The Alberta Veterinary Medical Association (ABVMA) is the professional regulatory organization (PRO) responsible for regulating the practice of veterinary medicine within the province of Alberta under the authority of the Veterinary Profession Act (VPA). The association has been in existence since the newly minted province of Alberta passed an Act Respecting Veterinarians in 1906, one of the first acts for the province. At the time, there were a handful of veterinarian members spread across the province, mostly involved in the livestock industry. Today, the association has grown to over 1,800 veterinarians, practicing all aspects of animal health and welfare including companion animal practice, food animal practice, public health, veterinary education and research. Our vision is “Healthy animals and people in a healthy environment.”
Over the last forty years, another group of veterinary professionals has evolved to join veterinarians in delivering animal health care within the province – registered veterinary technologists (RVTs). Starting as a two-year certificate course at Olds College in the late 1970s, the education of veterinary technologists has grown and is currently delivered from four technical colleges in Alberta, with close to 150 graduates each year. In 2010, the ABVMA began registering veterinary technologists as members of the association. An amendment to the VPA in 2016, and amendments to the General Regulation and Bylaws in 2017, allowed for full participation of technologists in the governance of the association. This virtually doubled our membership to our current level and gave technologists a voice that they previously lacked in the profession.
Veterinarians and RVTs work with all species of animals with most practices working with companion animals including horses, birds and reptiles. The second largest segment of practice are food producing animals such as beef and dairy cattle, swine, poultry, sheep and goats.
Many veterinary and other professional associations in Canada have separated the functions of their regulatory duties from those of providing support to the membership. Alberta has strived to maintain both under one roof. Our mandate is protection of the public, and core duties include registration and verification of member credentials, practice inspection and practice standards, and a process to accept complaints from the public. The association strongly believes that if we can keep our members healthy and current, we will provide a better product for the public, and we firmly believe that we have been successful. Our association is well regarded both within the profession, provincially and nationally.
The ABVMA has over 3,600 active veterinarians and technologists licensed to provide veterinary medical
services within the province. This number does not include non-practicing members that have left active
practice. There are approximately 545 veterinary practices in Alberta, and this number is growing
steadily. Each one of these practices also employs many lay staff such as practice managers,
receptionists, bookkeepers, assistants and kennel assistants.
Factors such as increasing minimum wages and changing employment standards have a direct effect on veterinary practices that operate as small businesses in Alberta. In December 2017, Bill 31 put extra scrutiny on the veterinary profession in Alberta. Bill 31 was passed by the Alberta Government in December 2017. The consumer protection legislation included amendments to the VPA regarding obtaining informed consent, fee disclosure and the advertising of fees. As the PRO for veterinary medicine in Alberta, the association has concerns with amendments that are already met within our current legislation and regulation. Despite these challenges, the association continues to foster a good working relationship with the Ministry of Labour that oversees all self-regulating professions in the province.
The influence of the veterinary profession extends further than the clinical care given to all species of animals. Veterinary professionals fulfill various roles in society. Veterinarians work within the provincial government in animal and human health, with the federal government in food safety and animal health, in the pharmaceutical industry, in education, research, regulation and even in the legislature.
Veterinarians and technologists working on companion animals are considered the second “family
doctor.” Recognition of the importance of the human-animal bond has had huge effects on the mental
and physical well-being of many people. Pets are now considered an integral part of the family, and
owners are demanding the best treatments possible for them.
Animal protein products eaten by consumers have been affected by a veterinary professional somewhere in its lifetime. Everything from eggs, cheese and milk to meat products have been produced through the professional cooperation of veterinarians and producers.
Veterinarians are also heavily involved in veterinary and medical research. At the University of Alberta, and the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine (UCVM), research on both animal and human disease is well established. The UCVM, though only being in existence a short time, has become one of the top schools in north America. It is also very unique in that it does not have a teaching hospital, but relies on a distributed veterinary learning community model to educate its students during their clinical years. This is the only model of its kind in Canada.
Despite experiencing strong growth within a thriving profession, there are still challenges and opportunities. One of the greatest challenges that we face is the education of enough veterinary professionals. Currently, there are 50 Alberta veterinary students graduating annually. The province could likely employ double that number each year. The number of veterinary technologists graduating each year could also easily double, and all be employed. Increased funding for veterinary education is essential. The Government of Alberta recently withdrew from the interprovincial funding agreement with the Western College of Veterinary Medicine, ending a partnership that has lasted more than 50 years. The ABVMA strongly believes increased funding for UCVM and entering back into the interprovincial agreement with WCVM are the best way to increase the pool of qualified graduating veterinarians in the decades to come. Changes to the way that antimicrobials are prescribed and dispensed in Canada will also lead to an amplified need for veterinary professionals. Heath Canada has called for increased veterinary oversight of antimicrobials to help curb the development of antimicrobial resistance. Veterinarians are the natural stewards for animal antimicrobial use to maintain effectiveness for future generations of both humans and animals.
Pet owners today expect the best for their pets. Procedures that were not feasible 20 years ago are possible today. Comparative research has led to new surgical and medical developments that have enhanced the lives of our patients, and enriched the lives of their owners, more rapidly than ever before. If a new or novel treatment is available, chances are great that you will be able to access it in Alberta. Advanced technologies and treatments also come at a cost. As small business owners, veterinary professionals must balance the cost of providing quality care with customer expectations along with a lack of publicly funded health care for animal and the financial pressures that go with pet ownership. Establishing a relationship with your veterinarian is the best place to start.
The veterinary profession is healthy and vital in Alberta. Regardless of what aspects of veterinary medicine is involved, the ABVMA will continue to play a role in ensuring that Albertans have access to quality veterinary services.
Darrell Dalton, DVM,
Registrar, Alberta Veterinary Medical Association