Connections

Well what a year this has been! When I think back to just over 12 months ago, I had no concept of what the latter part of 2019 and 2020 would hold for me and the VetPrac team. But one thing for sure at the centre of my world and my decision making process has been affinity, generated by human connection and communication.

Through connections and friendships in August 2019, I met the amazing Dr Ilana Mendels, who had decided to sell her beloved VetPrac. Ilana created and ran VetPrac for over a decade and she just felt the time was right to sell her “baby” believing that VetPrac was now a teenager and ready to mature into its next stage of life, under somebody else’s ownership and direction. Ilana is now a firm friend, and we met because she decided to sell her business…I wonder how many people can claim that they started a new friendship with the seller of their new business!!

And since then the connections for me have just kept on flowing. In March we had to rethink and diversify because Covid put our core mission of hands-on workshops to bridge the gap between learning and doing, on hold. So we acquired a Zoom platform, and began our journey into online learning titled “Learn with Margie Clinical Zoom Rounds”. I have been inspired by our Zoom Rounds because they have reconnected me with friends, people I graduated with 30 years ago, and other colleagues, through a shared experience in an environment rich with expertise and knowledge of clinical practice. This has also given me and VetPrac the opportunity to forge new connections and friendships.

In April, I also reconnected with a former student and friend in Canada, and we ended up running a course for Canadian vets, techs and nurses. As part of spreading the word about this course, I reached out to several veterinary bodies in Canada and the USA, including the American Veterinary Technician Association (AVTA). My one off Facebook message to the AVTA set in motion reconnection with a wonderful friend and colleague, Darci Palmer. Darci wears many hats, and one of them is being on the organising team of the Veterinary Anesthesia Nerds Facebook page, which now has over 51,000 followers! Catching up with Darci was like a breath of fresh air as well as a trip down memory lane, because we worked together for 6 years at Washington State University (WSU) in the early 2000’s. We were also pregnant at the same time, which was certainly a topic of much banter in the WSU teaching hospital, with two members of the team walking around with pregnant bellies and wearing obnoxious gas masks! Our sons were born a day apart, and recently they turned 15 in two different hemispheres. The internet, the Zoom platform, and evolving technology has facilitated this reconnection which may have never happened in days gone by.

And my final connection story is about the circuitous journey of my own multiparameter monitor! The University of Queensland team runs a valuable spey/neuter program in collaboration with AMRRIC (Animal Management in Rural & Remote Indigenous Communities) at Cherbourg in October every year. I donated my monitor to this team and this incredibly worthwhile cause to use on an annual basis to facilitate best practice for anaesthesia in this spey/neuter program. When I bought VetPrac in October 2019, I realised that there was a whole lot of potential for using my monitor for demonstrations at in house workshops. So, rather than reneging on the deal, I decided to donate my monitor for 2 weeks a year to the UQ/AMMRIC team.

Then Covid hit.

So my monitor was in lockdown in the Cherbourg community for a number of months. The talented Dr Bonny Cumming, program manager for AMMRIC, picked my monitor up when the restrictions lifted, and a family friend of Bonny’s, Jeannie Barton, delivered the monitor to me in Ipswich.

When I met Jeannie to collect my monitor, she was also connecting with a colleague who is part of her non-profit organisation, “The Loanialu Health Clinic – supporting communities, families and births”: A medical health clinic located in Loanialu, Tanna Island, Vanuatu. Jeannie Barton is a registered nurse and is both founder and director of this clinic. Jeannie and her team raise funds for the clinic by producing, among other things, triple layer facemasks from donated material, made by skilled volunteer seamsters from Ipswich. This has been a really valuable connection for VetPrac. We are placing an order to change all of our masks over to sustainable and reusable ones, which fits with our sustainable mission. At the same time we will be benefiting this non-profit organisation doing very good work, providing medical help and health care to Tanna Island residents in Vanuatu. Just magnificent.

Connection and communication across my life and particularly in the last year, has been a truly extraordinary and uplifting experience. The opportunities I have experienced have been amazing and the human connection has been impressive.

Who have you connected with lately?

