Program designed to recruit more rural vets

Saskatchewan Cattlemen’s Association commits $18,000 annually to help subsidize summer job wages for vet students

Courtney Orsen already knows she is heading to rural Saskatchewan when she is done veterinary college this spring, thanks at least in part to a program designed to recruit more rural veterinarians.

The student from the Hanley, Sask., area participated last summer in a preceptorship offered by the Saskatchewan Cattlemen’s Association, Saskatchewan Veterinary Medical Association and the Western College of Veterinary Medicine.

The SCA commits $18,000 of check-off money each year to help subsidize summer job wages for up to six third-year WCVM students at rural practices.

That is about 30 percent of the wage subsidy. The practice that hires the students pays 35 percent and the SVMA pays 35 percent.

There is also a component for first-year veterinary technology students.

Orsen spent last summer at the Watrous Animal Hospital and was offered a job when she is finished school this April.

She said the opportunity to spend four months in a mixed practice clinic allowed her to apply what she has learned in class.

“It gives us a lot of hands-on experience, which we can’t always get in school, but we also have the opportunity to make some money in the summer,” she said.

Growing up on a cattle farm, Orsen said she always wanted to be a veterinarian.

In Watrous she worked under supervision with small and large animals.

She carried out semen testing, pregnancy checking, calving and surgeries, among other duties.

“Just learning disease type management, scours outbreaks, prolapses, surgeries, necropsies, all kinds of things,” she said.

“We learn a tonne of theory in school but it’s applying that knowledge and actually seeing lots of cases.”

Orsen also said it was nice to be immersed in a rural community and see how veterinarians maintain a work-life balance.

In her class of about 85 students, she said many have indicated they would go to mixed practices. Some will focus on companion animals, while others are going to specialize in equine or exotic pets, she said.

Large animal work definitely isn’t for everyone, but Orsen said it’s for her.

“I have a passion for this as a production industry and being able to be a resource for producers and a voice for the industry and being a member of the community,” she said.

That’s the kind of thing SCA chief executive officer Ryder Lee wants to hear.

He said the preceptorship was developed because of the challenges of retaining large animal veterinarians. He said while the program doesn’t guarantee a student will choose that route, it exposes them to the possibility.

“We know that we’ve created some connections there and had some good feedback,” he said. “We’re still learning how to do this program in a way that will have a long-term impact.”

Lee said some clinics serve large geographical areas or only have one veterinarian, which isn’t a problem until that person wants to retire or move on. Cattle producers around larger centres are probably well-served, he said, but other places are not.

There are even places where a facility exists but the municipality can’t find a veterinarian to come and stay.

He said the preceptorship is continuing this year and will evolve as it is evaluated.

For Orsen, it was invaluable.

“It’s essentially a working interview for the summer,” she said.

However, she was already likely heading for a mixed or large animal practice.

She said some will look at the isolation of some communities, being on-call more often than they might be in a centre with more staff, long days and even weather issues travelling to clients’ farms and decide it’s not for them.

“I definitely have a passion for large animal medicine,” she said.

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