All creatures great and small: a vet's tale

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Veterinary Scientist Dr Mark Lawrie shows that studying veterinary science can lead to a broad range of exciting and different careers.

I feel incredibly blessed to have been trained as a veterinarian in Australia. It has afforded me so many opportunities, allowing me to have had multiple careers without leaving the one discipline or profession. For those who have the academic, financial and other capabilities to do so, take a serious look at veterinary science.

In my final year as the National President of the Australian Veterinary Association I was fortunate to address the students of the University of Queensland, who had just moved to their new campus at Gatton. I asked the Freshers (year one) who were entering a veterinary school lecture theatre for their first time to look at the people that were sitting around them, who they were meeting for the first time that day. It struck me and I said to them: “These people you have just met will be your lifelong friends. These will be the people who will attend your funeral.”

Macabre though it may be, it reflects 
the close-knit community of veterinarians 
in Australia and New Zealand. The camaraderie and collegiality they have is a priceless additional benefit beyond the amazing knowledge and skills acquired by studying veterinary science. My travels throughout the world have shown me that although there is a special bond between the veterinarians that have studied in Australasia, it is also a global phenomenon.

All creatures great and small

“My travels throughout the world have shown me that although there is a special bond between the veterinarians that have studied in Australasia, it is also a global phenomenon.”

I graduated from the University of Sydney in 1983, keen to follow a career in dairying or mixed practice. There had been a savage drought, only just breaking in my final year of university and jobs were scarce for new graduates, so I took the fall back option of working as an abattoir veterinary officer. I learnt much about public health and regulation, about animal welfare and, very importantly, about people management in a potentially difficult environment.

For two years I travelled Australia extensively as a relief veterinarian at country abattoirs in New South Wales, Northern Territory, Tasmania and Canberra. Towards the end of this time, I felt I had to do something different to use the skills that I had learnt at university. As I had moved with the job to a high tech pig abattoir attached to the biggest piggery in the southern hemisphere, I started a master’s project (which sadly I did not complete) and eventually left the abattoir sector to 
work full-time for the company that 
owned the piggery. Here I learnt about herd health, research projects, nutrition and genetics. Again, the emerging discipline of animal welfare was a focus of my work. The company was very innovative in investigating new and more animal welfare focused production.

For personal reasons I wanted to be back in Sydney and so moved there to work for the animal welfare organisation, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) in New South Wales. They ran both shelter animal based clinics and private practice. I was soon running the after-hours service, as well as filling a place on the roster. I learnt a lot about, and became competent in, emergency medicine and orthopaedic surgery as I picked up a lot of road trauma cases in the emergency service that I dealt with through the hospital.

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