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So Many Other Things: The Reality of Veterinary Practice Part 3 - After-Hours

Posted in So Many Other Things... @ Dec 13th 2018 - By Michael Weinhardt, Michael Weinhardt Photography

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

Image: 6.24pm Louise Dobson takes Harry and Rubi home. 3 July 2018.


Part 3: After-Hours

Recap.... It took me a couple of months at the Brudine Veterinary Hospital, a small/exotic animal practice in Canberra, to glimpse the essential truths of veterinary practice.

Dr Grace Butler accepted that long and hectic days – where lunches are missed and staff can stay late – are part of the job, though as she said, they mean she “appreciates the work/life balance of the job. Everyone at Brudine is really good at making sure you have time off. Fiona [Dr Starr] gets very worried when you don’t have time off. After my time here, I can definitely understand why; if I was working like this all day, every day, I wouldn’t want to do it.”

But it requires veterinary practices to be able to close at a reasonable time while also knowing that animal care will continue overnight. In the ACT, that overnight animal care is enabled through the region’s veterinary services “night shift”, which comprises several after-hours and emergency clinics, and a purpose-built pet ambulance service (operated by Claudia and Jarrod Male). These mean that veterinary practices can, at the end of the day, transfer patients to overnight care and consequently allow the “day shift” to go home and rest.

The benefit to day staff, though, is not available to all practices, especially those on the edge of or outside metropolitan areas. Dr Karen Viggers recalled the difficulty of starting her career in a practice with after-hours services in the outskirts of Melbourne.

“There was an after-hours clinic in Melbourne but people didn’t have the money back then or the inclination to drive into the city for emergencies. So, we had to provide our own emergency service. The practice was on the edge of the city in Eltham. There were no mobile phones – pagers were carried all the time. Instead of doing one night off/one night on, you would get a whole week on call from Monday to Monday the next week. I lived in fear of the pager.”

Though she started in the 1980s, the subsequent impact on Viggers will undoubtedly resonate with some new graduates today.

“You’d be doing these things at night with nobody to call, no backup and still trying to work out what your drug doses were, what was going on, and the facilities were nothing like we have now; you didn’t have in-house blood machines, x-ray was pretty rudimentary, and so you were trying to make decisions based on very little information and little experience. It was too much. It makes me feel emotional thinking about what I had to deal with. I had a breakdown eight months in. I just couldn’t get out of bed. The worst of it lasted until I decided to leave the job. And it took another year to physically recover from it.”

Viggers left the industry for several months to recover before being convinced by a friend to restart at another practice with better support.

The difficult experience wasn’t wasted on Viggers. Instead, it reinforced the priorities of her personal and professional interests and she adapted her life accordingly, particularly by working fewer hours as a vet and focusing more on her other love, writing.

Dr Gwen Shirlow also gained insight from after-hours work early in her own career. She said, “I don’t miss after-hours work because it was fairly onerous and draining, but it did teach me a lot about what I could do by myself.”

10.17am. Head Nurse Stephanie Robertson (left) educates Trainee Nurse Claire Goodlock. 6 April 2018

1.51pm. Dr Louise Grey (right) gives advice to 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.

2.26pm. Dr Karen Viggers (left) uses a portable dental x-ray machine to image a dog's jaw. Dr Fiona Starr watches on. 9 February 2018.

7.43pm. Claudia Male (right) and Jarrod Male, who operate the ACT's PET AMBULANCE SERVICES, load a dog in critical condition onto the ambulance with assistance from Brudine staff. The ambulance will safely transfer the dog to an after-hours/emergency clinic. Having a pet ambulance and after-hours/emergency clinics means daytime veterinary practice staff in the ACT get to go home at a reasonable time after closing, which helps them rest and reduce the chance of burn-out. 21 March 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


Gillian Shippen @ Dec 14th 2018 8:30am
Judy @ Dec 17th 2018 3:30pm
Thanks Gillian :)

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