UNBC has been actively looking to develop a veterinarian medicine program for roughly a year, according to university vice-president academic and provost Dr. Wendy Rodgers.
The most likely model for the program would see students take two years of instruction at UNBC and two years of clinical, hands-on instruction at a partner university, Rodgers said. Currently, veterinarian medicine programs are offered at the University of Calgary, University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, University of Guelph in Ontario, University of Montreal and University of Prince Edward Island.
“This is a high priority for UNBC. We think UNBC is a perfect place to have a veterinarian program,” Rodgers said. “We’re just launching some discussions with the other universities to see who is interested in working with us.”
Currently in B.C., Thompson Rivers University and Douglas College offer programs leading to a credential as a Registered Veterinary Technologist.
Developing a stand-alone veterinarian medicine program, with all the clinical facilities and faculty necessary to teach the program at UNBC, could cost in the order of $250 million and take some time to start up, she added.
Once a partnership is formed, then UNBC would need to secure funding, hire faculty and develop a curriculum, she said. It’s too early to estimate how long those steps could take, she said, but if things fall in place it could happen relatively quickly.
“I’m pretty confident we’ll be able to work something out with a partner institution,” Rodgers said. “It could be within the next 18 months, put it that way.”
The university would also need to secure funding to support students through the four-year program, both in the form of provincial funding and scholarship programs, she said.
“It’s a very expensive proposition for a student to go into veterinarian medicine,” Rodgers said. “We’d need support for four consecutive years to get one cohort through the program.”
Currently the provincial provides financial support for British Columbian students to attend the Western College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Saskatchewan. This fall, that number was increased from 20 students to 40 students. The province has set aside 15 per cent of B.C. seats for students with an interest in a career in rural mixed animal practice, starting in 2023.
Support for a veterinarian program at UNBC has been strong, Rodgers said. Local MLAs, local governments including the Regional District of Fraser-Fort George, area farmers and ranchers, the BC Cattlemen’s Association and other groups have voiced their support for the initiative.
According to information released by the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Training on Monday, the Western College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Saskatchewan is in discussions with several B.C. universities, including UNBC, regarding new models for veterinarian training.
The ministry is in support of those discussions, and is looking at other ways to address the shortage of veterinarians across B.C. in the short- and long-term. Veterinarians and veterinary technologists have been added to the list of priority occupations under the Provincial Nominee Program, to encourage veterinarians to immigrate to British Columbia from outside Canada.
There is a provincial and national shortage of veterinarians, Rodgers said. UNBC has heard from community groups that the need in northern B.C. for veterinarians, especially large animal vets, is acute. Even if the provincial government establishes another veterinarian medicine program in B.C., there is still a need for a program at UNBC to serve the needs of the north, Rodgers added.
“We’re very appreciative of the persistent, strong efforts of the community groups,” she said. “(And) we have a group of veterinarians that are really pushing this.”