Why don’t you share your surprising re-connection story with us?

Night-time noshing

Home late, you missed dinner, and you are just exhausted. But when hunger pangs hit at night, it can be tough to know what to eat. You don’t want to have anything that will make you too full and you want something nourishing.

At home I have a list of things on my fridge to eat, that I know won’t over fill me and are great to eat just before going to bed. I know you might be thinking, why a list on my fridge?

Well, when you are so brain dead from a long day, you aren’t thinking straight, so having the list handy stops me from binging on the open packet of chips, or the block of chocolate in the fridge!

Try some of these yummy nibbles. The nut butter toast is my favourite! 😉

Turkey Roll-Ups: Spread cream cheese on slices of turkey, top them with some thin slices of cucumber, and roll them up (no bread required!).

Warmed Milk: Whether you heat it up in the microwave or on the stovetop, add a dash of cinnamon and honey to make it a tastier treat.

Nut Butter Toasts: Toast one slice of whole wheat bread and smear almond butter or peanut butter on it. Top it with banana slices for an open-faced sandwich.

Crackers and Cheddar: Top your favourite wheat crackers with cheddar slices and eat them with a few fresh apple crescents.

Cereal: Whole grain cereal (think Cheerios, Wheat Chex, Shredded Wheat) with milk is the perfect combination of carbohydrates and protein that’ll make you sleepy. Just avoid cereals that have lots of added sugars, which can add unnecessary calories and potentially keep you awake.

Yogurt Parfait: Take a tall glass and layer plain Greek yogurt, strawberries, sliced almonds, and a small drizzle of honey.

Oatmeal: Whip up a serving of the instant stuff with milk and top it with chopped walnuts and blueberries.

Mozzarella and Seeds: A mozzarella cheese stick pairs well with a handful of toasted pumpkin seeds.

Fruit Smoothie: Blend together spinach, frozen cherries and enough water, almond milk, or plain yogurt to reach a consistency that you like.

Cottage Cheese: This protein-packed dairy food is delicious with a tiny bit of jam on top to give it some sweetness.

Do you have a favourite?

The struggle is real.

Healthy sleep habits can make a big difference to your quality of life and effectiveness during the day. You work all day, then get hit with a huge emergency only to crawl into bed sometime around midnight, or worse, just to get up and do it all again the next day.

Sleep specialists say while you may think you are coping well on less sleep, you’re probably wrong. There is, however, a more sinister problem associated with a lack of sleep that we ignore at our own peril, especially in a profession that is plagued by burnout, compassion fatigue and career exodus. Even low levels of sleep deprivation can begin to affect our emotional function.

One of the first things to be impacted by sleep deprivation are positive emotions. Psychologists and sleep experts say our ability to express and recognise positive emotions in other people suffers when we are not well rested, while resilience to negative emotions and coping strategies concurrently start to fail us.

Of course, it takes more than just a good night sleep to have good emotional well-being. Trying to build coping strategies when you are even moderately fatigued is a bit like trying to have a deep and meaningful conversation with your very drunk friend.

So how can we set ourselves up for a really restful night’s sleep, so we are recharged and ready for a full day of VETTING? Try some of these top tips recommended by the National Sleep Foundation.

# Stick to a sleep schedule of the same bedtime and wake up time, even on the weekends. This helps to regulate your body’s clock and could help you fall asleep and stay asleep for the night.

# Practice a relaxing bedtime ritual. A relaxing, routine activity right before bedtime conducted away from bright lights helps separate your sleep time from activities that can cause excitement, stress or anxiety which can make it more difficult to fall asleep, get sound and deep sleep or remain asleep.

# If you have trouble sleeping, avoid naps, especially in the afternoon. Power napping may help you get through the day, but if you find that you can’t fall asleep at bedtime, eliminating even short catnaps may help.

# Exercise daily. Vigorous exercise is best, but even light exercise is better than no activity. Exercise at any time of day, but not at the expense of your sleep.

