Things I’ve Learned – Message from a Vet Student…

Since my last post for VetPrac I’ve been continuing to learn heaps at uni – and no, that’s not because exams are on and I’m cramming! This semester I’ve begun internal rotations through the various areas of the university and we are finally getting the chance to cut our teeth in the clinical world. This hasn’t been without its difficulties, chief among which seems to be differentiating ‘slightly greyer grey’ from ‘only very slightly greyer grey’ in diagnostic imaging.

Outside of the classroom I’ve experience the other side of the vet-client relationship when my horse decided to get a very frustrating abscess that had me completely revert back to full client mode. It’s amazing what having your own animal injured does to your ability to asses a situation. And by that I mean: completely destroy it!

I’ve also had a brief experience in emergency medicine, which gave me some incredible exposure to a huge range of cases, and taught me how to survive on limited sleep. It took me a little while, but I finally realised that 3 hours a day isn’t enough to stay alert enough to function in a veterinary practice… Luckily I’m only a student, and there are vets on hand to double check the extra zero on the end of my drug doses!

With all of the things I’ve learnt this semester (and judging by the stack of notes beside me, it should have been a lot), by far the biggest thing I’ve learnt in the past few months is resilience. Everybody involved in the profession knows that ours is a lifestyle, which faces unique challenges. What I’ve written so far is just a snapshot of the huge academic requirements, emotional involvement, and long hours that vets, vet students, and vet nurses deal with. Resilience is something that some people are talented at, and for many people it’s something that needs to be learned and practiced. In the same way that we approach surgery, we may have a natural talent, but the more we learn and practice, the better we get. There are always new challenges that present themselves, and sometimes we can’t solve them, but we can learn more so that next time we are better equipped.

The difference is that we know how to fix a gap in our surgical knowledge – we can turn to textbooks, workshops, webinars, and that person you sat next to as an undergrad that is now a specialist. For our resilience and in dealing with our mental health it’s sometimes not that clear, or maybe it is…

There are more and more resources being developed all the time for mental wellness, there are online resources, apps, phone numbers to call, and places to visit. But as well as all of that, there’s also that person you sat next to in undergrad or at a recent workshop or conference. Maybe they can’t help you out as directly as they could with the tricky surgery, but they can help all the same. As a profession we’re all in it together, and we need to build up our own resilience by building up that of those around us and to keep learning from each other.



Veterinary Practice Security – Securing Vet Workplaces

As a security professional I have lost count of the number of times a business owner has told me they didn’t need a security system or monitoring because they “have nothing to steal”. In each case they were viewing crime and security as a single threat – theft.

The reality is that very few businesses leave bundles of cash lying around. Certainly not vet clinics. However every organisation has significant assets, including their people, intellectual property and revenue. Businesses can be badly hurt by failing to identify and properly manage risk ahead of time.

Consider the tangible and intangible cost of these four scenarios: Losing a day’s trade, losing two key staff, being sued for negligence or breaching workplace safety obligations, or being splashed across the local newspaper. There is virtually no business that cannot consider an incident where one of these might be the outcome. The cost of each far outweighs the initial expense of security systems, procedures and practices. The key for smart businesses is not to learn ‘the hard way’ and try to resolve problems for next time, but instead to plan ahead.

While people can often easily imagine ‘worst case’ problems, it is often the mundane which is most likely to occur and be overlooked. An electrical outage unresolved could cause lab equipment or drug infusion pumps to fail. Fridge malfunctions could result in damaged stock, with a cost in both replacement as well as lost revenue from downtime. A plumbing leak could cause flooding after-hours which would be undiscovered overnight (or over an entire weekend).

While insurance can be helpful at paying for loss incurred it will not help you continue trading through an incident or stop customer departure. Good proactive measures can avoid situations leading to problems in the first place.

Veterinary practices typically store narcotics and Schedule 4 drugs which make them a target for criminal activity. Not only does this include theft after-hours, but the possibility of internal theft as well. Rural practices may store firearms to perform euthanasia. Improper protection of these items can result in criminal charges against practice management.

Employees are protected under state and federal workplace health and safety (WH&S) legislation. Whilst most practices will have considered medical safety issues such as biohazards or animal injury, consideration needs to be given to ‘lone worker’ safety for example after-hours staff or staff performing home visits.

