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  • Writer's pictureFlow Australia

Rural vet's mission to help save the country practice

A country vet is designing an online course in resilience for colleagues enduring the stress, burnout and customer abuse besetting the profession.

Sarah Golding sat on a fence in the middle of the night, transfixed as she watched a vet perform a caesarean section on a dairy cow.

"I distinctly remember being tiny, with my raincoat on, watching the vet and thinking it was the coolest thing I'd ever seen," she said.

It proved to be a pivotal moment for Dr Golding, who went on to work as a veterinarian at the busy Gowrie Vet Clinic in her northern NSW hometown of Inverell.

In the last week she has operated on a horse, performed dentistry on a rabbit, de-sexed dogs, amputated the toes of an injured cat, tended to a sick bird and treated a lamb with paralysis tick.

Animal emergencies, like the one she remembers from that rainy night decades ago, continue to fascinate her.

"It's a resilience thing: if you come from the bush, going and doing a caesarean on a cow in the middle of the night is not that big a deal because you're exposed to it as a child," she said.

"But if you're from the city, the thought of that might be terrifying."

Dr Golding is on a mission to help other vets strengthen their resilience and wellbeing, as the industry grapples with nationwide workforce shortages and burnout.

She is designing a year-long online course for graduate vets, with weekly activities on coping strategies, mindset and the importance of talking through difficult jobs with colleagues and mentors.

"I hear more and more stories of new grads that didn't get a good start, weren't emotionally supported and didn't have anyone to debrief with," Dr Golding said.

Australia's veterinary industry is grappling with nationwide workforce shortages and burnout.

A NSW parliamentary inquiry into workforce shortages has heard vets are four times more likely to take their own life than the general population and, on average, a vet dies by their own hand every 12 weeks.

Vets have told the inquiry they are under extreme pressure from the number of people who bought pets during COVID-19 lockdowns, while they cop abuse from clients over the cost of care.

Dr Golding said workplaces needed to evolve with the industry, which has become female-dominated.

"Women need different things, emotionally and mentally, for their wellbeing," she said.

"Women are primary caregivers: our whole practice is made up of women working part-time and being mothers.

"I want to see the profession survive and I want to see people thrive in it."

She is one of seven rural women from around Australia to receive a $7000 AgriFutures acceleration grant for projects to address some of agriculture's biggest challenges.

Other recipients include Queensland beekeeper Belinda Pooley, who wants to teach children about the role of bees in food production, and South Australian cattle farmer Gillian Fennell, who is producing a podcast about succession planning.

"Regional Australia is brimming with untapped innovative and creative ideas that set local industries and communities up for the future," AgriFutures executive Jennifer Galloway said.

"And as the backbone of so many regional communities, it is often the women helping make this happen."


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