Dr Alistair Webb has been announced as the new Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) President following the resignation of Dr Bronwyn Orr.

Dr Webb is the principal of Rangeside Veterinarians and has been actively involved in the AVA for over 25 years, first becoming a student member while studying veterinary science at the University of Queensland.

Pet industry News sat down with Dr Webb to discuss his life and what led him to a career in the veterinary industry.

Pet: What was your childhood like?

Dr Webb: I was born in Toowoomba in regional Queensland, second son in a family of four children. My parents, who have both since passed away, moved from Sydney to Toowoomba in the mid-60s to escape the rat race. We grew up living the dream on five acres on the outskirts of town with horses, cows, chickens, a big orchard, and vegie garden. The family always had a ginger and white cat and oddly enough in my adult life I have only ever had ginger and white tabby cats.   

My father was a returned POW from WW2, and I am sure suffered significantly from what he lived through, though you didn’t talk about things in those days. He read widely and he had a passionate dislike of extreme forms of Nationalism, both the left and right. My mother was a gifted accountant and in the early 50s was one of the first women in Australia to become a Chartered Accountant. My older brother continued the family tradition and is now an Accountant in Melbourne, my younger brother is a dentist on the Sunshine Coast and the baby of the family, my sister, is a Chiropractor in Melbourne.

I attended the local primary and secondary state schools. I enjoyed the science and maths subjects but becoming a vet wasn’t on the radar as child. I thrived on team sports – cricket and soccer mainly – but excelled at the throwing events in athletics and scored a state championship in Javelin in 1981. I also loved gardening and rearing budgerigars. I had dreams of joining the Airforce after high school but that wasn’t to be and late in final year at high school had to think of something to study at Uni. My mother, in her infinite wisdom, suggested Vet Science because I liked animals and was pretty handy with the science subjects. I had never even been inside a vet clinic when I started at Vet School at the University of Qld, but right from the first day I knew I was in the right place.

Pet: Have you done much overseas travelling?

Dr Webb: My wife and I worked in the UK in our mid 20’s for two years. It was a fabulous time to be overseas, unencumbered by financial or family commitments. We did a lot of traveling around the UK, Europe, and North America. While we were away, we realised that our home of Toowoomba looked better and better and we came back home in 1993, to set up home and start our family. In the last couple of years, we have ventured overseas again but the travel has been largely orientated around overseas vet conferences.  

Pet: What jobs have you had that led you to the position of President of the AVA?

Dr Webb: I have been a long term member of the AVA and participated in all levels of the Association over the last 28 years. I have been the local Branch President for a total of 11 years and helped organise numerous local meetings and two Qld Division Conferences. I have been on the Qld Division Executive committee on two occasions for a total of eight years including a term as Qld President in 2000. I have also been involved with small animal Special Interest Group (ASAV – Australian Small Animal Veterinarians) and served on the executive team for six years, including a three year term as President of ASAV (2018-21). I joined the Board of Directors of the AVA in May 2021 and was elected President in May 2023.

Pet: What have been your career highlights?

Dr Webb: One of my proudest achievements is owning and operating my small animal practice in Toowoomba – for the last 19 years. I still love the art and science of vet practice but also thrive on the conversations with clients. I am also very proud of the fact that of the seven employees in the practice, three of them have worked for me for 13 years or more.  The small animal practitioner accreditation project – AVA CVP (Chartered Veterinary Practitioner) is a great highlight. It started as an idea over a drink at a conference and in 6 years has developed into a study and accreditation program that had its first intake of AVA member students this year. It has been wonderfully rewarding working with like-minded enthusiastic colleagues who share the vision and want to work to improve the future of their colleagues and the profession.

Pet: What do you do in your spare time?

Dr Webb: Spare time seems to be a scarcity at the moment, but I still love playing cricket. The winter season is all about the Over 50’s veterans’ cricket and when I get the chance, they let me captain our division three team. I don’t mind bowling a few overs of leg spin and like a run in the middle order where batting is allowed to be all about boundaries or singles! I still enjoy gardening and I am very proud of my collection of clivias. I also enjoy my commitment to my Rotary Club that I have been an active member of for nearly 18 years.

Pet: Who is in your family now?

Dr Webb: My wife and I started going out at High School and we have been a team now for over 41 years. We have two adult sons. The eldest is a biostatician and is just about finished his PhD in mathematical modelling at the University of Qld and our second son and his wife delivered our first grandchild, Maverick a few months ago. He also met his wife while at High School (the same one where my wife and I met all those years ago). Our current family cat is a 17 and half year-old ginger and white tabby called Sonny. His later years have been challenging as he suffers from progressive dementia and is prone to periodic yowling for no identifiable reason.

Pet: Where would you like to be in five years?

Dr Webb: In five years easing back from full time vet practice looks very appealing. I imagine that I will still be involved in one or two more committees than I should be. It will take some time for me to wean back from being a ‘meeting junkie’. I feel certain that new and interesting options will emerge that will keep me gainfully occupied into the next 5-10 years.   

Pet: What are some of the challenges currently facing veterinarians?

Dr Webb: There are significant challenges with the veterinary workforce. There is a desperate shortage of vets in some localities. The mental wellbeing of the profession is in the spotlight at present. There is a need for the profession to evolve in the face of modern challenges like AI and the availability of so much information on the internet.

Pet: What do you hope to accomplish in your time as AVA President?

Dr Webb: If I can embed into the DNA of the AVA the two important and exciting new projects. Namely ‘Thrive’ – the mental health wellbeing initiative, and the small animal veterinary practitioner accreditation project – CVP then I will be very satisfied. I also feel that I can play a pivotal role in helping to improve the outcomes for the member value proposition for our 8,500 members.

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