A veterinarian’s plea for help

March 8, 2021
Phil Tucak, BSc, BVMS

Dr Phil Tucak is an Australian veterinarian, communications manager and veterinary journalist. As the Wildlife Outreach Vet, he works to share the conversation about conservation. Phil is DVM360’s freelance Australian correspondent.

As the world celebrates International Women’s Day, a female veterinarian from rural Australia writes a heartfelt plea for help, highlighting the challenges she faces running a veterinary practice amid a shortage of veterinarians.

Editor's note: This article includes discussion of suicide, depression and mental health issues. If you're experiencing feelings of depression or suicidal ideation, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-TALK; 800-273-8255; suicidepreventionlifeline.org). It's 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. No matter what problems you are dealing with, people on the other end of the line will help you find a reason to keep living.

From challenge comes change, and Jasmin Klocker, BVSc, is hoping her raw and candid insights into the profession she loves—but doesn’t want her daughter to follow her into—will stimulate discussion of ideas around how things can be improved for the better.

Klocker owns and works in a busy mixed-animal practice about 2 hours north of Sydney in rural New South Wales. She has worked full-time for the past 2 decades while raising 4 children. Three years ago, she lost her veterinarian husband to suicide.

Frustration, fear, and hope

In wanting to express her frustrations and fears, but also her hopes, Klocker wrote a poignant letter to the University of Sydney Centre for Veterinary Education (CVE) to share her story. In the letter, titled “To the veterinary practitioners boards of Australia, the Australian Veterinary Association and anyone else who cares to read on…,” Klocker sets out the problems as she sees them, primarily highlighting the veterinary shortage in Australia. She then details the other factors at play and the issues she feels need to be reassessed before laying out some possible solutions and a call for further discussion.

“I wrote this letter as I fear for the future of the profession,” Klocker told dvm360®. “I feel that the decline in vet numbers in practice needs to be addressed immediately or it might be too late. I fear that Australians with a sick animal after 5 pm will find it hard to find a vet to treat them, and the farmers who feed us will struggle to find someone to help them with their animals.”

Klocker started thinking more seriously about doing something about this issue when she realized that she was no longer able to love her work. “I am constantly tired and stretched to the limit,” she says. Her eldest daughter, currently in her final year of high school, recently voiced her desire to become a veterinarian.

“I was shocked and asked her to consider other things she would like to do also. This made me stop and think and then take a long hard look at why I am feeling this way,” she says. “Unless we make ourselves heard we will not make change happen. I also believe in providing solutions and not just complaining about problems.”

The issues Klocker highlights are facing veterinarians not only in Australia but overseas as well. In publishing Klocker’s letter, Simone Maher, BVSc, deputy director of the CVE, says it has raised many important points for discussion.

“Jasmin’s appeal is so powerful, brave and thought provoking we couldn’t not publish it [in the university’s quarterly Control and Therapy Series]. Her story crystallizes the challenges faced by many in our profession—complicated problems with no straightforward solutions and bigger than any one individual—but finding answers starts with articulating the questions,” Maher said in an interview with dvm360®.

With challenge comes change

Klocker hopes that by working together to address the challenges facing veterinarians and veterinary practices, this change comes soon. “I am hoping that we can brainstorm together, and I am hoping to gather suggestions from veterinarians to help solve some of these issues,” she says. “I would like some Band-aid solutions to help immediately and some long-term solutions to ensure that the profession remains sustainable in the years to come.”

Phil Tucak, BSc, BVMS, is an Australian veterinarian, communications manager and veterinary journalist. As the Wildlife Outreach Vet, he works to share the conversation about conservation.