World Veterinary Day, which took place on 30 April, is a day about celebratingthe crucial work veterinarians do in supporting animal health, animal welfare,people, and the environment.

The theme for World Veterinary Day this year was ‘Strengthening VeterinaryResilience’ – a timely reminder of the unprecedented strain the veterinaryindustry has felt over the past two years, and the extraordinary role thesector played in the pandemic response.

According to research conducted by Animal Medicines Australia, the pandemicsaw pet ownership numbers increase by nearly 20 per cent. The veterinaryprofession also had to quickly pivot to provide contactless consultations andtelehealth services. On top of the many challenges associated with thepandemic, the profession also faced bushfires and floods.

Further to this, research into veterinary mental health showed that 66.6 percent of respondents said they either have experienced or currently areexperiencing a mental health condition, five per cent higher than the nationalaverage.

Throughout all this, veterinarians have continued to keep the animals of thiscountry safe.

Pet Industry News wants to hero the visibility and inspiration of WorldVeterinary Day, so we’re launching a series of profiles on vets from aroundthe country, in the hope that we can raise awareness for the challenges theyface and pass on advice to the next generation of veterinarians.

This week we speak to Dr Tanya Stephens, a small animal practitioner who runsher own practice in Haberfield, Sydney, and who is also a wildlife researcherwith original research on galactosaemia in kangaroos.

Dr Stephens is an active member of the Australian Veterinary Association(AVA), an honorary veterinarian for the Children’s Medical ResearchFoundation, and holds leadership positions on the NSW Kangaroo ManagementAdvisory Panel, NSW Greyhound Welfare Integrity Commission Animal WelfareCommittee, and the AVA Animal Welfare Trust.

PIN: What do you love about what you do?

Dr Stephens: I can honestly say I love just about everything I do(although maybe not dealing with flyblown rabbits or expressing anal glands!)No two days are alike, which makes the job so interesting. I enjoy being ageneral practitioner as I feel what I do is really worthwhile, not justbecause it means problem solving and helping animals, but because pet ownersare so appreciative and the social work aspects of veterinary practice are sorewarding.

I certainly obtain a great deal of satisfaction from other activities outsideof practice and I’m a great believer in actively engaging with others toimprove animal welfare.

PIN: What have been the highlights of your career so far?

Dr Stephens: There have been many highlights. I was very fortunate when Igraduated to be able to work in small animal practice as well as undertakingresearch. I am forever grateful to the Children’s Medical Research Foundation(now Institute) that gave me a research grant to test my hypothesis thatkangaroos are galactosaemic. This led to a paper in Nature and changed the wayorphan joeys are fed. I also researched the health and welfare of kangaroos incaptivity, and I am still involved with kangaroo management.

Another defining moment was the decision to open my own small animal practicewith a new baby in tow. At a time when there were few part-time options forfemale graduates this enabled me to work and raise a family. I really enjoyedworking with wildlife but there were few career options and I decided I couldcontinue my interest and involvement in research and wildlife whilst inpractice.

I’ve enjoyed undertaking further study and travelling to Edinburgh for myMasters graduation was a wonderful experience as was being made a Fellow ofThe Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. I was particularly pleased to beasked to edit a new book One Welfare: The Role of The Veterinarian whichshowcases the essential role of veterinarians worldwide.

PIN: What kind of places has your career taken you and what kinds of roleshave led you to where you are now?

Dr Stephens: Roles in research, practice, presenting and publication aswell as committee work have enabled me to take my career beyond a singleendeavour and to all kinds of places which I had never dreamed of as a newgraduate. I’ve been able to be involved in code writing, oversee research, thelaw relating to veterinarians and committees where veterinary input isessential.

PIN: What’s next for you – any goals or plans that you hope to achieve overthe next 12 months?

Dr Stephens: I have no grand plans for the next year. I’ll see what thefamily’s plans are around help with grandchildren and any travel and organisemyself around that. I’ll continue with my committee work and aim to publish apaper on updated research on galactosaemia in joeys. I’m lined up to give acouple of presentations this year and will keep working on some new articles.

PIN: What are some of the biggest challenges facing the pet industry and howcan the industry work to overcome those?

Dr Stephens: The pet industry seems to be doing very well! From what Iunderstand there is an abundance of new pets because of Covid, and pet ownersare spending vast amounts on their pets. My practice is seeing oodles of new‘oodles’!

The veterinary profession is another matter, with the biggest challenge ashortage of veterinarians. Whilst pet owners are spending up big on their petswith fancy foods and gold studded collars, there appears to be a perceptionthat veterinarians are expensive, and that is true to a certain extent withveterinary costs rising.

This may have impacts on animal welfare if there is a corresponding fall invisits to the veterinarian, and costs are the main cause of abuse ofveterinarians often affecting their mental health. The public needs tounderstand the costs of running a practice and practitioners need to focus onaccountability and transparency to maintain trust and a social contract withthe public.

Unfortunately trust in veterinarians has fallen which is a concern as theprofession needs that trust if it is to remain the primary source ofinformation on animal health and welfare.

Perceived or real over diagnosis and over servicing are emerging concerns inpractice especially with the use of advanced technologies. I believe that itis important that veterinarians practise evidence-based medicine, not only tomaintain trust, but also to ensure best health and welfare outcomes foranimals. Surveys show that the public wants accountability and transparency. Ialso believe that the profession needs to address the problem of affordableveterinary services for low-income earners.

PIN: Do you have any thoughts on how we can work to overcome the nationalvet shortage in Australia?

Dr Stephens: The veterinary profession has much to do to overcome thischallenge. Importantly, veterinarians need to be valued by society, which iswhy falling trust is an issue, then they need to be appropriately remunerated.Being a veterinarian should be seen as a vocation and not just a job.

It needs to be better emphasised that a veterinary degree can take youanywhere and it’s a wonderful rewarding career. All veterinarians play a rolehere by promoting the positive aspects of the role and practice owners need tolook after their employees.

Greater uptake of pet insurance may help but insurances have to be good valueand we need to ensure that insurance doesn’t lead to any over servicing.Government definitely has a role in supporting veterinarians and having spentthe money on educating them needs to do more to keep them in their jobs.

The AVA plays an important role, and all veterinarians should join theirprofessional organisation as a strong organisation is able to provide supportto veterinarians and lobby for government input.

PIN: What advice would you offer to an aspiring veterinarian?

Dr Stephens: The advice I would offer to an aspiring veterinarian isembrace the role, remember that although you may want to be a veterinarianbecause you love animals, you need to like people as well. It really is aninteresting challenging and rewarding job with never a dull moment. It bringswith it great satisfaction, enormous amounts of appreciation and such avariety of roles from research to Government to charities and sometimes youcan do all these at once. Not many other jobs allow you to do this.

PIN: How will you be celebrating World Veterinary Day?

Dr Stephens: I’m not working at the practice on World Veterinary Day soI’m not sure what I’ll do. Maybe a nice dinner and a bottle of good red withthe family.

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