Unreal Veterinary Careers! Dr Ilana Mendels from VetPrac

Today we get to hear from one of my favourite young veterinary entrepreneurs – Dr Ilana Mendels…

Thanks for your time today Ilana – so may I ask…

  1. What are you working on at the moment?

At the moment, I am working on the plans for 2017:

So far we’ve got:

– Stifle Surgery Workshops

– Orthopaedic Training (Shoulder and Pelvic Surgery)

– Soft tissue workshops (Head and Neck, Perineal and Abdominal Surgery)

– Bootcamp Practical Essentials (3 days of ECC, Dentistry and Laparotomy – a Practical Extravaganza)

– Wellness and Success Training

– Difficult Discussion Training

– Equine Lameness

– Abdominal Ultrasound

– Intermediate Ultrasound Techniques

– Dentistry for Small Animals

– Personalised Programs for Larger Practice Groups

– Annual International Surgical Delegation from Japan

I’m also growing a human right now… eep!


Prof. Christine Zink and Ilana at the Canine Sports Medicine Workshop

  1. What drives you?

The idea that for good things to happen we have to be the active drivers of positive change and development. And that when we light a spark that inspires change others will hopefully add to it.

Also, no matter what – every day is chance to start again.

  1. What have been the major transitions in your path?

Tough question!

Getting people to join in is the biggest challenge:

We have not had one person in over 1400 participants in 5 years walk away without learning useful tools for practicing better self-care and animal health care. It’s funny to me that some people still haven’t heard of VetPrac! Still if 10% of the vet community have been positively affected by what we do, then that’s really exciting for us…
Finding the right help at the right time adjusts how effective we can be:

We get lots of good ideas, and we need partners in training and educators who have the right skill set to be involved. It’s not a one-woman show, by any means. A workshop for 30 people usually has an education team of about 8 on site and a lot of resources involved to ensure it has a lasting positive effect on the participants’ experience.

Ethical and WHS considerations are a big transformer:

It’s been important at VetPrac that our workshops are in line with Australian ethical standards. This has stopped us from running some workshops in more convenient settings sometimes and overseas. It has stopped us from doing some training in certain fields too. And it costs a lot more money to be ethical. I think we have a good balance at the moment in Australia. Not sure how long it will last… we are a considerate nation. Being involved in these conversations has been really interesting.

  1. What goals are you working towards?

I am working on constructive veterinary solutions to advance animal health in association with other similarly minded professionals.

I would like general practice veterinarians in Australia, NZ and SE Asia to be empowered with stronger skill sets that are valued by their communities and for this to set in motion a chain of respect and integrity within and for our community that makes us valued consultants, employees and employers across different fields. I would like that empowerment to influence our professional culture so we can be protected against the drivers of disillusionment, depression and suicide.


I’m working towards being a better business woman and better people manager.

I’m working (with my partner) towards becoming a mother and a wife.

I’m working towards returning to clinical practice myself as soon as possible after the birth of my child

I’m working towards practicing mindfulness daily, and remembering to take breaks, and catch up with friends as often as I can, which is really hard in this day and age!

  1. What advice would you provide a younger you?

Oh boy… Where to start?

Go for every dream you want, but please… try to space them out a little so you have some time to adjust. You will live a very fruitful life if you want it. Make a fruit-salad, not a smoothie of life so you can taste the flavours!

Trust yourself. If something feels uneven, it will be somewhere… Take a step back when that happens, don’t be fooled by what your eyes see or what people tell you, if you get that funny feeling. If you look for it, you will find the source and be able to fix it, if you want to… Let yourself be bothered.

Ask as many questions as you need to, of as many people as you need to, to gain understanding about anything. You never know where it will lead and who you will meet. Curiosity is the bridge across naivety and frustration and patience is the virtue that allows things to unfold gracefully.

Make fear your friend. Learn to listen to it, and teach it to walk next to you on every adventure you go on. It will keep you safe, from over confidence and external pressures. And be adventurous, really adventurous!

Only work with people who want to work with you. Know what your role is, and do it well. Get training to do your job better. If you can’t do these 3 things stand up for yourself and get out of the situation as fast as you can. People who speak to you badly, probably speak to themselves badly too so be kind to yourself and to others.

Well done for taking advantage of every chance to dance in the moonlight, the x-ray room and the random cafe’s that play good music. Well done for running through the rain barefoot and taking time with friends and family. Well done for loving deeply and openly. Well done for laughing when you could have cried… And crying when you needed it too. Even whole days spent in front of the television have been good. You’re living a good life… 😉

From removing pre-molars to building a business… As Dory says “Just keep swimming” You’ll get there in the end, and it will all be fine… I promise.



Emma: Thanks Ilana 🙂








Unreal Veterinary Careers! – An interview with Dr Brian McErlean…

A champion of veterinarians, who demonstrates his commitment to and concern for the welfare of our colleagues, Brian McErlean has kindly consented to sharing some of his thoughts:

1. What are you working on at the moment?
At 61 years of age my semi-retirement life is stress free and varied which is quite different from clinical practice. Currently I am working on a month long trip to South Africa and Botswana with a colleague. We plan to spey dogs for 10 days in Maun on the Okavango Delta as part of a rabies control program run by Worldwide Veterinary Service. When I get back, rabid and malarial, I will be joining the board of a royalties company that administers trust funds for a large aboriginal mission in the Pilbara with 20,000 cattle. My other part time job is veterinary surgeon’s board inspector in WA which keeps me busy with the handcuffs for 2 months each year. I also will be on the speaking circuit educating veterinarians and students on mental health, suicide prevention and the benefits of positive psychology. The highlight each year is the trip to the City University of Hong Kong ( HK) where they get me to give an annual slow talk to veterinary practitioners as part of CVE. I am also a director in two hobby style investment companies which keeps my interest in economics alive and stimulates my brain in bright company. Voluntary work comes from being a Trustee of the AVA Benevolent Fund and working with some great veterinarians with great attitude.

