Meet Advanced Clinical Prize Winner Dr Melanie Catanchin

As this article goes to press, the Australasian veterinary profession welcomes many enthusiastic graduates from the class of 2018. Even though their formal university education has been completed, their veterinary education and development of life skills are really just beginning. Each year VetPrac awards the VetPrac Advanced Clinical prize to a veterinary graduate from Charles Sturt University. This prize can be used as payment for any VetPrac workshop the recipient chooses to attend. Dr Melanie Catanchin was the recipient back in 2015; she has decided to use the prize at the Vetprac abdominal ultrasound workshop in March 2019.

Melanie has packed a lot into her first 3 years of veterinary practice. Despite jumping into an internship immediately after graduation, Melanie has survived the initial challenges of being a new graduate in a busy tertiary referral hospital. She loves working as a vet, but also realises the importance of achieving a healthy balance between work and life.

Let’s get to know Melanie and her insights into the best ways of negotiating the curve balls often thrown to vets in their first few years of veterinary practice.

You graduated nearly 3 years ago. Where are you working?

“I’m currently working at two busy Emergency and Critical Care centres in the northern suburbs of Perth, Western Australia, and loving it!”

How did you find the transition from veterinary student to working as a new graduate vet?

“It was a challenge, particularly going straight from vet school into an internship at a busy tertiary referral hospital.  The most challenging aspect for me personally, was navigating the murky political waters of a large veterinary hospital.  As a new graduate you are busy refining yourself as a clinician and figuring out client communication, whilst working out where exactly you fit in the workplace.   I believe the most important thing is finding a supportive work environment which works for you, suiting your work-life balance and your clinical ethos – a place that celebrates your strengths and nurtures your weaknesses.  Another crucial thing we often forget is that being a new grad is TOUGH, and it’s okay to cry when a case you’ve worked on all week doesn’t make it or it takes you a long time to do a spey because it’s been ages since your last one.  What got me through my new grad year was my incredible support network of dear friends, family, colleagues and my non-vet partner.”

As a new graduate, what are the things you wish you’d paid more attention to at uni which seem so important now?

“Physiology by far! Probably a pretty common answer, but we covered these crucial subjects in year 2 of our 5.5 year degree and I can’t emphasise enough how important they are for every, single day in practice.  If you forget the mode of action of pimobendan, or need to remember what a mast cell tumour looks like, a quick Google or textbook search can get your answer. Renal or respiratory physiology isn’t easy to get your head around even at the best of times, let alone when you have a patient in front of you that needed its treatment plan sorted yesterday!”

Was there anything you wanted more of at uni, but simply couldn’t learn because there wasn’t the time?

“Definitely would have loved more avian and small mammal medicine! Bird and small mammal ownership are on the rise and let’s face it, who wouldn’t want to learn more about these gorgeous critters!?”

Do you feel that you received adequate training at university in building client relationships?

“Yes.  For the last two years of vet school at CSU, the majority of our teaching occurs in a Problem Based Learning (PBL) format.  Each semester we were assigned to groups of 6 – 8 students and were presented with a case to work through in a progressive disclosure format.  PBL fosters team-work, positive communication and building new relationships – some of my best friends from vet school I met through the PBL process!”

What advice would you give final year vet students preparing for practice?

Invest in your relationships – both vet and non-vet – these people will help get you through the tough road ahead.  Do your research on your first job, ask around, ask your teachers, ask former/current employees, or better yet, spend some time there so you get an idea of the workplace culture before you commit.  Finally, have fun and enjoy your time left as a student, soak up as much knowledge as you can and most importantly, remember that it’s just a job.”

If you could ask any 3 questions of any vets of any qualification anywhere – what would they be?

 1. Why vet?

 2. What do you do to help you switch off from ‘vetting’?

 3.  If you could have one wish, what would it be?”

As a recipient of the VetPrac Advanced Clinical Prize, which VetPrac workshop do you plan to attend, and why did you choose this workshop?

“I’m thrilled to be attending the Abdominal Ultrasound workshop in Melbourne next year.  Since starting work in Emergency and Critical Care, I have found ultrasonography to be extremely useful in working up my cases. Unfortunately, I’m not very good at it! I hope this workshop can help me provide a better service to my patients.”

What are your plans for the next 12 months for work and life?