# Evaluate your room. Design your sleep environment to establish the conditions you need for sleep. Your bedroom should be cool – between 60 (15.5C) and 67 (19.5C) degrees. Your bedroom should also be free from any noise that could disturb your sleep. Finally, your bedroom should be free from any light. Check your room for noises or other distractions. This includes a bed partner’s sleep disruptions such as snoring. Consider using blackout curtains, eye shades, ear plugs, “white noise” machines, humidifiers, fans and other devices.

# Sleep on a comfortable mattress and pillow. Make sure your mattress is comfortable and supportive. The one you have been using for years may have exceeded its life expectancy, which is about 9 or 10 years for most good quality mattresses. Have comfortable pillows and make the room attractive and inviting for sleep. Ensure the room is free of allergens that might affect you, and objects that might cause you to slip or fall if you have to get up during the night.

# Use bright light to help manage your circadian rhythms. Avoid bright light in the evening and expose yourself to sunlight in the morning. This will keep your circadian rhythms in check.

# Avoid alcohol, cigarettes, and heavy meals in the evening. Alcohol, cigarettes and caffeine can disrupt sleep. Eating big or spicy meals can cause discomfort from indigestion that can make it hard to sleep. Ideally, avoid eating large meals for two to three hours before bedtime. Try a light snack 45 minutes before bed if you’re still hungry.

# Wind down. Your body needs time to shift into sleep mode, so spend the last hour before bed doing a calming activity such as reading. For some people, using an electronic device such as a laptop can make it hard to fall asleep, because the particular type of light emanating from the screens of these devices is activating to the brain. If you have trouble sleeping, avoid electronics before bed or in the middle of the night.

# If you can’t sleep, go into another room and do something relaxing until you feel tired. It’s best to take work materials, computers and televisions out of the sleeping environment. Use your bed only for sleep and sex to strengthen the association between bed and sleep. If you associate a particular activity or item with anxiety about sleeping, omit it from your bedtime routine.

# If you’re still having trouble sleeping, don’t hesitate to speak with your doctor or to find a sleep professional. You may also benefit from recording your sleep in a Sleep Diary to help you better identify and evaluate common patterns or issues you may see with your sleep or sleeping habits.

Are you feeling well rested? Ready to start impacting your resilience, recognising body language, building your communication skills and have a better chance at avoiding burnout and compassion fatigue? Join us online for Vet Talk with Dr Sandra Nguyen.

As a specialist oncologist with a passion and drive for great communication encounters, she knows and has experienced many successes and failures of her own. Sandra is a very humble and down to earth educator and she will most certainly be your ‘Yoda’ on the journey to improving your communication skills with interactive sessions, weekly goals, and a chance to talk through some of your own experiences. Don’t miss out and register today!

The job application process – it’s a little bit scary, a little bit stressful, and a little bit exciting!

Written by Lianne Mellin

The job application process – it’s a little bit scary, a little bit stressful, and a little bit exciting! You’re reaching the end of your studies and realising that now is the time to start applying for jobs, but how do you go about it?

There were many things I asked myself during this process so I thought I’d write about them in order to share my experience in the hopes that it helps you and gives you a bit of clarity!

First up, I think the most important thing you should do for yourself is write down your goals and what you hope to get out of your new job. For me, I know that my passions lie mostly in lifestyle animals (farm animals kept as pets, especially camelids) but I also really want to improve on my surgery skills of both “smallies” and “largies” and develop my ultrasonography skills. For me, this means I want to work as a mixed animal general practitioner. I also know that I, like a lot of new graduates now days, value mentorship immensely. I want to go into a practice with a dedicated mentor and programme to ensure that I am getting the most out of my first year out in practice. Once you know what you want out of a job, you can start searching.

Do you go through recruitment agencies or do you go about searching for jobs yourself?

I think that’s really up to you! If you know of jobs on offer through word of mouth or through working at practices during placement or as a part-time job, by all means, apply directly. Otherwise, if you’re struggling to find job offers yourself, go through recruitment agencies. There are also many different job seeking websites online for you to use. LinkedIn is a great way to show potential employers more about you. Take the time to fill in each of the elements and connect with people you know and/or have worked with in the past. 

