Veterinary scene Down Under: DEI advancements, plus title protection and more


Veterinary thought leader raising awareness of diversity, equity, and inclusion in the Australian veterinary profession; and progress on regulation and title protection for veterinary nurses and technicians

The Veterinary Kaleidoscope

Having entered the veterinary profession in 2001 as Australia’s first profoundly deaf veterinarian, Alex Harrison, BSc, BVMS, has made use of innovations like captioned telephones, see-through surgical masks, and visual stethoscopes to overcome barriers to working in a profession he dearly loves. But he also quickly became aware that using this technology alone did not make his workplace inclusive, as there was still an array of frustrating barriers in place, including gaining others' support.

From left to right: Alex Harrison, Jodie Wilson, and John Baguley.

From left to right: Alex Harrison, Jodie Wilson, and John Baguley.

Now 2 decades later, his thought leadership and advocacy of accepting the differences of those around us and being supportive of others, has driven him to become an integral member of The Veterinary Kaleidoscope (TVK), a community of veterinarians, veterinary nurses, and others who are committed to raising awareness of the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in the veterinary profession in Australia.

“I have worked in academia, small animal practice, and have also been a practice owner. In 2018, I experienced burnout in part due to the cognitive load from compensating for my deafness and not having my needs fully met and nearly left the profession,” explained Harrison to dvm360®. “A period of hard soul searching led me to realize that rather than walking away, I had a duty to help make the way better for any that followed. That led me to being passionate about mental health and disability advocacy within the profession. Joining The Veterinary Kaleidoscope community was a natural progression on this journey.”

TVK was first conceived as a podcast by Australia's first transgender veterinarian Kate Toyer, BVSc, and Cam Raw, BVSc, the assistant dean (indigenous), of the faculty of science at Melbourne University. Earlier this year, the inaugural TVK Summit was held in Sydney during World Pride and was attended by representatives from all over Australia. “The Summit was a powerful showcase of the diversity in the profession and many of the speakers and delegates' stories were profoundly moving and enlightening. We had multiple speakers and many appreciative inquiry sessions hosted by Jodie Wilson, BVSc, which helped shape a vision of what we wanted an inclusive veterinary community to look like,” said Harrison, who is now TVK’s treasurer.

From left to right: Tara Cashman, Cam Raw, Channy McGowan, and Kate Toyer.

From left to right: Tara Cashman, Cam Raw, Channy McGowan, and Kate Toyer.

Harrison added, “A key part of diversity, equity and inclusion is the concept of allyship, and what we see with TVK is quite disparate groups recognizing that they need to work together and are more able to achieve their objectives together. These objectives include a desire to build a more inclusive veterinary community that is driven by kindness and curiosity for others. We advocate for psychological safety in the profession, in the universities, in the regulatory bodies such as the veterinary boards, in the workplace, and at professional development events. When this happens, everyone can be their true, authentic selves.”

TVK is working to engender a greater awareness of inclusive design in workplaces and conferences, so that they are welcoming to all. The group believes strongly in the principle of “Solve For One, Solve For All,” a concept of resolving a problem for one group in a way that benefits demographics beyond the intended target group.

“What was very quickly apparent was that minority groups in the past have suffered from a silo mentality where they looked at, and advocated only for their niche, when in fact, they shared so many common themes in their journey. An evidence-based analysis shows that diversity, equity and inclusion has a strong business case,” explained Harrison.

“We want the profession to see that diversity, equity and inclusion drives innovation, reduces cognitive load and burnout - as people no longer have to hide their needs or their identities. It also reduces workforce attrition, widens the pool of prospective talent, and increases profitability. Productivity gains are substantial. It gives a competitive edge and is a positive disruptor. However, we also don't want to be reductionist by viewing diversity, equity and inclusion only though an economic lens as ultimately, The Veterinary Kaleidoscope is about visibility, protection and empowerment.”

After the success of the inaugural TVK Summit, an annual conference is planned, with the next one being mid-2024. TVK also has several initiatives currently in development, including increasing accessibility of veterinary professional development events, and a push for a survey of diversity in the veterinary profession to enable greater insights into the demographics of the profession.

“Listen to people with lived experience. Don't make decisions without them. Remember the saying, ‘Nothing about us, without us.’ Also remember to amplify those voices of lived experience and recognize that diversity and inclusivity results in a more flexible, responsive workforce. If you can be comfortable with the change required with diversity, equity and inclusion, you demonstrate the capacity to evolve and, in some ways, future-proof your business. It's a mindset - embrace it,” said Harrison.

Title protection for veterinary nurses and technicians

Western Australia is the only Australian state or territory to currently have registration of veterinary nurses and title protection of their role. This legislation prevents people using a title unless they are appropriately qualified and registered. However, at a recent workshop in Melbourne the Australasian Veterinary Boards Council (AVBC) and the Veterinary Nurses Council of Australia (VNCA) reached an agreement to work together to progress nationally consistent regulation and title protection of veterinary nurses and veterinary technicians.

Representatives from the AVBC and VNCA at the recent joint workshop in Melbourne (Photo courtesy of AVBC).

Representatives from the AVBC and VNCA at the recent joint workshop in Melbourne (Photo courtesy of AVBC).

In a statement, AVBC advised that discussions from the workshop identified the need for a pathway of recognition of the roles while acknowledging the challenges of the existing differences in state and territory legislation across Australia. The discussion also recognized the need to develop a pathway to registration for those working long term in the industry with no formal skills or qualifications.

Western Australia practice board inspector Chris Lloyd and chairperson Tony Leeflang, BSc, BVMS MVSc, who is also an AVBC Council Member, attended the workshop and shared their experiences with veterinary nurse registration in that state.

Leeflang described the overwhelming support from veterinarians in Western Australia for the registration of veterinary nurses, noting improvements in veterinary practice efficiencies and animal welfare standards directly because of veterinary nurse registration and title protection.

“The Western Australia veterinary legislation has demonstrated that title protection of veterinary nurses has positive outcomes for all members of the veterinary team, and this model should serve as an example to other jurisdictions of what can be achieved,” said Leeflang.

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