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So Many Other Things: The Reality of Veterinary Practice Part 11 - Rate, Risk, Care

Posted in So Many Other Things... @ Jun 6th 2019 - By Michael Weinhardt, Michael Weinhardt Photography
So Many Other Things The Reality Of Veterinary Practice Rate Risk Care Part 11

Holding a mirror to the veterinary industry to show the realities you work with every day.

A photographic documentary that relates what working in a busy veterinary practice looks like - the highs, lows, challenges, day-to-day, unusual and extraordinary.

“If only vetting just consisted of treating sick animals. But it didn’t. There were so many other things.”

- James Herriot, If Only They Could Talk

Part 11 - Rate, Risk, Care

Cosmo’s heartbreaking death (see previous post, “No Answers”), continued to impact some of Brudine’s staff beyond the moments, hours and days after. Dr Charlie Webb, who has handling Cosmo’s case and who relayed the tragic events to Cosmo’s owner, was replaying the events of the day, over and over, weeks and months later. It’s easy to understand why; how do people who are driven to know why reconcile cases like Cosmo’s against those times when Mother Nature has the final say and doesn’t give reason for it.

Of all the situations I’d witnessed during my time at Brudine, Cosmo’s stood out in one way for me like no other: the scale of the mental and emotional fallout. Fortunately, and I think fairly, Brudine could be called a “healthy” practice. Staff support is intrinsic to its operations and staff are cared when needed.

But I wondered how it would have been for a young vet working by themselves in a small practice in a place they had to leave family and friends behind to move to. People reading could probably imagine many situations like this that could expose someone to more severe mental health issues, and, in some cases, worse.

The worst is suicide. The key finding of the landmark 2008 study, “Suicide in Australian Vets” by H. Jones-Fairnie, estimates that the “suicide rates for Western Australian and Victorian vets were respectively 4.0 times and 3.8 times the age standardised rate for suicide in the respective state adult populations”.

I’ve had many conversations with vets in which this statistic is related to emphasise how much risk they face. Those conversations invariably cover the many risks to mental health that are cited by veterinary services workers, including long hours, lack of support, balancing treatment with cost, compassion fatigue, location, meeting client expectations, meeting their own expectations and ethical challenges.

A qualitative understanding of these risk factors does not yet exist, though Jones-Fairnie’s report seems to suggest it as the next step: “suicide deaths could be as much a result of factors unique to the individual cases as to the profession as a whole.”

This qualitative piece of the mental health puzzle is the focus of an Australia-wide, Murdoch University research study undertaken by PhD candidate Karen Connell.

Connell says, “the study is investigating why there is a high rate of suicide and mental health issues among veterinarians,” who work in a profession with, “a reputation for a high level of psychological distress and risk of suicide.”

Connell’s study will also have practical benefits, including “informing veterinary practitioners about suicide risk and guiding the structure of suicide early prevention strategies for practitioners,” as well as helping “with the development of staff training to facilitate colleague and client interactions, leading to improved staff relationships and client satisfaction.”

Since early 2017, the study has gathered data from participants Australia-wide. At the time of writing, the study is in review; findings and release date are unknown.

Dr Gwen Shirlow calls an owner about a case. 28 February 2018

Alex Swalling sees Dr Gwen Shirlow in a behavioural consultation for Bailey, a dog with neurological issues that makes her overly protective and, recently, prone to biting members of Swalling's family. Swalling hopes to rehome Bailey and Shirlow thinks that should be ok as long as there are are no children or pets in the new home, but has recommended a behavioural assessment be done ouitside the practice. 27 March, 2018

Dr Gwen Shirlow (left) and Nurse Julie Marten intubate a dog prior to surgery. 14 December 2018

Nurse Chelsea Rose (left) monitors a patient's vital statistics while Dr Gwen Shirlow operates. 7 December 2017

Nurse/Groomer Maree Watt's (left) twenty-five year's worth of experience as a veterinary nurse is a value-add when it comes to being able to identify a variety of possible medical issues while grooming. Here, she has called on Dr Gwen Shirlow to examine the areas of concern on Lucy's head and in her ears. 24 January 2018

Dr Gwen Shirlow finds rare free time to meet the constant learning demands of veterinary practice. 26 February 2018 

Dr Gwen Shirlow examines Anthony Roger's new puppy, Brooklyn, before administering vaccinations. 27 February, 2018

Click here to visit the 'So Many Other Things..' Blog Category to read more in the series

About Michael - in his words...

I make long-form photographic essays that are faithful to my subjects and their stories.

I have spent a decade in the USA, Peru, Cuba, and Australia, covering stories about people whose lives I can't not be interested in.

Most recently, I completed a photographic documentary about the reality of veterinary practice, called SO MANY OTHER THINGS. It was shot over a year and released on September 24, 2018.

Previously, I spent from 2012 to 2015 documenting music and friendship in an Australian metal band, FRANKENBOK. The result was produced as a limited release, crowdfunded book that is also freely available as a PDF. Details can be found here: LIFELINE.

Other stories I've photographed over the last 10 years can be found in my ARCHIVE.

Contact Michael via: Website -  So Many Other Things  |  Facebook - So Many Things  |  Instagram -   mwp_i 



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