Now that you’ve found a job you’re interested in, it’s time to apply… What do you need to have ready?

You’ll need a CV, cover letter and some referees. There are many different CV formats and a lot of information online with recommendations on how to write the best CV for you. Make sure your CV is easy to read. Most of the time employers skim through them, so it’s crucial to have your most important information on the first page. It’s very helpful to have headings and an easy to read layout. The majority of “how to write a good CV” articles I’ve read recommend to ensure your CV is only 2-3 pages long so ensure you are concise but still share how great you are!

I sent my CV to my parents for proof reading, to a trusted lecturer for editing and to my university’s student guidance counsellor for fine-tuning before using it to officially apply for jobs. Most job applications require a cover letter as part of the application. I highly recommend researching the company prior to writing this as it’s your opportunity to show them why you’re a fan of them and why you’d be a great fit. Keep this to one page and really emphasise why you are interested in the role and the company.

For me, I found asking people to be my referee slightly scary and, as it turns out, so did many of my friends!

I was worried that I would be inconveniencing them and I guess I was somewhat worried about being rejected. In the end, I found that just biting the bullet and asking people “straight up” (keeping it professional and polite) was the best way to go about it!Turns out, they’re often excited about being asked. I’d recommend having at least two referees for your application. Sometimes you need to have these at the end of your CV but other times the application process asks for them in a separate section. 

With your application finalised and sent in, all you have to do is wait for an interview! Remember to be yourself when you do have your interview (you will get at least one interview, I’m sure of it). Don’t forget that the practice needs you as much as you need them so stand up for what you believe in and nail it… Good luck.

 

Lianne Mellin
Fifth Year Veterinary Student (BVSc Hons)
The University of Queensland

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Are you game?

Written by Dr Margie McEwen

Did you know that we have created a brand new workshop for veterinary nurses and technicians, as well as veterinarians, called Team Approach to Wound Management?

And, why did we do this?

At this stage it feels like there were many ideas at the core of the creation of this workshop, however there was one foundation idea, and it was up and running before I joined VetPrac in February 2020. The inspiration came from my wonderful colleague and new friend, Janine Irwin. She is a graduate of the UQ Vet Tech program, and incredibly passionate about providing hands-on education to bridge the gap between learning and doing for veterinary technicians and nurses.

While I can’t speak for her exact perspective, I have long been an advocate for techs and nurses, and Janine’s philosophy absolutely resonates with mine. With that as the core foundation for this workshop, we looked to a topic that is inclusive and fascinating, and most importantly represents the veterinary care team.

So “Team Approach” was born!

VetPrac has created a workshop that is designed for the Team, and what better subject to cover than wound management? Whether the wound is surgical or traumatic, wounds and their care, and most importantly the care and welfare of the animals and communication with their owners is absolutely a TEAM mission.

This VetPrac workshop: Team Approach to Wound Management, is not only for you, it’s all about you, and all about your team. It is rich with practicals and tutorials for techs, nurses and vets on wound repair, bandaging, suturing, and managing and handling the wounded pet.

We provide this exceptional education immersed in the Team theme, and we provide you with the tools and experience to enhance your team and improve well-being as well as surgical and treatment outcomes. The goal is for you to complete this workshop and arrive back in your practices ready to really embrace the TEAM, and continue with exceptional veterinary care.

Join me, and the amazing VetPrac team, and our superb hands-on educators, for Team Approach to Wound Management, February 5th – 7th, 2021.

Pre-register here for this exciting workshop

 

Do it in the dark

Recently I was chatting with a fellow vet tech, now working in the imaging field, to find out some of the ins and outs of the technology and care of ultrasound machines.

Aimee Rapone, national sales representative for Medical Plus Australia, is a lovely, down to earth techy with great knowledge and experience in the veterinary industry. After working in Australia, South Africa and the UK, Aimee started with Medical Plus in 2019 and has taken the crocodile by the tail. Aimee is heavily involved in our Melbourne ultrasound workshops and loves guiding the vets around the many functions and buttons of the imaging machines.

 

How long have you been bringing MyLab ultrasound machines to vets across Australia?

