Melbourne veterinary student working and networking in Nepal
Dr Sarah Hall never imagined she would become a vet, so how did she find herself in Nepal at the forefront of animal disease management?
Animal disease management is a specialist area becoming increasingly important in the 21st Century. Globalisation has brought the world closer together, making travel, communication and trade between nations and countries easier and faster—but it has also increased the risk of disease travelling rapidly across continents.
Australia has been free of foot-and-mouth disease for over 100 years, but local governments and farmers around the country have been vigilant in preparing for an outbreak.
Dr Sarah Hall, a Masters of Veterinary Public Health (Emergency Disease Management) student at the University of Melbourne Veterinary School, has recently returned from foot-and-mouth control training in Nepal.
She says there is a constant threat of an outbreak in Australia but preparedness training is the key.
“Every day there is a risk of foot-and-mouth disease coming into the country, you simply have to bring home a ham sandwich, or accidentally step in some cow droppings in a country like Nepal or India and then catch a plane back to Australia.”
Foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) is a highly contagious viral disease that affects cloven-hooved animals such as cattle and sheep. While not often fatal it is debilitating and it has the potential to quickly cause widespread illness.
“Foot-and-mouth disease is the biggest, most economically damaging threat to Australia’s livestock industries,” Dr Hall says. “Our quarantine system is highly effective but even a small outbreak in Australia could have devastating consequences to our communities in lost production, trade and tourism; we could even face global trade restrictions.”
In response to the risk the Commonwealth Federal Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) convened and funded a FMD training program for veterinarians in Nepal. Dr Hall was nominated for a place and supported in her travel by the Melbourne Faculty of Veterinary Science.
Twenty vets from Australia took part in the training program, visiting communities in Nepal with active foot-and-mouth outbreaks.
Dr Hall says they worked in epidemiological and clinical teams, took samples and used the local reference laboratories and ‘penside tests’ to confirm the disease.
“We also asked farmers questions about livestock movements to understand how the disease spreads in Nepal.
“The idea was, if there was an outbreak in Australia the vets involved in the program would be our front-line response team, with real experience in identifying foot-and-mouth disease, in implementing biosecurity strategies and in conducting initial disease investigations.”
As well as preparing Australian vets for the management of an outbreak, Dr Hall says the trip was also an incredible networking opportunity.
“My current boss was one of the private practice vets invited to go to Nepal. We got talking about our careers and got to know each other quite well and after returning to Australia he offered me a job.”
Dr Hall moved to Bendigo to work in a mixed practice clinic after finishing her veterinary science degree at the University of Melbourne in 2009.
“While I enjoyed my job I started to realise my real passion was in trying to solve the mystery of disease outbreaks.
“As the local vet you are first on the scene when a local farmer calls saying he has five dead cows.
“The farmer is worried about his livelihood and his animals’ welfare so it’s rewarding to play Sherlock Holmes and get to figure out the cause of the disease. That was what gave me that kick, that thrill, and doing vaccinations all day and removing grass-seeds from cats and dogs just wasn’t for me in the long-term.
“I was interested in epidemiology and emergency animal disease so I looked at the courses available and the Master’s degree at the Faculty of Veterinary Science fitted my interest and had the flexibility I needed to be able to continue working.”
Dr Hall says she never imagined she would become a vet, let alone find herself in advanced training in Nepal; a cancelled work experience placement in Year 10 was the twist of fate that led her to pursue a career as a veterinarian.
“The Royal Children’s Hospital cancelled on me because they had overbooked, so my careers coordinator suggested that if I wanted to be a doctor I should go to a vet clinic because I’d get to see surgery.
“So I ended up at an equine practice for work experience with Dr Charlie El-Hage, who is now a lecturer in Veterinary Clinical Studies with the Faculty.
“I remember being a quiet little Year 10 student trying not to get in the way when Charlie took me under his wing. He told me all about the best vet schools in the world and by the end of the week I was convinced I was going to be a vet even though I’d walked in upset I couldn’t get into the Royal Children’s Hospital.”
Dr Hall now follows in Dr El-Hage’s footsteps, having recently taken up a position with the Department of Environment and Primary Industries as a District Veterinary Officer in Geelong.
(Original story by Clemmie Wetherall from University of Melbourne VOICE)
University of Melbourne’s Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) program
Program title: Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM)
Location: Melbourne, Victoria
Semester intake: Late February/early March
Program duration: 4 years
Application deadline: December 23, 2014. Note: If you are interested in the Melbourne DVM program for the 2015 intake, it is advised that you apply as soon as possible in order to allow yourself time for the pre-departure process should you receive an offer.