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Veterinary scene down under: Australia welcomes first female chief veterinary officer, plus how emergency teams can safely help animals

dvm360dvm360 February 2024
Volume 55
Issue 2
Pages: 48

Updates on the veterinary nurse who is educating veterinary professionals and emergency services on leadership and resilience skills and how they can safely assist animals in emergencies, plus meet Australia’s first female chief veterinary officer.

Veterinary aspects of an emergency response

With climate change impacting our environment and influencing the frequency and severity of disasters such as bushfires and floods, the veterinary community needs to be prepared for this type of emergency and know how to respond to assist animals and colleagues as well as help protect veterinary infrastructure.

Erica Honey, Master Emergency Management, BSc (Hons), GradCertPDev, RVN, and MBA/MHRM candidate, runs a consultancy service dedicated to building a resilient and sustainable veterinary community by growing leadership, organizational culture, and animal emergency preparedness.

“Unfortunately, it is no longer a matter of if, rather when, a veterinary hospital will experience an emergency. This could have a direct impact on infrastructure or patients presenting, helping in the field, or assisting your colleagues in other hospitals. Whether veterinary hospitals are in the urban or rural environment, we need to be ready,” explained Honey.

Erica Honey, Master Emergency Management, BSc (Hons), GradCertPDev, RVN, and MBA/MHRM candidate (Image courtesy of Erica Honey)

Erica Honey, Master Emergency Management, BSc (Hons), GradCertPDev, RVN, and MBA/MHRM candidate (Image courtesy of Erica Honey)

“It is key for our industry’s resilience to establish emergency plans for our veterinary hospital, and create evacuation and shelter-in-place kits. Furthermore, meeting with key stakeholders such as local government, emergency services, animal care and boarding facilities, wildlife organizations, and rehabilitators is important to discuss how you can support each other. It is a ‘One Health’, ‘One Welfare’ and a suggested ‘One Emergency Management’ approach, where everyone works together to grow community resilience,” she continued.

Honey worked as a veterinary nurse in general practice and emergency and critical care – including 6 years as the veterinary nursing supervisor at the emergency and critical care at Murdoch University’s veterinary teaching hospital. Her career has also included working in a part-time role as the inaugural State Animal Welfare Emergency Coordinator at Western Australia’s Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, where her master's research contributed to the establishment of the State Animal Welfare in Emergencies Support Plan.

In a secondment role at Murdoch University, Honey worked on projects including workplace health and safety as well as emergency management. Recognizing a deeper purpose, Honey has since focused on building a resilient veterinary community through her consulting firm, Erica Honey Consulting, which she established in 2021. For the past 13 years, Honey also has volunteered with the Cockburn State Emergency Service in outer metropolitan Perth.

“Emergency and disaster planning takes an all-hazard and worst-case approach. This includes a focus on the highest risks the veterinary hospital will face and should also include contingencies for all likely scenarios. Even if the hospital decides it won't address a particular type of response, e.g. large animal emergency rescue, such as a float rollover, the hospital should have contingencies in the plan for which veterinary hospitals are trained to perform this type of response. This way if the hospital receives a request to help, veterinary professionals know who to refer the caller to,” Honey stated.

“Expect emergencies to be frightening and stressful. Expect utilities to be gone, and phones to not work. Be prepared for your team members to need to leave to attend to their own families and their animals. Your contingencies will cover how to mitigate risks such as these and can reduce the teams’ stress.”

The training for veterinary emergency responders that Honey is involved in conducting, covers bushfire safety, disaster triage, and medicine, emergency and disaster induction, first aid and mental health first aid, and understanding of the Australasian Interservice Incident Command System (AIIMS) which emergency services following during emergency responses.

“Training is important because in emergency responses such as a bushfire, veterinary responders must deploy with official permission. This ideally occurs with an experienced organization and the teams will work under the State Animal Emergency Support Plan. This helps to promote a safe response as responders can also utilize the resources and networks that are well-established and funded,” explained Honey.

“Veterinary personnel are encouraged to join the Animal Emergency Incident Management Network, in Australia and New Zealand. This charity works with a variety of stakeholders in the animal emergency management space and helps to advocate for animals and the people who care for them in emergencies.”

The Australian Institute of Disaster Resilience is also developing an ‘Animals in Disasters’ handbook, and this upcoming publication will complement the National Planning Principles for Animals in Emergencies established in 2012 which Honey contributed to. Honey shared with her top emergency management tips for the veterinary community.

“Focus on planning initially at the vet hospital, then on a district-level plan – and work with others to see how you can help each other. Create evacuation kits and shelter-in-place kits. Ensure you have the basic training, and invest in more training over time. Engage with the community and help clients to be prepared,” she said.

“Ensure any organization you volunteer with deploys officially with approval from the Hazard Management Agency and works under the respective state or territory support plan for animals or their local plans. Take care of yourself first, then the team, the victim - this will help to boost your resilience,” Honey concluded.

Australia’s first female Australian chief veterinary officer

Beth Cookson, BVSc, EMPA, MANZCVS (Epidemiology), has been appointed Australian chief veterinary officer after the recent retirement of Mark Schipp, BSc, BVMS. Cookson is the first female to be permanently appointed to the role and in another first, she is based regionally outside of the capital Canberra, in the Far North Queensland city of Cairns.

“I am thrilled to have been appointed as the first woman to hold the Australian Chief Veterinary Officer position. I join a growing cohort of female chief veterinary officers within Australia and internationally, which reflects the changing demographic of our profession,” Cookson exclusively told dvm360.

Beth Cookson, BVSc, EMPA, MANZCVS (Epidemiology), Australia's first female chief veterinary officer (Image courtesy of the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry)

Beth Cookson, BVSc, EMPA, MANZCVS (Epidemiology), Australia's first female chief veterinary officer (Image courtesy of the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry)

Cookson was Deputy Australian Chief Veterinary Officer with a focus on northern Australia and her career includes more than 15 years in government policy, operational, and leadership roles.

Cookson designed and led the delivery of animal health surveillance programs in northern Australia, delivering biosecurity capacity building programs in near neighboring countries, and having senior executive responsibilities for biosecurity import risk analyses and international trade negotiations for the Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry.

“I take up the role at a time where we continue to face significant challenges in our regional and global environment. While Australia continues to be free from many significant exotic animal diseases, we have seen the unprecedented global spread and impact of diseases such as high pathogenicity avian influenza in recent years, as well as spread of significant exotic diseases in our region, such as lumpy skin disease, foot-and-mouth disease, and African swine fever,” said Cookson.

“Veterinary services are essential to addressing these challenges, as well as championing and providing stewardship to combat antimicrobial resistance and other issues across sectors alongside our health and environment colleagues with a One Health mindset. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to continue to lead and influence this important work that ensures Australia maintains our favorable animal health status and looks abroad to support our regional partners and influences globally. It is an honor to be a member of the strong global veterinary community and work to ensure positive animal health outcomes as Australian Chief Veterinary Officer,” she concluded.

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