At the moment I’m loving my life in beach-side Perth and enjoying the thrill of the emergency room where no day is ever boring or the same.  My career will eventually lead back to anaesthesia, however, my plan at the moment is to enjoy life, and to work to live, rather than live to work.  You only get one life, so make it a great one :)”

If you’re a new graduate looking to further your professional education, check out our 2019 training schedule. There are online workshops such as the New Graduate Mentoring Program, High Achievers and VetTalk, as well as practical skills workshops in Endoscopy, Fracture Repair and Advanced Stifle Surgery (TPLO).

Written by Alison Caiafa

Meet Dr Rich Burchell

As a kid, Dr Richard Burchell was often told that “curiosity killed the cat”! He was always possessed of an immense curiosity and was thus attracted to academia where he could be involved in solving problems and challenging existing dogma and playing a small role in advancing the discipline of veterinary science. Let’s get to know a little more about Dr Richard Burchell, or Rich as he likes to be called.

You’ve experienced veterinary practice and teaching at universities in South Africa, New Zealand and Australia (Townsville). What was the main reason you left South Africa for New Zealand, and more recently, Townsville in Queensland, Australia?

“We left South Africa mainly for personal reasons and moved to New Zealand for a new adventure. I had a wonderful time at Massey, and was fortunate to have been quite productive there. I moved to James Cook University because I felt that being a young school, and relatively small that there was tremendous potential to make a real impact there, and felt there are many opportunities.”

How would you compare the lifestyles in these 3 countries, and the demographics of the veterinary students at Pretoria, Massey, and James Cook University?

“There are a lot of similarities between the three countries, all are sports mad and people tend to enjoy the outdoors and tend to be quite laid back. Being African, nothing can compare to Africa’s natural beauty to me, and its majestic landscapes and a breathtaking array of fauna and flora. It also has a wonderful climate and is extremely culturally diverse which makes it an interesting place to live. New Zealand is basically like one big garden, and one almost gets sensory overload from all of the natural beauty because there are a limited number of adjectives to describe the relentless verdant splendor! The only drawback for we African children was the sun was a bit anaemic for us, since we tend to be solar powered!

As far as Australia goes, I grew up with crocodile Dundee and in the Warne, Waugh, McGrath era, and so I pictured Australia as hot, flat, full of flies and filled with people who beat you at cricket and then rub your noses in it! I guess that era of sporting dominance portrayed Aussies as domineering and a touch arrogant. However, nothing could be further from the truth; Australia is ineffably beautiful and diverse – and the people are warm, welcoming, have a self-deprecating humor and we felt instantly at home here. We are also constantly amazed by the astounding fauna and flora, and the sheer vastness of the place. In addition, we relish the return of the sun!

In terms of the institutions and students, it has continually struck me how similar veterinary students are across institutions and countries. The University of Pretoria Faculty of Veterinary Science is enormous, with enviable infrastructure and facilities, and is a relatively modern building. It is also a separate campus, and so the vet school is entirely self-contained, which has the advantage of having dedicated facilities, but the disadvantage of missing out on interdisciplinary cross-pollination that can occur when faculties are close together. Massey and James Cook University, are much smaller and are younger schools, and so they are still growing and developing, and both schools strive to produce good all-round generalist vets – or rural practitioners. I found that most UP graduates tend to want to branch into small or large animal practice or specialise, whereas most Massey and JCU grads want to work in mixed practices. Aside from that, most vet students are the same. They tend to be motivated by passion and compassion and are diligent and conscientious. I am concerned that as veterinary educators we perhaps don’t place enough emphasis on veterinary professional mental health, mindfulness and coping with burnout, and this is across all of the institutions I have taught at.”

In your own words, what is it about small animal gastrointestinal endoscopy that you find interesting and that you believe general practitioners would benefit from learning from and performing better?

“In order to continue to love what we do, we need to feel like we are growing and progressing as clinicians. Endoscopy, done properly, is fun and rewarding. This is especially true of foreign body removal, and particularly in the oesophagus, where you know that if you have removed a foreign body, you have spared the patient of an open chest procedure. In addition, I think many of us feel that we want to see veterinary practice become more non (less)-invasive, and although an exploratory laparotomy is an invaluable diagnostic tool, we would like to feel like we can offer more sophisticated, lower morbidity procedures. Furthermore, it enhances the profile of your practice and you as a practitioner if you are able to offer advanced diagnostics. Lastly, the ability of endoscopy to record the study is a massive advantage for medical record keeping, in comparison to laparotomies where there tends to be no visual record.”