Electronic security technology is an invaluable tool for both the protection of assets (including people) as well as providing a sense of wellbeing and safety among staff and customers. Although the typical ‘alarm system’ traditionally monitored doors and windows or motion inside premises, modern systems can supervise environmental conditions such as temperature, flooding and even noise. These are particularly useful conditions to monitor if animals are kept at unattended premises overnight.

Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) cameras’ primary role is security and the identification, after an incident of what happened. However the technology can be a useful business enabler as well.  Consider how much time is spent in a large facility trying to locate staff – ‘where’s so and so?’ or equipment. If staff can glance at a monitor and locate each other, hours of billable time can be more productively utilised.

Some clinics even use their CCTV to provide a ‘web cam’ for customers to check-in on their animals left at the practice’s Dog Day-care. They love it. However it also allows practice-staff to monitor animals after-hours via the Internet without being required to drive into the practice. Modern advancements in the technology mean cameras can ‘see’ in low or zero light.

Monitoring of smoke and temperature can provide for animal safety after-hours. Geoff Golovsky, Director and Practice Principal of Vet HQ ( engaged security provider Calamity Monitoring ( to provide security system maintenance and monitoring. Mr Golovsky said:

“Our mission is to provide the highest quality pet care and to be an integral link in the human animal bond. While staff can look after the animals during office hours, we rely on good technology to keep them safe after hours. It gives us peace of mind which we in-turn can pass to our customers.”

Very few Australian business owners are expert in security and typically turn to a security company for advice and guidance. In choosing a security provider it is important to know who you are dealing with. Skill sets very and whilst security providers may seem ‘trustworthy’ they may not have the technical expertise to properly meet your requirements.

A good starting point is the consumer section of the Australian Security Industry Association ( This provides licencing guidelines (which vary from state to state) and how you can be sure your provider is properly licenced. This gives a reasonable assurance as to criminal history and probity. Be wary of electricians and other tradesmen who may offer to install security but are not in fact licenced, either individually or as a company.

Alarm systems should be properly monitored by an Australian Standard 2201.2 Certified monitoring centre, a list of which is published on ASIAL’s website. Calamity Monitoring is ‘graded’ at an A1 level (the highest rating).

Unfortunately there is no legal requirement for monitoring companies to be ‘graded’, and a very large number of security monitoring providers are not, and could literally be in someone’s bedroom or have terrible procedures and systems. ASIAL grading of AS2201.2 is an indicator of quality and ungraded monitoring providers should always be avoided. Police can decline requests for assistance from ungraded providers and insurers may attempt to reject claims where they can determine that an alarm system did not ‘meet standards’.

Some security companies act as a middleman and sub-contract the monitoring to a third-party. It is important that this relationship is disclosed so you can ensure you are in fact getting what you paid for and not simply getting a discount service and lining someone else’s pockets.

ASIAL’s website has a published list of graded monitoring centres which should be verified. If your security company claims to provide monitoring – even if they say they are graded – check that list. If their name does not appear, look elsewhere!

Your alarm system should be programmed to send arm and disarm signals, which allow you to prove to an insurer or police that your system was correctly armed (or be notified if someone forgets). Conveniently it also allows you to keep an eye on staff and cleaner comings and goings by way of a monthly report.

Unfortunately many alarm systems are connected to monitoring via their phone line, and while the monitoring service itself may seem inexpensive 10 or 20 phone calls each week can quickly add up as a substantial ‘hidden cost’ of the service. Even worse, the phone line can be simply cut with a pair of scissors rendering your security system unmonitored. We typically recommend people consider ‘IP Monitoring’ systems, which allow your alarm system and camera network to communicate with a monitoring centre via a combination of your Internet connection and the mobile network. Even if your phone line is sabotaged (or simply fails) your system can still be monitored, with no call charges. Even better you may be able to do away with a phone line altogether which represents a significant cost saving. As more and more businesses move towards modern telephony such as ‘VOIP’ the ability to move legacy hardware off phone lines is something worth considering.

Modern systems can also provide smartphone ‘apps’ which allow you to arm/disarm remotely (great for when someone forgets to do so) and even remotely open doors or gates for after-hours deliveries without having to issue keys to third parties.

