With a eye on expanding livestock veterinary services in the Lower St-Lawrence and Gaspesie, the Quebec government is backing a feasibility study to bring veterinary studies to the region.
The province on Thursday announced assistance of $627,946 for 2019-20 for a feasibility study making a business case to offer the Universite de Montreal’s veterinary medicine program through the Universite du Quebec at Rimouski.
The Universite de Montreal currently has the province’s only college of veterinary medicine, with annual capacity for 96 students at its St-Hyacinthe campus as of 2016.
The two universities propose to set up a “decentralized” program that would allow for the training of another 25 students per year, the province said Thursday.
The training would take place over five years, three of which would be at the Universite du Quebec’s Rimouski campus, followed by a year at the Universite de Montreal ‘s St-Hyacinthe campus and a year of clinical internship.
Those internships would be served partly in St-Hyacinthe and partly at veterinary clinics in “the regions,” referring to underserved rural areas. At least half the internships are expected be with veterinary doctors in regions identified by the province as most in need, including the Lower St-Lawrence, Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean, Abitibi-Temiscamingue, Gaspe-Magdalen-Islands, Outaouais and North Shore.
The feasibility study would look at the start-up and operating costs for such a program, including real estate, technology and other capital costs and ongoing human and material resources.
Daniel Jutras, rector of the Universite de Montreal, said the aim of the project is not only to train nearly 25 per cent more veterinarians in Quebec per year, but to do so on a campus serving a large rural area in need of successions among vets.
The province has a notable shortage of veterinary doctors in its regions, particularly in the agrifood sector, the government said in its release.
If the project goes ahead, “I’m convinced that future veterinarians will be better able to respond to the needs of the regions of Quebec and to support (the regions’) development, notably in the agrifood sector,” Danielle McCann, the province’s minister for higher education, said in the same release.
Labour shortages affect all sectors in the regions, Agriculture Minister Andre Lamontagne said in the same release, but veterinary medicine and the agrifood sector are particularly affected.
A 2018 study by the provincial ag ministry (MAPAQ) notes nearly 20 per cent of veterinarians in general practice involving large animals have over 30 years of practice, and over a third will be of retirement age in 2027. The resulting shortage of vets would be felt particularly outside the province’s major cities, MAPAQ found.
The feasibility study is a step to help deal with the shortage of veterinarians in all regions of the province, no matter how they specialize, Lamontagne said.
Decentralizing the veterinary medicine program to Rimouski would offer a chance for that campus to optimize its available spaces and help renew the veterinarian pool in the province, particularly in the east, said Marie-Eve Proulx, the province’s minister for regional economic development.
It’s hoped, she said, that many of those vets would choose to stay and set themselves up in the regions once their studies are done.
Graduates of the program would be free to practice veterinary medicine where they wish, Jutras added, but the two universities are betting that at the end of their studies, the graduates will have developed an attachment to practicing outside major centres.
Dr. Christine Theoret, dean of the Universite de Montreal’s faculty of veterinary medicine, in a separate statement cited a Canadian Veterinary Medical Association study which found a shortage of veterinarians in Canada generally, but that Quebec was the most affected province.
Renewing the corps of veterinarians, she said, is therefore an issue throughout the profession, particularly for large-animal and livestock vets but also for those working with companion animals.
The completed feasibility study, she said, is expected to be submitted to the province this fall. — Glacier FarmMedia Network