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So Many Other Things: The Reality of Veterinary Practice Part 15 - First Steps

Posted in So Many Other Things... @ Aug 1st 2019 - By Michael Weinhardt, Michael Weinhardt Photography
So Many Other Things The Reality Of Veterinary Practice Part 15 1

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

Dr Jess Winsall mid-spey operation. 15th March 2018

Part 15 - First Steps

The beginning of a career in veterinary services extends far back before the first day of work after graduation.

A few Brudine vets worked as vet nurses before or during study. Some grew up in the country, some in the city. All had a love of or affinity for animals, as did the vet nurses and receptionists. A few knew they were going to be vets from a very young age. Nurse Kelsey Savage was a client of Brudine during her teenage years and, through those experiences, developed a desire to become a vet nurse. Nurse Maree Watt grew up on a farm in Condobolin with the usual animal suspects but only began nursing because she needed a job.

Dr Louise Grey’s family had a farm they visited on the weekend. Her journey towards vetting started there:

“At 10, we’d trap rabbits and I was allowed to dissect them, take all the organs out, lay them all out, label them, and then try and put them back in. I just wanted to know what was on the inside.”

Dr Deborah Williams is direct with her advice for young people considering becoming vets: “they should go and see what it’s really about. It’s not glamorous. I think they just need to go immerse themselves in a veterinary practice for more than a week of work experience.”

Dr Fiona Starr says, “there needs to be a higher emphasis on people coming into the industry that they’ve had some work experience prior to getting into vet schools or even becoming a vet nurse.”

Like many at Brudine, Dr Grace Butler embraced work experience from a very young age. She began pestering her local vet in Goondiwindi for work at the age of thirteen. When she was old enough, she was finally given a job before becoming a veterinary nurse.

She says, “I think the best thing that set me up for being a vet was nursing. Having that kind of experience, you know the worst of the job. I know what it’s like to be stressed. I know what it’s like to be flat out. I know what it’s like to not eat lunch. I know what it’s like to work ridiculous hours. I know what it’s like to deal with difficult clients and clients that are crying. After twelve months of nursing I was exposed to all of those circumstances, and more.”

She also says that she is sometimes frustrated by the irony that, after amassing ten years of veterinary industry experience before graduating as a vet, some clients still ask for someone more experienced.

Work experience helped Rebekah Morton reconsider an initial interest in becoming a vet nurse, which she explored via a receptionist job. Morton says, “I like the idea of it, but not as much as before. It seems really full on, and it scares me a little bit; the responsibility scares me. I just don’t want to screw anything up.”

Over and above the comprehensive clinical understanding and expertise that universities impart to their veterinary science students, they also recognise the need for practical experience; placement work is a key feature.

Still, at some point, students must transition from education to practice. Pragmatically, universities can only provide so much education. For veterinary science degrees, that’s six years of study before graduation.

How much is enough? Grey describes what many graduates would likely think; six years is about the time that students want to get out and start working. They don’t want to study forever, and universities wouldn’t expect them to. Grey also relates, at least for her, the fundamental value of university over and above the clinical and practical education she received.

“The further away from university I get, the more I realise that their job was not to teach me how to do my job, it was to teach me how to think so I could learn to do my job. They can’t possibly teach you every presentation of every disease, but they can teach you how to think so you can work it out as you go.”

Dr Jessica Winsall surveys the hospital board during rounds. 14 December, 2017

Dr Deborah Williams (left), industry veteran, and Dr Grace Butler, new graduate. 12 February, 2018

Dr Jessica Winsall shows her parents, Kristin and Graeme, around her first practice. 29 March, 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 necrotic tissue from a cat after a dog bite. 24 January, 2018

(photos above & below)

Dr Grace Butler sutures a fairly long incision. Butler, a new graduate in her first vet job, is performing the most complicated surgery of her career so far: debridement of nectrotic tissue from a cat after a dog bite. For new grads there is an almost endless number of firsts. 24 January, 2018


Dr Grace Butler receives positive feedback from Dr Gwer Shirlow regarding her debridement surgery, as Nurse Kelsey Savage (left-rear) and Nurse Julie Marten listen. 24 January 2018

New grads, Dr Jessica Winsall (left) and Dr Grace Butler unwind after work at Winslow's house. 21 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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