Importantly, security and risk-management is not a one-off task. Equipment needs to be maintained, processes checked and staff educated and trained. Just like a healthy animal having a check-up, if you feel like you’ve invested a lot of time and money and ‘nothing happened’, don’t be upset. There’s a very good chance you’re doing the right things. When you get security right, nothing happens.


You can find out more about Calamity Security at

Article originally published in “In the Black” veterinary magazine, August 2014.

Putting Your Health First

At the forefront of any occupation, employees need to ensure they are putting their health first. As we all know this is even more pertinent when it comes to working as a veterinarian or veterinary nurse. Its a physical and emotionally demanding job. Productivity, emotional resilience, mental focus, physical strength and endurance can all be dependent on the person’s current health status.

The current research into workplace wellness has shown the following:

Healthy employees have been estimated to be 3x more productive than unhealthy employees- (Medibank Private Ltd,The Cost of Workplace Stress, 2008.)

Happy and Well employees are 180% more energized, 108% more engaged, 50% more motivated, achieve goals 30% more and contribute 25% more (Jessica Pryce-Jones,Happiness at Work, Maximizing your Psychological Capital for Success, 2010)

Here are some practical ways to ensuring employees are putting their health first:

Set yourself up right

As humans we were designed to move. Sitting for hours on end working at a computer is not part of our biomechanical make up. These days there are very few jobs out there that don’t require prolonged periods of computer related tasks. Ensuring your workstation is set up specific to each employee’s requirement will assist with promoting good postures in the workplace and reduce the likelihood of injury.

If there is a workstation that is shared between employees it is important that each employee has the knowledge to set themselves up correctly at the beginning of the day. Providing the right adjustable equipment so that each employee can modify the workstation with ease will make this a simpler and effortless process. Some examples can include providing ergonomic adjustable chairs or sit/stand stools, adjustable monitor stand and footstools.

Lift and Move well

As a vet part of the role requirements may be required to lift and move uneven loads up to 15 kg per person from the floor to waist level.  In some cases when there is a sense of urgency, heavier loads without any assistance may be undertaken in the spur of the movement. Vets or nurses may be required to adopt awkward postures when treating larger animals to ensure the best care for the animal is taken.

Ensuring that each vet or nurse has been provided with the essential manual handling tools can reduce the risk of injury in the workplace. Adopting the belief system that “prevention is better than cure” should be at the forefront of every employers Occupational Health and Safety guidelines.

Providing equipment to assist with manual handling tasks can further help reduce the risks of injury as well.

Stretch regularly

With the demands of the job a vet needs to undertake on a daily basis including manual handling, prolonged standing and sitting requirements and adopting awkward postures , muscles tend to become short and tight. Shortened muscles reduce the range of motion and optimal muscle output.

Adopting a regular stretching protocol at work can assist with restoring muscle range of motion, reduce the likelihood of injury, reduce muscle fatigue and improve muscle function.

Setting up reminders on your computer or iphone can assist in prompting regular stretch breaks throughout the work day. Employers can provide diagrams of stretches specific for the work task requirements that employees can undertake.

Get fit for Work

Participating in regular exercise can help ensure your employees are fit for work. Functional strength training can assist with reinforcing good manual handling techniques at work and improve an employee’s ability to perform those heavier tasks with greater ease. Undertaking regular exercise at least 3-4 times a week has shown to help employees improve their physical ability but also mental health.

Eating Clean

We know if an animal is not provided with the best nutrition it’s not going to be able to function well. The same goes for humans and nutrition is the foundation of health. With the long work hours vets are required to undertake it can be easy to just to grab the fast and unhealthy food option.

When it comes to eating clean, it all comes down to preparation. Packing your lunch and snacks the night before. Shopping to store healthy food options in the fridge at work in case you don’t get a chance to make up your food the night before.

Build employee and team resilience

Engaging employees to work together in the workplace will help build a unified resilient culture. Offering employees incentives like weekly group fitness sessions where they train together and/or quarterly workshops on looking after themselves will help with improving employee relations and morale. A well rounded work-life balance should be encouraged on a regular basis.


Sandy Sher has been working as an Accredited Exercise Physiologist for over 16 years with a wide variety of experience in Personal Training, Group fitness Training, Exercise Therapy and Occupational Rehabilitation. As an Exercise Physiologist, Sandy believes that through the right lifestyle choices and better work practices, we can take a proactive approach to injury management and optimal health. Email: