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So Many Other Things: The Reality of Veterinary Practice Part 12 - Support System Ascending

Posted in So Many Other Things... @ Jun 18th 2019 - By Michael Weinhardt, Michael Weinhardt Photography
So Many Other Things The Reality Of Veterinary Practice Part 12 Support System Ascending

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

Trainee Nurse Claire Goodlock looks after Molly who is about to be discharged. 27 February 2019

Part 12 - Support System Ascending

Karen Connell (see previous article, Rate, Risk, Care) was keen to point out her study is just one of many around the world exploring mental health in veterinary services. She also felt it important to highlight that the research being done, and the growing movement of support that it feeds into, is much more about “mental health” than “mental ill-health”. Fortunately, mental health is the aim of a comprehensive yet still growing support system in Australia.

For immediate help, organisations like Lifeline and beyondblue offer 24/7 phone counselling for crisis support, and volumes of related information.

A Medicare-subsidised “Mental Health Treatment Plan” can be undertaken by a GP who diagnoses a patient with a mental disorder. The plan gives rebated access to allied health care providers – eg psychologists and counsellors – six times per year, initially and a further four after a review by the GP.

The Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) provides a comprehensive range of information and support resources via its website, a telephone counselling service and the Graduate Mentoring Program, which the AVA’s website says, “connects experienced vets with new graduates so that they can receive one-on-one advice and support as they transition into the profession.”

Exciting things are happening at the grassroots level, where young people are establishing their own support systems. A notable example is the Veterinary Student Alumni Networking Program (VSAN), which is a mentoring program established by and for Charles Sturt University (CSU) veterinary science students and alumni.

The program was started by CSU alumni, Dr Kellie Thomas and Dr Mel Catanchin, “during a marathon three-hour phone call between two close friends in the aftermath of the tragic death of one of our classmates.”

Thomas and Catanchin also say, “At the funeral of our classmate and dear friend we heard from some of our peers what a tough time they were having in their first jobs. Workplace pressure and difficult professional relationships had also marred the final days of the classmate we had lost. There seemed to be a culture among some employers that, ‘Well, it was tough for me, so why should it be any different for you?’ which was an attitude that we found disappointing.” Peers also discussed bullying, a perceived lack of support and dissonance between the job description and job reality.

Thomas and Catanchin consequently started VSAN, saying, “The original idea was that by having new graduates working directly with final year students, we could both empower our classmates by involving them as mentors and support those students through what is an intense year. We also wanted to help them navigate the job market to hopefully land their first jobs in a supportive workplace.”

Of the overlap between VSAN and the AVA’s Graduate Mentoring Program, they say, “We were aware that the AVA were running a new graduate program, and while we were hopeful for its success, we also felt that there was something to say for mentors and mentees having had the shared experience of going through the same degree.”

Pushing into new territory at a different edge of the frontier are people like Wendy Till, who are creating wholly new occupations in Australia. Till is, as far as she knows, the only person in Australia presently completing a Veterinary Social Worker qualification.

“Of all the people I have spoken to since discovering this course, NOBODY has heard of it here!” says Till

The qualification itself is not offered by an Australian institution yet. Instead, Till is completing her Certificate of Veterinary Social Work course through the University of Tennessee in the USA.

The essence of veterinary social work is the human-animal bond, encompassing animal-related grief and bereavement, the link between human and animal violence, compassion fatigue and animal-assisted intervention.

Till’s motivations began when she started a veterinary science degree and found aspects of veterinary life that were ethically challenging. Till says, “These experiences were distressing but I had nowhere to unpack my feelings, and therefore I decided to leave the degree.”

Till subsequently trained as a social worker before eventually discovering the University of Tennessee certification, which united the key threads of her work life and passion.

Till says, “Having followed my former classmates’ journeys through their careers and watching a substantial proportion leave the profession due to compassion fatigue, the high level of stress and various ethical challenges, I became interested in the mental health of those practicing in this field. When I discovered there was a certificate that merged my two interests, I investigated the course and decided to enrol.”

And then there are the individually-driven support groups. Love Your Vet Love Your Pet, headed by psychologist Dr Nadine Hamilton, is focused on “raising awareness of veterinary wellbeing, reduce stigma in seeking help and providing support to veterinary professionals.”

Judy Gillespie, who is neither a veterinary services nor a mental health care professional, decided to establish her own community after exposure to the industry via a veterinarian friend. The result is Vetanswers, an online place for industry professionals to connect and seek help for any problems they might need answers to.


Lifeline (131 114)

MensLine (1300 789 978)

beyondblue (1300 224 636)

SuicideLine (1300 651 251)

Kids Helpline (1800 551 800)

SANE Australia (1800 187 263)

Emergency Services (000)


Head Nurse Stephanie Robertson (left), Dr Grace Butler (middle) and Dr Jessica Winsall. There is plenty of laughter at Brundine. On the good days, it keeps the workplace upbeat. In the wake of a difficult day, it's almost a form of therapy. 12 April 2018

Dr Louise Grey (right) gives advice to Dr Grace Butler about suturing a fairly long incision. Butler, a new graduate in her first vet job, is performing her first major surgery: debridement of nectrotic tissue from a cat after a dog bite. 24 January 2018

Nurse Maree Watt (left), Dr Grace Butler (middle) and Nurse Chelsea Rose. Watt has just returned from a shopping trip to the supermarket to buy the non-medical consumables that are also required to keep a practice functioning. 19 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. 

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

Contact Michael via: Website -  So Many Other Things


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