“The Once and Future Veterinarian”

…. with apologies to T.H. White …..

A long time ago I read a lovely book, it’s just fiction but written in a very gentle and philosophical way. One passage in this book “The Once and Future King” by T.H. White has stayed with me and from time to time acts to give me courage to keep chasing those dreams.  I just love reading it, and next to the Desiderata it’s something that helps me through my darkest times:

“The best thing for being sad,” replied Merlyn, beginning to puff and blow, “is to learn something. That’s the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then — to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the only thing for you. Look what a lot of things there are to learn.”

Based on our extremely diverse undergraduate training and education and the explosion of new knowledge I think about how Veterinarians can contribute to helping the world survive. We are set up to remain as lifelong learners. This is one reason I and my colleagues are so immersed in One Health/Veterinary Public Health now.

If you want to make a difference, as Veterinarians we agree there are opportunities to do this, so retaining a strong network, supporting and encouraging each other can achieve great things.

Here’s a thought:

It has been stated that 30% of all the people in the “Developing World” – whatever that means now – are entirely dependent upon animals for their survival. Given the massive and increasing unrest and tragic events currently unfolding in the Middle East and extending into western countries how can we best look at this from our own perspectives and do something about it? Here’s how I chose to try extending my own education and experience:

As a volunteer working for AusAid, through Australian Volunteers International I was thrilled to be able to be the first veterinarian sent to the south of Jordan for two and a half years from 2012 to 2014 in the role of Veterinary Adviser to the Oryx Conservation Project. The focus of foreign aid back in c2012 was on “Capacity Building”. I knew straight away that Capacity Building is a two-way concept and so, with my previous 20 years’ experience in the Middle East (Riyadh, Saudi Arabia) I was as well-equipped as anyone here to fill this position. What an honour, what a privilege, what an absolute pleasure it all was. To live and work in Aqaba and Wadi Rum, to work every day with the local people there, to be accepted and welcomed into so many Bedouin homes and tents, to help these people cope with the issues surrounding the health and welfare of their animals, as well as to be involved with the ongoing community integration of their wild environment with their own survival was truly amazing. Of course as soon as they knew I was there my wildlife work was not the only thing I was asked to help with. But since wildlife and domestic animals are so closely associated, one affecting the other every day, it was an education for me to see goats, sheep, camels, horses, chickens as well as oryx, ibex, wolves, and to observe the wonderful creatures that shared these beautiful but harsh environments.

Baby Camel with presumed tick paralysisHyalomma ticks found on camelA baby camel, covered with ticks and showing signs of tick paralysis. We managed to save her.





The ticks that were attached to the little camel. Hyalomma dromedarii





How sad all of we volunteers were, the remaining 23 were mainly working in the north with humanitarian aid with the exception of one other who was an ecologist and working alongside me, when our government withdrew all foreign aid to the Middle East and closed our offices in Amman. I admit I still shake my head at the foolishness of this move, and wonder if “saving” $10 million to be used over 3 years was really worth it. Since I have heard that it costs about $5 million every week just to maintain our military presence in the region now.

Whether or not we like it, we have to agree that being a veterinarian is often more about people and communities than it is about individual animal health. This is why I feel strongly about the idea that veterinarians are in dire need of a higher profile across communities, we are perfectly placed to bridge the human/animal interface, especially now when there is so much more emphasis being placed on emerging diseases.

We must become engaged in more than just local animal health, we just need the time and to see these opportunities when they appear. This is part of what we hope to facilitate by establishing veterinarycareers.com.au





The Adventure that is life: or where a Veterinary Degree can take you

People often ask us “When did you decide to become a vet?”

I am sure there are many answers to that question but I suspect I fall into the commonest category – I decided to become a vet when, at about 8 years old, I first found out that such vocations existed.

It happened because I watched with interest when our local vet, the redoubtable Rowan Hickson, calmly pulled a syringe of green liquid from a bottle he held upside down. He then to my great fascination proceeded to inject it into the front leg of our old pet dingo, Danny. Danny had managed to get himself run over yet again – from his addiction to chasing cars – and was paralysed. It was a calm event, we were sad for the dog but he had it coming to him we thought at the time.

How interesting I said to myself, there are doctors for animals. Rowan had come before that day and had treated Danny with some medicine but it was only then for some reason that my primitive brain put two and two together about this.

Having devoted the previous years to learning how to spell “archaeologist” as that was my first chosen vocation I had now to learn how to spell “veterinarian”.

The track to becoming a Veterinarian was not smooth, not that the undergrad part wasn’t great fun – it was the best years of my life. Sadly school before university merely got in the way and wasted my time.

In Australia:

My first years working as a postgrad were spent in Bathurst, NSW, mostly working as a cattle vet and getting to drive helter skelter around the region, lurching often wildly from one calving to another. With retained foetal membrane removals and Strain 19 (Brucellosis) vaccinations in between. They were tough but formative years. The countryside from which I came and where I first worked was nice.

OConnell road NSW

OConnell road NSW

Being interested in “Everything” and eternally hungry for knowledge about natural history has undoubtedly shaped my personal life voyage. Curiously I think, despite often feeling rather limited in how I could learn about, monitor and possibly influence the direction in which this planet is heading, I suspect being a veterinarian has provided me with some powerful tools. At this side of what has been now a post graduate career spanning 40 years I still ask myself how life could have been had I not done this. Not as diverse and adventurous I suspect. So where to from there?

Cheap Energy – is it really?

An Energetic Debate.

Hello colleagues, welcome to my first post in what I hope we will see as a good place for discussion and the sharing of knowledge about how we can add value to our already amazing qualifications.

Its about looking further afield than normal medicine and surgery, but at the same time hanging onto those central philosophies because that is what makes us all veterinarians.

For many years I have looked sideways at my own degrees and been constantly relating what I’ve learned to the world around me.

While the cost of living comfortably has decreased a lot and comfortable living has been made possible to so many more in the world it has not been without further costs to the environment.

My years working as a vet in some of the most under resourced areas imaginable have demonstrated to me the importance of not only improvising but also seeking ways to provide a healthier environment for everybody and every living thing.

Facebook has been a great way to keep informed, as have other social media platforms. I was intrigued to see this one this morning, it might be worth looking at a personal wind turbine idea.

Along with solar panels this might become the norm for new buildings in the future. There are issues with the big windfarm turbines that centre around their effect on local wildlife. Especially bats where in Europe and North America at least there is more data on these issues.

I know that bats are hard to see or even think about but their importance as pollinators and insect pest controllers cannot be underestimated. We are usually unaware of the night time appearance of bats but they are out there in their thousands, sometimes we are lucky enough to see them up close when they come into our houses, like the little fellow I caught in our kitchen one night:

Little Oberon bat 11 (Copy)

The effects of wind turbines on birds are slightly less clear – it is probable that they are not a major cause of bird deaths but this too shouldn’t be discounted:

Its all very well to go to Google where you will find the above links and a plethora of other blogs and publications relating to this subject, I found just 638,000 in my first attempt. How much of this is now published in peer reviewed journals one should ask. If you go to Google Scholar just for a start you will find quite a few, one click on Google Scholar and I found 17,500, with 6,300 publications cited since 2011.

As veterinarians we have a responsibility and a very clear capacity to weigh into these environmental issues. How we find the time to do it is the question, but with better access to social media, support from each other and continuing education that is provided by so many institutions these days we have no real excuse.

At least that’s in my humble opinion!