Prince George veterinarians will cease 24-hour emergency animal care due to burnout concerns

Veterinarians in Prince George, B.C., say services will be cut due to a staff shortage, leaving much of the province without after-hours care.

The city, which serves as a service center for much of northern and central British Columbia, does not have 24-hour emergency service; a number of veterinary clinics had worked together to provide after-hours emergency care service 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

However, starting July 1, there will be no more vets available after 10 p.m. until 8 a.m. or 8:30 a.m., when regular service hours resume.

Owners of pets with an emergency after 10 p.m. have been advised that they will need to use telemedicine or seek 24-hour emergency care in another community. However, the closest 24-hour facility is in Kelowna, over 600 kilometers away, followed by Vancouver, Edmonton or Calgary, all over 700 kilometers away.

It also means that other communities to the west and east are now even further away from 24-hour veterinary care.

Kate Peebles of the Murdoch Veterinary Clinic said she did her best to meet a need in the community, but it came at the expense of vets.

“If we don’t put any limits in place, the situation we know is going to get worse,” she said.

Burnout and suicidal thoughts plague the profession

Calling it a difficult but necessary decision, Peebles said they hope the move will help them retain staff and attract new employees.

She and other vets also hope the move will prompt more government action to increase the number of trained and hired vets across the province.

LISTEN | Prince George vets forced to end 24-hour emergency animal care

Radio West9:02Prince George vets are sounding the alarm over burnout and must stop 24-hour emergency animal care in the community

Prince George vets are sounding the alarm over burnout and must stop 24-hour emergency animal care in the community

Casey Bockus of the Prince George Veterinary Hospital estimates the city has lost about a quarter of its vets over the past year.

Veterinarians’ schedules are busier than ever, he said.

“It causes burnout in some to the point that they leave the industry altogether or they leave the area and look for an area where they can have a better work-life balance,” he said.

According to the College of Veterinarians of BC, the shortage is expected to continue for years depending on the expected number of new graduates versus those leaving the profession.

Most veterinarians in the province are trained at Western College in Saskatoon, with the only other options being in Ontario, Quebec, or the Atlantic regions.

Casey Bockus said adding after-hours calls to vets’ full work schedule was unsustainable. (Kate Partridge/CBC)

In April, the British Columbia government announced that it would pay $10.68 million to double the number of places it would subsidize for first-year students from the province’s veterinary colleges to attend Western College to to address the shortage of veterinarians.

Bockus said he was happy to hear about the expansion, but it will be years before new students can help.

“I don’t see this, unfortunately, as a quick fix,” he said.

Bockus said he would like to see a college for veterinarians in British Columbia to serve British Columbians only.

Bockus said he would also like to see it made easier for internationally trained veterans to work in Canada.

Benjamin M. Yerger