What have you learned from experience that you didn’t learn from a textbook? What practical advice would you offer fellow vets?

“This is difficult to summarise in a paragraph. Textbooks are wonderful resources, but they follow organ systems approaches, whereas practitioners are confronted with syndromes that often span organ systems, for example pu/pd which can be endocrine, renal, hepatic or even neurological. Textbooks also struggle to highlight key differences between diseases with similar presentations, and so often one has a condition that you can link to several disease processes because of overlapping clinical findings. So, I have learned to try and identify consistent findings, or patterns of abnormalities that are key differences between different disease processes. In other words, what makes this disease unique?

The other thing I learned through experience is: 80% of diagnostics is hidden in the history and physical examination and,

Look at your patient, not the numbers.”

What advice would you give new graduates?

Personally: Look after yourself, and don’t neglect your relationships. When the chips are down, who is it that is there for you? It’s definitely not your job, it’s your loved ones.

Professionally: 1) your first job doesn’t define you. Too many vet grads are stressed about finding the perfect first job. Get a job and start working to find out what you like and don’t like. 2) Be prepared to move around a bit until you find a position that suits your abilities and passions. 3) Try to learn something new every day, and try to make each case (apart from routine vaccinations) a learning experience. It’s called practice because we are constantly refining our skills and knowledge. 4) Don’t become “textbook thumpers” who berate others with a shaking fist on the one hand and a textbook in the other. Knowledge is dynamic, changing and mutable. Be open-minded and humble, because in 5 years’ time a treasured drug may have been shelved or a treasured physiological concept debunked! As vets we should be a composite of knowledge, experience and pragmatism.”

What do you like to do for fun?

“I mostly enjoy spending time with my wife and kids, but we all enjoy the outdoors, especially hiking, road-tripping, bird watching and finding nice places to swim – where there aren’t any crocodiles or venomous creatures! “

How do you spend your days off?

“Having children there aren’t many of those, but I like to get out of the house and spend some time exploring the natural beauty our surroundings. On lazy days I like to read or rediscover old classic comedies like Blackadder, the thin blue line and two Ronnies.”

Interested in sharing some of Rich’s curiosity and learning about small animal gastrointestinal endoscopy? Register for the VetPrac Small Animal Gastrointestinal Endoscopy Workshop at Gatton on February 21-22, 2019.

Dr Richard Burchell can be contacted at
Phone: +61402540765
Address: 1 Solander Drive, Douglas, Townsville

Written by Alison Caiafa

VetTips: Gastrointestinal Endoscopy

Dr Richard Burchell lends us an insight into how to effectively undertake Gastrointestinal Endoscopy in the clinic.

Tip 1: Know your equipment

Understanding exactly how your equipment works, and what its capabilities are will greatly enhance your endoscopy capabilities. Many novice endoscopists are unfamiliar with the various controls of their equipment and have a limited understanding of what it can do. This is analogous to using a smartphone for text and calls only – it negates the purpose of having the device. Learn to know what all the buttons and channels on your scope are and you will greatly improve the endoscopic experience!

Tip 2: Planning, Planning, Planning!

There is nothing more frustrating than suddenly having to rummage through cupboards or under tables for those biopsy forceps or grasping instruments that you suddenly realize you need during the procedure. It helps to have an endoscopic team, with a vet nurse who is fully conversant with the endoscopic procedures and intuitively knows what you will need. This requires meticulous pre-procedural planning, especially in the beginning when you are learning endoscopy.

Tip 3: Preparation!

Similar to the above, a stomach full of food, or a colon full of faeces makes endoscopy frustrating and unrewarding, and it simply becomes a chore. Make sure that you are greeted by a clutter-free gastrointestinal tract by ensuring that your patients are adequately prepared. It helps to admit these patients 24-48hours before the procedure to achieve adequate planning. You also need to plan for and discuss complications such as oesophageal rupture post foreign body retrieval, and it helps to discuss the possibility of stomach tube placements with the clients. When you are well prepared and plan well it conveys a sense of professionalism to your staff and impresses your clients.

If you’d like to develop your skills in gastrointestinal endoscopy, join us in Gatton, February 21 – 22nd 2019 for a two-day workshop. There are very few opportunities to learn like this. With 9-hours of practice time including a live dog prac, and superb quality equipment you will work with exceptional educators to master your skills and help your patients get better.

The workshop is filling quick! Register TODAY before it’s too late. For more information, head HERE to read the brochure.