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More incentive for grads to consider agriculture-focused vet career

On any given day, Prince Albert, SK veterinarian Peter Surkan sees roughly 40 patients, but for every patient he sees, there are dozens more waiting.

To accommodate all of the clients in the area, Surkan said there needs to be more vets, especially in smaller, rural communities.

His practice in Prince Albert only has three full and part-time veterinarians, compared to 10 vets a decade ago.

On Friday, the province announced $13.2 million in funding to the Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM) in 2024-25, representing a $667,000 increase over last year. The money will partially subsidize 25 training seats for Saskatchewan students.

“We continue to see a rising demand for veterinary services in the province and they are a key support for our growing economy,” Advanced Education Minister Gordon Wyant said in a press release. “This is a priority investment for Advanced Education that supports the continued implementation with five new seats, bringing the total now to 25 seats, that are available annually for Saskatchewan students.”

The WCVM has an interprovincial agreement to accept an allotted number of applicants from Saskatchewan, Manitoba and British Columbia. Five seats are designated for students likely to work in rural or mixed animal practices in the province following graduation.

The hope is the designation encourages graduates to consider agriculture-focused veterinary careers. The province has a diverse livestock industry driven by cattle and hog production and is the second-largest beef cattle herd in Canada, exporting $207 million worth of live cattle in 2023.

Agriculture Minister David Marit was quoted in the release: “By allocating seats for students who are interested in working in rural areas, we ensure the livestock industry have access to the top-quality veterinary services they need closer to home.”

A WCVM student from North Battleford, Garrett Beatch said the agriculture-focused seats will ensure that more rural Saskatchewan students with livestock experience will consider veterinary medicine as a future career. Beatch, the Western Canadian Veterinary Students’ Association president-elect added, “If you are already familiar with the agriculture industry and rural practice, it is an easier choice to make.”

There are other initiatives available to help promote veterinary medicine as a career. The Saskatchewan Loan Forgiveness for Veterinarians and Veterinary Technologists Program forgives up to $20,000 in Saskatchewan student loan debt for graduates who practice in rural areas.

Surkan said he hopes the incentives will help, but wants more to be done to ensure small towns are also looked after.

“It’s welcome advice and with the budget out and the government telling us that we are training five more positions, we’re going up to 25, That’s a real blessing,” he said. “It shouldn’t be just restricted to food, animal agriculture. This loan forgiveness program that the government has announced should be extended, honestly, to anybody that wants to come into smaller centres in our province or any centre in our province.”

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