There’s an old saying that doctors treat ailing humans while veterinarians deal with everything else.
“We say real doctors work on more than one species,” laughs Kylie Evans, director of student services at the University of Calgary’s faculty of veterinarian medicine.
Becoming a vet requires a mix of academic achievement and personal disposition. Calgary, like most vet programs, selects students based on strong grades and a strong interview convincing them the potential student can make the cut. Only about 30 of the 150 annual applicants are accepted.
The four-year program is hands-on and students work with real animals within weeks of starting. “There’s a lot to learn so it’s generally an intense course,” Evans says.
Evans is originally from Australia and has worked in several countries as a small-animal vet. The employability is a huge plus to the field, she says.
“I don’t think I’ve ever met an unemployed vet,” she says. “There’s a veterinary shortage throughout the world.”
Serge Messier, a faculty member at the University of Montreal, says they take about 90 students a year and 85 per cent are female.
The mostly French-language programs are largely set, but students can chose electives in later years to point to more specific career paths. The fifth year is clinical rotations and everyone emerges with the same qualification as a general veterinary practitioner, whether they want to work with cats and dogs or cows and horses.
“Those that go on the job market don’t have any difficulty finding places to work,” he says.
Douglas Freeman, dean of the Western College of Veterinarian Medicine at the University of Saskatchewan, adds that it’s true, so long as you’re flexible about field and location. Saddled with student loans and desiring to live in a city, many graduates seek more lucrative work in urban or suburban small-animal clinics that cater to pets.
“We have a hard time across North America of attracting and keeping veterinarians in rural, production-animal practice,” he says.
Along with a passion for medicine, students should have a love for all animals, including humans, as dealing with an animal means dealing with its owner.
Vets also blend compassion with pragmatism for the hard side of the job. Putting down a healthy animal, be it a dog with behaviour problems or a cow that isn’t worth fixing, is never easy, Freeman says.