Since 1993 Medical Plus has been providing all of Australia and New Zealand with Esaote Mylab ultrasounds.

What are the key benefits of having a MyLab in clinic?

The key benefits of having a Mylab ultrasound is that it provides veterinary specific software, with the highest standard image quality, functionality and reliability. By having a Mylab ultrasound in clinic a veterinarian is able to perform any scan on animals to help either diagnose, review, perform tests and/or collect samples. We have a range of portable ultrasounds available, or trolley based ultrasounds for in clinic use with a big monitor for easy viewing, plus all the different types of transducers/probes and accessories. You also receive local support from Australian based engineers.

In the past 5-10years how has the technology changed for the better? And how does that impact vets and their patients?

The technology has advanced a great deal in the past 5-10 years and is continuing to evolve. Image quality, functionality, workflow and size are all improving. Ultrasounds now provide a much crisper image with smaller probes and systems. This means we have a better selection of probes for veterinarians to use, which makes for easier and faster diagnosis.

How often should vets use ultrasound in their practice?

A veterinarian should perform an ultrasound when they need to investigate a pet’s health whether that is the gastrointestinal tract, glands, lymph nodes, or cardiovascular, musculoskeletal or urogenital systems.  An ultrasound is a non-invasive tool which provides valuable information and could be used daily where appropriate.  

For clinics branching into diagnostic ultrasound, what are the key factors that help determine what they need?

*Have a think about the types of scanning you’d like to do; point of care or emergency type scanning? Or would you like to perform more investigative scans, including echocardigraphs?

*The ultrasound itself can have many and varied capabilities. The appropriate transducers will vary depending on the type of scanning you’d like to do, and your skill set, so you might need to consider taking some continuing education.

*Also, what patients are you treating, and are you planning to use the ultrasound in clinic only, or out in the field as well?

What are your top tips for machine & probe care?

*A dim – dark room will help with visualisation during your scan and keep your patient calmer.

*Ensure the machine is always kept clean and free of dust and animal hair!

*It’s really important to take care with all probe types, especially when performing FNA, (fine needle aspirates) as the probe membrane is quite fragile.

*Store the machine in an appropriate place where it will not get damaged.

*Finally, ensure your studies/images are backed up regularly from the ultrasound.

If your journey into offering ultrasound is on the horizon, have a think about your next step. Or perhaps you have an ultrasound already and want to grow your skills. Although our workshop for 2020 is full you can join our waitlist, here, and be the first to know when the 2021 dates are being released.

VetPrac loves working with Medical Plus, quality products and fantastic people. It’s always a great workshop with them in the mix. See you at the next workshop!

PDA – Mending Eevee’s Broken Heart

Little Eevee, a 21-day old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel pup, was destined to steal everyone’s heart, even as her own little heart was failing her.  Until the amazing team at Veterinary Specialist Services came to the rescue.

They were her knights in shining …… well scrubs.

Eevee’s owners discovered she had a patent ductus arteriosus and was in congestive heart failure and required life-saving surgery. Her owners were not about to give up on her and began the drive from Townsville to VSS Brisbane.

A patent ductus arteriosus (PDA) results when the communication between the aorta and pulmonary artery fails to close shortly after birth. This results in overloading of the left heart and eventual left-sided congestive heart failure. Often a PDA is diagnosed by cardiac auscultation during puppyhood and subsequent echocardiogram. Generally, they can be medically managed until they are big enough for coil placement into the shunting vessel. The ideal body weight for coil placement is 3.5kg.

Eevee weighed only 690 grams.

A literature search revealed that most puppies were aged at around 8 weeks of age and over, but Eevee was only 3 weeks old. The surgical principles remained the same, however, and the owners wanted to give Eevee a chance, despite the risks.

Eevee had an echocardiogram with Dr Brad Gavaghan, one of the wonderful VSS cardiologists, and he agreed there was no way she would survive to the body weight required for a non-invasive coil placement.  Open heart surgery was her only chance of survival.

