Excitement builds for veterinary program being planned

By Sandi Krasowski
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The Chronicle-Journal

Development of the Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) program between Lakehead University and the University of Guelph is progressing, with much to be done before the program turns out new veterinarians.

Moira McPherson, Lakehead University’s outgoing president, says the last two months were the most crucial towards moving forward on the initiative.

“We’re making great progress but there’s obviously lots of work to do in moving the development of the dedicated (veterinary program) facility here in Thunder Bay,” McPherson said.

“There’s depth on the development of the four-year curriculum, and we’re well into that, working with teams from both of our universities. We’re also working on the development of a dedicated facility here in Thunder Bay, so we need to make sure we’ve got the right infrastructure to deliver some of the very specific components of the veterinarian program.”

McPherson said they are consulting with local and regional organizations and partners to form the clinical and practical components of the program and excitement is running high.

Although she couldn’t speculate on a date for the start of the program, she said addressing the veterinarian shortage is an important piece.

McPherson gave some details of how the program will work.

“First of all, the University of Guelph currently offers a four-year (Doctor of Veterinary Medicine) degree through the Ontario Veterinary College. It is an accredited program and our initiatives are also going to result in the same degree at the end,” she said. “Graduates of this program will get a (Doctor of Veterinary Medicine) degree but this cohort will be unique. It will be a cohort that is recruited from the North and starts the first two years of the program at Lakehead University and then moves into years three and four at Guelph University.”

She added that the graduates in that special cohort will be in addition to the program that’s already being delivered in Guelph.

“It’s an additional 20 new students every year, just starting the program,” she said. “After four years, we’ll be graduating 20 new veterinarians over and above the current capacity of the University of Guelph and these will be students that will be trained in the North.”

She said the students will be participating in placement and internship in the North so that all of their work will result in as many students as possible coming back to practise in the North.

The program will be designed to provide learning opportunities, internships, placements and practice opportunities, not only in Thunder Bay and the immediate surrounding area but also in rural and Indigenous communities.

Turning out desperately needed veterinarians is an achievable goal but retaining them in the North could prove more challenging. McPherson reflected on the university’s “proven track record” of recruiting students who want to work in the North and credited all of the best practices that they developed to do that.

“We have practices that start with our recruitment or marketing of the program and engagement with the communities that we’re recruiting,” she said. “We’ve built into the program placements and networking opportunities for these learners to engage with all sorts of Northern-related veterinarian organizations while really embedding that into what they’re learning.”

She said they are building an opportunity for students to earn a business micro-credential through the program. A micro-credential is an added-value certification to prepare the student to become a business professional.

The micro-credential will focus on professional practice in the North,” she said. “We’re going to be giving them all the skills and the experiences to have them prepared to come back and practice or work in the North.”

The students will gain the skills they need to set up a new practice or to work with an existing practice.

The Veterinary Incentive Program, started by the provincial government, is aimed at retaining graduates to stay and practice in the North. The program will provide loan assistance to the graduates to practice in the North in underserviced areas and support large animal care.

“I think that’s also going to really be a strong stimulus,” McPherson said. “It’s everybody coming together and looking for the types of things that will make this an attractive place to live and work in this area.”