2. What drives you?
I get bored and restless very easily and having hatched from an extrovert egg, the only path is way out there. I guess anyone that has gone through veterinary college, run a busy practice and reared a family is a driven person or resides in an asylum. Variety keeps me going. I play golf badly every Friday, something that saved my sanity when in practice, and have just taken up oil painting as the latest hobby. Failure is a speedbump and I just keep going.

3. What have been the major transitions in your path?
I left Ireland on a one way ticket to California in 1981 and looked at job opportunities in the US and Canada before arriving in Sydney and buying a $400 car. It survived the trip to Perth with the help of a school pal who knew what was under the bonnet. There were no jobs in Perth and I started in the North West and eventually ended up in Bullsbrook outside Perth. It is best known for its RAAF air force base and night flying which shook the kennels and the patients but kept the drugs in suspension. The next major transition was going from 2 years of working on my own to growing a great practice with the help of many talented partners and having a life. Fatherhood and the advent of P platers was also a transition for the best and my two boys have left home and are happy and well adjusted. The next transition was giving up practice at 56 and walking away to unemployment initially but life has now given me a stress free zone full of interesting work. I hope the final transition is some way off and that my ashes are used wisely by my wife.

4. What goals are you working towards?
Happiness and success in everything I apply myself to. It is also critical to stay healthy in mind and body in the last trimester of life. My central goal is to be an artist as I think that is the best way to go out. Van Gogh sold one painting in his life time and departed insane so the prognosis is guarded.

5. What advice would you provide a younger you?

  • Don’t worry about things you cannot change including babies nappies.
  • I worried too much about veterinary things that I could not change e.g. the Rottweiler with parvovirus on a drip in the veterinary hospital at night, in the days before emergency hospitals. Yes there were occasional deaths in custody in ancient times and lots of explaining to do.
  • The energy devoted to worrying should be diverted to problem solving.
  • Nothing succeeds like persistence but try and find jobs and hobbies you really like doing. If you hate your job leave it and the sooner you do, the happier you will be.
  • The biggest decision in life is who you marry and not your career or wealth and…….. she is always right. I tell my boys this.
  • Be nice to everyone and praise their good deeds and doors will open. Always talk to other people you meet about themselves!
  • If you want to make money, buy an index fund, leave it there for 40 years and only spend the dividends!
  • You can’t do life on your own no matter how smart you think you are.


Who are your veterinary heroes?

James Herriot

James Herriot

Who inspires you in the vet world? (and have you thought about why they do?)

When I decided to become a vet I was reading texts on equine exercise physiology like they were penny-spend romance novels … I couldn’t get enough of fast and slow twitch muscle fibrils, the amazing ATP and its counterpart ATP~ase, the scintillating process of using long slow track work to increase glycogen usage and train muscles to use as energy the nasty by-product (lactic acid) of a sprint. I was virtually glowing with information (and driving my horse course lecturers insane with questions above and beyond what they had decided they would know an teach in the 12 month course).  To meet Professor Rose and (now) Prof Hodgson when I was accepted to Sydney University was just the bees-knees! To me they held nearly a celebrity status. I wanted to know what they knew, I wanted to forge new scientific knowledge and I admit – I may have held onto a short lived dream of being the first female race trainer to win the Melbourne Cup (thanks for nothing Sheila Laxon 😉 ).

However what sealed the ‘becoming a vet’ deal with me was the first outbreak of Hendra virus that occurred as I  was finishing up my 3 year equine science degree. What was this fascinating and devastating unknown disease that held the attention of the horse owners across the country, cutting directly through the barriers of the many and varied parts of the newly named ‘horse industry’ (albeit in its primitive state). From pony clubbers to the thoroughbred elite the news held us all amazed, shocked and terrified as the scientists started to give us new information. I wanted to know who these scientists were and how I could help, I wanted to be them – working on unraveling such important and cutting edge answers.  I REALLY wanted to find out answers and be part of a solution, this fired me up and drove me – my passion for knowledge saw me hurdle the fear of applying for a second (rather large) degree and getting stuck into vet school. For me I liked the idea of finding answers to something so big and dangerous, it was different to my Melbourne Cup dream of ‘being famous’  – it was doing work that mattered, of  using science to find hidden answers. Now those who know me know I actually don’t work in a lab – or nor have I won any horse races (yet!) – but I am happy in my career and excited about my future in it.

So what drives you? Is it the same thing today that inspired you to become a vet? or have you, like me, grown and changed with experience and are finding that different things are driving you now? Who were your Childhood heroes – was James Herriot one? Did you do vet ‘because of’ James Herriot?’ I remember nearly all the first year vet class raising their hand in answer to that one. What is it about these people that caught our attention and inspired us? What is it about us that made us so taken by them and the work that they do. Did your dreams become your reality and then have they they shifted with experience and as more doors opened?