Love rural Alberta and want to be a vet? Call U of Calgary

There’s a huge demand for livestock and equine veterinarians — 
and vet school wants to train more rural practitioners

The University of Calgary has just one message for aspiring veterinarians: There’s plenty of jobs out there — especially in rural Alberta.

“We have areas in rural Alberta where I still get a phone call after a class has graduated that they have a job and need a veterinarian,” said Dr. Alistair Cribb, dean of the faculty of veterinary medicine at the University of Calgary.

The school has had a good track record of finding jobs in Alberta for its graduates since it opened in 2005.

“Of our graduates, 90-plus per cent stay in Alberta,” said Cribb. “Those who don’t have predominantly gone on to advanced training programs elsewhere, and most ended up coming back. The vast majority ends up in Alberta.”

A little over half will go into practices that serve rural Alberta, whether in small-town mixed practices, livestock practices, or equine practices. Around 15 per cent work for government, in research, or with wildlife.

“There’s 70 per cent that are doing the things that we were set up to get veterinarians doing. The other 30 per cent are ending up basically in Calgary or Edmonton in small-animal practice.”

Small class sizes — 30 students per class — combined with the challenges of recruiting to small communities have made it hard for rural veterinarians to recruit students once they graduate, said Cribb.

But the school is working on that.

“We get roughly eight applicants for every seat we have, and we do our best to select out of those students who will go into the areas that we’re trying to get students in — and food animal, rural, and equine are high up on that list,” said Cribb. “But we need more rural applicants. They tend to stay rural.”

The university is already doing a number of things to “expand that applicant pool,” starting with science camps for younger children.

“We reach out to kids and send the message that they don’t have to have a 4.0 GPA (grade point average) to get in, because we only weight marks 30 per cent to get into the program,” he said.

That’s the lowest weighting on academics for any veterinary school in Canada, but Cribb isn’t apologizing for that.

“We’re after people who make good veterinarians, not people who write good tests.”

Each year, the program takes a certain number of top academic students and then pulls out students from the rest of the pool that would “fit the program,” as long as they meet the minimum 3.0 GPA requirement. Those students are evaluated through an interview and essay.

“The interview tries to identify characteristics that would make for a good veterinarian, particularly veterinarians that would serve rural Alberta.”

But because the program is largely funded by the Alberta government, there’s only so much the school can do to meet the growing demand for rural veterinarians.

“We still get asked why we’re not taking more students,” said Cribb. “We’re funded by the government, and the government sets the limit. The amount the student pays in tuition ($10,800 per year) is a fraction of what it costs to train the student. We’re limited by the funding we receive.”

The 2016 university schedule of Veterinary Medicine Camps isn’t available yet, but click here for details on past camps and contact info.

About the author

Reporter

Jennifer Blair

Jennifer Blair is a Red Deer-based reporter with a post-secondary education in professional writing and nearly 10 years of experience in corporate communications, policy development, and journalism. She's spent half of her career telling stories about an industry she loves for an audience she admires--the farmers who work every day to build a better agriculture industry in Alberta.

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