Surgery was performed by the fantastic surgeons, Dr Wendy Archipow and Dr Abbie Tipler with operating loupes and delicate hands. Dr Brenda Dixon, anaesthetist extraordinaire, was in charge of keeping her alive for the procedure. Our hats go off to you ladies, what a magnificent feat of knowledge and skill.

The VSS team performed a left-sided fourth intercostal thoracotomy and the shunt was located between the pulmonary artery and aorta and ligated with 2-0 Silk. Recovery was uneventful and Eevee was returned to her Mum the next day to continue feeding (she was formula fed for the hospital stay).

                                                   

Eevee had her follow-up echo with Brad; it revealed the PDA was completely ligated with no residual flow and that Eevee should have a normal lifespan. She is no longer in congestive heart failure and has stopped her medications.

We celebrate Eevee’s amazing recovery and applaud this incredible veterinary team!

VetPrac is delighted to have one of these extraordinary surgeons joining us as an educator at the Fix the Face workshop on October 2-4, 2020. Dr Abbie Tipler is not just a great surgeon; she has a passion for teaching as well as performing surgery. In her words, “I absolutely love the thought that I could make a vets’ life easier or inspire them to try something different or learn a new skill.” She also suggests to not let anyone tell you that you can’t do a particular surgery, but pick the right cases with help from more experienced mentors and build gradually.

Indeed, Abbie’s suggestions for learning new surgical skills fit in perfectly with VetPrac workshop’s goal to teach “Practical skills for practical vets”.

Looking for a novel approach to the management of temporary tracheostomies?

Aside

Dr Kat Crosse is looking forward to the VetPrac Fix the Face workshop  in October 2-4, 2020, where she will have an opportunity to discuss with workshop participants the pros and cons of using a cool tracheostomy device that is set to replace tracheostomy tubes, and may revolutionise tracheostomies with better outcomes for our patients. Kat is a Senior Lecturer in Companion Animal Surgery at Massey University, New Zealand, and in her spare time is doing a PhD working towards understanding the welfare, anatomical and physiological challenges faced by brachycephalic breeds.

 

Silicone tracheal stoma stent (flesh tunnel). Annotated picture of 10-mm silicone tracheal stoma stent. Length, inner flange, outer flange, flange size, inner diameter and outer diameter are marked.
Photo courtesy of Journal of Small Animal Practice 2014; 55: 551–559.

Temporary airway diversion by means of a tracheostomy is commonly employed as a means of alleviating severe episodes of upper airway obstruction. A study by Nicholson and Baines published in 20121 reported a complication rate of 86% in dogs undergoing temporary tracheostomy and unsuccessful tracheostomy tube management resulted in death in 19% of the dogs included in that study. The potential for displacement of the tube and obstruction with tracheal secretions means that successful outcome relies on intensive management to provide regular nebulisation, flushing, suctioning and cleaning (Nicholson & Baines 20102).

 

Postoperative complications reported to occur with conventional tracheostomy tubes include obstruction, dislodgement, swelling of the stoma site, gagging, coughing, vomiting, subcutaneous emphysema, pneumomediastinum, respiratory distress, aspiration pneumonia, pneumothorax, haemorrhage and sinus bradycardia (Harvey & O’Brien 19823, Hedlund et al, 19884).

 

Silicone tracheal stoma stents (flesh tunnels) provide a novel approach to the management of temporary tracheostomy in dogs with upper airway obstruction, and may in selected cases provide a suitable alternative to conventional tracheostomy tubes. The tracheal stoma stent appears to be relatively easy to insert and may result in a more stable fit within the trachea than conventional tracheostomy tubes. The point of difference for these stents is that they do not occupy the tracheal lumen. They provide instead, improved visualisation of the trachea via the short, straight lumen of the stent, which may facilitate easy cleaning and removal of mucoid plugs.

 

Tracheal stoma stent sutured in place. The tracheal stoma stent has been sutured to the skin with horizontal mattress sutures. Photo courtesy of Journal of Small Animal Practice 2014; 55: 551–559.

