective September 1, announcing it will focus strictly on specialist services such as orthopedics and surgery until rebuilt his emergency team.

WAVES opened less than a year before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, which exacerbated the existing shortage of veterinarians and led to more people acquiring pets, said Erinne Branter, founding member and head of clinic internal medicine. The clinic has been forced to rely heavily on locum vets and part-time staff to stay open.

“It’s kind of the perfect storm,” she said. “For two and a half to three years, we just pulled together to the best of our abilities. But the consequences were burnout.

“We sat down a few weeks ago and said, ‘This is not manageable. We have to slow down and take care of our people.’

Branter said the plan was to suspend the emergency clinic for three to six months.

“We want to make sure that when we open, we always open and our people are taken care of,” she said. “And until we’re staffed with the right people, the piecemeal approach doesn’t work.”

Labor shortages – among veterinarians, veterinary technicians and support staff – is an issue facing veterinary clinics across Canada, according to VCA Canada Animal Hospitals, which has locations on the island. from Vancouver, including Nanaimo and Ladysmith.

“It’s all over the country [that] there is a shortage of licensed veterinarians and veterinary technicians,” said Dr. Danny Joffe, Vice President of Medical Operations at VCA Canada. “In these two professions, across the country, we just don’t get enough degrees.

“We’ve had a few practices that have had to close their emergency rooms for 24 to 48 hours, but luckily for us this has been extremely rare.”

Training more vets is an essential first step, experts say. The Western College of Veterinary Medicine in Saskatoon recently expanded from 20 places for BC applicants each year to 40 places per year.

It’s an improvement, said Dr. Marco Veenis, director of the Society of British Columbia Veterinarians. But the company’s 2019 labor market study indicates a need for 100 new BC veterans a year to keep pace with demand.

“This year we had about 120 applicants from British Columbia,” Veenis said. “There is no shortage of people wanting to become veterinarians. There is a shortage of places where we can train them.

In addition to the low number of graduates, Veenis said the labor shortage can be attributed to a large number of baby-boomer vets approaching retirement, younger vets working less to improve their work- personal life and to more women entering the profession at an age when they are most likely to take maternity leave.

A growing human and animal population certainly didn’t help.

Pressure on practicing veterinarians has been cited as a factor in high suicide rates in the profession. A 2020 study published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association found that Canadian veterinarians had significantly higher scores for burnout, compassion fatigue, anxiety, and depression.

Nearly 20% of study participants said they had thought about killing themselves in the previous 12 months, and 26.2% had had suicidal thoughts.

The suicide of 36-year-old Ottawa-based veterinarian Dr. Andrea Kelly on July 31 has sparked even more calls to address the prevalence of suicide in the industry, CBC News reported September 6.

Kelly’s family has asked for donations to Not One More Vet (NOMV), a US-based non-profit organization focused on mental health and support for veterinary professionals.

“It’s a very emotional profession,” Veenis said. “It’s emotional, there’s continuous pressure, there’s a high demand for services [and] you have to deal with emotional, sometimes angry customers.

Many vets end up taking a break or leaving the profession altogether because they can’t take it anymore, he said.

More vet schools across the country are starting to include communication and emotional resilience education, Veenis said, but it will take time for that to change.

“Until recently, veterinarians were basically trained to care for animals,” he said. “How to run a business and deal with customers and manage your emotions – that’s up to us to find out.”

The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association offers mental health resources and webinars on its website,

Anyone in crisis can call the BC Crisis Center at 1-800-784-2433 or Talk Suicide Canada at 1-833-456-4566. The Vancouver Island Crisis Society is providing support via online chat at, or by texting or calling 250-800-3806.

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