For Dr Bronwen MacRae, Chief Health Officer at Royal Canin, considering a career outside the veterinary field was never an option.

From the age of six, Dr MacRae knew what she wanted to be in life. A routine vaccination for her family dog saw her intrigued by the process – the checking of the eyes, ears, and mouth, feeling the belly, listening to the heart and lungs – and inspired her to pursue her dream career.

“Seeing the vet take such good care of my dog meant I never considered any other career option. After finishing high school, my family moved to Melbourne so that I could study veterinary science, I am very grateful to them for that,” explained Dr MacRae.

That gratitude towards her parents is still evident as Dr MacRae lists them both, her mother who is a doctor and her father who has managed large companies, as inspirations in her life.

“I think I have followed in both of their footsteps, having had a career in both medicine and business management. They have both given me incredible advice over the years, and encouraged me to pursue my passion for medicine, science, and supporting the bond between people and their pets.”

While she recently joined Royal Canin in the newly created role of Chief Health Officer for Australia and New Zealand, Dr MacRae’s career path within the veterinary field has been long and varied.

“I’ve been lucky to have experienced all aspects of working in a veterinary hospital, each person’s job is so important. I started off as a kennel cleaner, then worked as a vet receptionist, before becoming a vet nurse until I graduated from vet school. I’ve been a veterinarian now for 12 years, living and working in Melbourne.”

These moments of change in Dr MacRae’s career enabled her to expand her knowledge to cover both the medicinal and managerial aspects of the veterinary industry.

“The biggest defining moments in my career were each time I said yes to an opportunity outside of my comfort zone, as each one forced me to learn and grow. Moving from clinical practice to operations management was a big change, but also an incredible learning experience. As was the move from managing vet hospitals to working with hospital managers as an industry partner.

“Saying yes to opportunity, although it can be daunting, has allowed me to work with people who inspire me to work harder towards a better world for veterinarians, nurses, pets, and their people.”

Chief Health Officer

In her role as Chief Health Officer at Royal Canin, Dr MacRae is tasked with advocating for two things – science-based nutrition and a sustainable veterinary industry.

“My role is to work in partnership with the vet profession on ways we can provide value to the challenges they face and support their pet-owner clients with science-backed premium nutrition to help boost our pet’s overall health and wellbeing between vet visits. 

“We know for over a decade veterinarians experience stress and burnout, that many experience mental health fatigue and it is common for vets to leave practice after only a few years. I remember being told about this as a new graduate, that it was just the way things are and as a vet you just have to be tough.”

Being a newly created role, and Dr MacRae being the first person to fill it, her goal for now is simple – learn and look for opportunities to support positive change.

“I have been learning about Royal Canin’s goals and vision – like our plan to be a carbon natural company. I’ve visited our Waltham Research Centre in the UK to learn about the research behind our nutrition. I’ve also connected with our industry partners to learn about the state of the veterinary industry right now and where Royal Canin can support initiatives that promote a sustainable and healthy veterinary workplace.

“I have a long-term vision for this role, I know I’ll be starting conversations and projects now that will continue for years to come.”

Among those conversations will be addressing the national vet shortage and helping veterinarians deal with mental health problems in general.

“This year, Royal Canin and Love Your Pet Love Your Vet published a research report on the relationship between pet owners and their veterinarians. They found that the majority of Australian pet owners do not know that the incidence of suicide among veterinarians is four times the national average and that 68 per cent of vets have lost a colleague to suicide, myself included.

“The results also showed that 60 per cent of veterinarians have sought professional help due to stress, anxiety or depression from their work. When we asked them why, the top two reasons were pet owner expectations, usually around cost of treatment, and long working hours.”

Dr MacRae said that these results make it clear that mental health support is critical for veterinarians.

A pet passion

Despite the challenges that veterinarians obviously face, Dr MacRae still loves what she does, and has many moments that she treasures.

“I remember feeling like a superhero when a young dog came into the clinic having gotten into the fishing tackle box at home and attempted to eat a fishing lure with three hooks – one was through his tongue, one through his lip and the other through his paw as he had tried to get it out of his mouth.

“Within minutes I had sedated him and removed the hooks, then reversed the sedation and he was awake and walking around like nothing had happened. The owners were very relieved, and it was very rewarding to see their concern and love for their dog.”

It’s not just the animals that make her work enjoyable, but also being surrounded by like-minded colleagues that share a united passion for pets and their wellbeing.

“All my colleagues and customers love animals and will happily share photos and stories about the animals that have made their lives better. It might be their dog, who loves to ‘sing along’ to the piano, or their cat who likes to play fetch, or their rabbit who steals the lid to the pellet container.

“My own pets have brought me so much joy throughout my life, and I love working with people and an organisation who genuinely put the health and wellbeing of our furry companions first.”

This article originally appeared in Pet Industry News magazine.

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