Flesh tunnels are silicone stents used to maintain the patency of body piercings and have long been used as a form of jewellery in humans; they are designed as hollow tubes with flanges at each end. Flesh tunnels are comparatively inexpensive and are readily available from body jewellery suppliers in sizes ranging from 4 to 50 mm in diameter.

 

Longer-term use (>5 days) of flesh tunnels cannot be recommended because of granulation tissue formation, and conversion to a permanent tracheostomy is advised if a dog is tracheostomy dependent beyond this time.

 

If you’re keen to learn more about this novel approach before VetPrac’s Fix the Face Workshop in October, Kat has provided a great journal article which describes a group of 18 dogs that were managed with these silicone tracheal stoma stents.

 

In the meantime, Kat suggests always rereading this article before you attempt it! She also recommends having a lot of sizes and finding soft obturators as they need to be squashed/ folded to get them in.

 

Kat can be contacted at k.crosse@massey.ac.nz

 

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  1. Nicholson, I. & Baines, S. Complications associated with temporary tracheostomy tubes in 42 dogs (1998 to 2007). Journal of Small Animal Practice 2012; 53: 108-114

  2. Nicholson, I. & Baines, S. J. Indications, placement and management of tracheostomy tubes. In Practice 2010; 32: 104.

  3. Harvey, C. E. & O’Brien, J. A. Tracheotomy in the dog and cat: analysis of 89 episodes in 79 animals. Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association 1982; 18: 563-566

  4. Hedlund, C. S. et al. Permanent tracheostomy: perioperative and long-term data from 34 cases. Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association 1988; 24: 585-591

The Power of our Veterinary Community

It has taken me a while to process the SBS Insight program on “Veterinary Care” (1). I guess the thing that really struck me about this panel of veterinarians, and the engaged audience, is that our profession is finally coming out from behind a cloak of whispers where we have failed to talk openly about the suicide rate in our profession, and even more importantly what are we going to do about it.

 

Since I took my big career leap into business as Director of VetPrac, from working in academia for over 20 years, I have met some incredibly passionate and brilliant people with energy and enthusiasm for the veterinary profession that is second to none. During a recent and very collaborative discussion about our profession, retention rates and mental health problems, I was reminded of the devastating statistic that the majority of recent graduates only stay in the profession for fewer than 6 years (2), approximately one year for each year of education. For various reasons, most young vets make the decision to leave behind the profession that they have been dedicated to for years of their young lives.

 

Now I’m taking a leap of faith here because I am going to assume that we all embrace the idea of people making “another decision”, and indeed I have done this myself. Some may argue that this is a symptom of today’s world, in which people are not tied to a single career
for their working lives, and mobility is prized. Is this really the case?  Are young veterinarians leaving the profession with a skip in their step to embrace their next career challenge? Or is it possible that some young veterinarians are leaving the profession because they are heartily disappointed with their careers and probably themselves, and they want to escape as a measure of self-preservation? Are the expectations they had for this career simply not fulfilled? We must remember that some of the greatest disappointments in our lives come from unfulfilled expectations.

 

I also agree with the veterinarians on the SBS Insight Veterinary Care program that the problem is multifactorial. I believe that in order to begin to address this problem we have to go back to the very beginning, to the recruitment process, and look at what key characteristics people need to lead a fulfilled and long life as a veterinarian. One of these characteristics, resilience, is essential for an individual to achieve a successful, happy, and fulfilled life as a veterinarian. A few years ago, I learned a very important truth that resilience is not something you have or don’t have; it’s a continuum. It’s multifaceted and as dynamic as a human being. Resilience is a process rather than a trait, where individuals demonstrate the capacity to draw on personal and contextual resources, and utilise specific strategies in order to navigate challenges and work towards adaptive outcomes (3). This insight opens the door to opportunity, because people can be informed and educated about resilience, and we can also teach resilience. This is by no means a glib solution; however, it makes sense to identify an individual’s resilience process and include resilience education as part of a well-designed and multifaceted approach to managing the retention and mental health problems that are sadly a part of our veterinary profession.

 

Another reflective surface that cannot be ignored a moment longer is that we have to listen to the employers of our graduate veterinarians, and all veterinary professionals. I mean really listen to them and not just pay lip service to their advice, extensive knowledge and ongoing experience. The answers lie within the practising profession, we just have to listen and take action.

 

Finally, we have to educate the public about who we are, and what it takes to get to a point where we can stand with them and their livestock or pets on a farm or in a consulting room so that we can provide exemplary veterinary care. It is our job right now to educate, and create understanding and appreciation. Knowledge is power, and once the general public understands what it is to be a veterinarian, they will collaborate with us, and become our partners in their journey with their pets, and this will lift us all up with respect and honour.

 

VetPrac’s aspirational core value of “people first”, created and brought into being by Dr Ilana Mendels over a decade ago, is at the heart of all our workshops for veterinary professionals so that they can bridge the gap between learning and doing. Putting people first inspires our business, guides our response and communication, and reaches out to all our veterinary community. We are part of the retention solution; we care for and support veterinarians in all aspects of their work. The people of the veterinary future are worth every step we take, and every learning opportunity we create. Together we can build a stronger industry and community. 

 

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Reference

  1. https://www.sbs.com.au/news/insight/tvepisode/veterinary-care.
  2. Lincoln Institute Survey
  3. Mansfield C.F., Beltman S., Broadley T., Weatherby-Fell N. (2016) Building resilience in teacher education: An evidence informed framework. Teaching and Teacher Education, vol. 54, pp. 77-87.

Prefer talking to your patients than their owners??? You are certainly not alone!

Aside

Dr Sandra Nguyen will be leading a VetPrac online course, Vet Talk, which will help you become more confident in your ability to communicate well with your clients.

Dr Sandra Nguyen achieved Diplomate status of the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine in Oncology in 2010, but for many years prior to this enjoyed communicating well with pet owners. Sandra’s passion for effective communication began during her high school years; one of her favourite subjects was drama, and if she hadn’t become a veterinarian she probably would have tried to become an extra on Neighbours! She became actively involved in the formal process of teaching these skills when working at Ohio State University.

I spoke to Sandra to learn more about her thoughts on this often-ignored skill that is an essential tool in day to day veterinary practice.

 

At what point of your veterinary career did you realise the importance of communication in veterinary practice? Was it a particular clinical case that prompted you to undergo special training in communication?

I realised when I was working in vet clinics even before university that I didn’t just love the animals, I loved the people that came with them too. I like hearing their story, and being a part of the connection they have with their pet. I didn’t realise communication was actually a thing until after my residency training at Cornell, and I’d started work on faculty at the Ohio State University (OSU). They were actually teaching their students core communication skills within the veterinary course and building a foundation of knowledge around communication. All I had seen before was learning through experience, other’s experiences, and role play.

I could see the enormous benefit that understanding communication had for our clients at OSU in terms of their understanding and trust, and how this transferred benefits to the patient. The students were also much better equipped to deal with those tough conversations we have to have so often in practice, which has made me realise that communication is also a vital part of a vet’s job satisfaction.

In your opinion, do undergraduate vet students receive adequate training in communication before entering the workforce as veterinarians? What advice would you give recent graduates who feel their communication skills need improvement?

The training has improved immensely over the last decade, but I think the impact that communication has on our daily lives is still underestimated.

Communication should be considered to be another clinical skill we need to develop. And as with any other clinical skill, reading, attending CE, practicing and then taking on feedback about the outcome is the best way to improve your communication.

 

In your opinion, what makes a great workplace?

Collegiality is a big one for me: where we are all united in a common purpose, and respect each other’s abilities to work toward that purpose.

Our jobs can be both incredibly rewarding and stressful – the highs are high, and the lows are low. A great work place is one where that stress can be shared and minimised and the highs can be celebrated and expanded.

Thanks Sandra, for sharing your insights into the benefits of effective communication in the veterinary profession. Why not invest a little time in improving your communication skills, by enrolling in the VetPrac online course, Vet Talk, commencing Tuesday August 18th, 2020.

Sandra can be contacted at  Sandra.Oncvet@gmail.com or 0481458361

Website:  www.yourconversationcounts.com