World Veterinary Day, which took place on 30 April, is a day about celebrating the crucial work veterinarians do in supporting animal health, animal welfare, people, and the environment.

The theme for World Veterinary Day this year was ‘Strengthening Veterinary Resilience’ – a timely reminder of the unprecedented strain the veterinary industry has felt over the past two years, and the extraordinary role the sector played in the pandemic response.

According to research conducted by Animal Medicines Australia, the pandemic saw pet ownership numbers increase by nearly 20 per cent. The veterinary profession also had to quickly pivot to provide contactless consultations and telehealth services. On top of the many challenges associated with the pandemic, the profession also faced bushfires and floods.

Further to this, research into veterinary mental health showed that 66.6 per cent of respondents said they either have experienced or currently are experiencing a mental health condition, five per cent higher than the national average.

Throughout all this, veterinarians have continued to keep the animals of this country safe.

Pet Industry News wants to hero the visibility and inspiration of World Veterinary Day, so we’re launching a series of profiles on vets from around the country, in the hope that we can raise awareness for the challenges they face and pass on advice to the next generation of veterinarians.

This week we speak to Dr Diana Barker, the director and co-founder of Evervet, a veterinary practice group in Melbourne’s inner suburbs. Dr Barker is also currently on the Australian Veterinary Associations (AVA) board of directors.

Pet: What kind of places has your career taken you and what kinds of roles have led you to where you are now? 

Dr Barker: My veterinary career has taken me around the world and back home again. I have worked in mixed animal practice in Victoria, volunteered at a monkey sanctuary in the Amazon rainforest, spent time teaching students in neutering clinics on the Greek Islands, performed locum work in the UK, and now settled down to small animal practice in Melbourne.

Once back in Melbourne, my role has had several iterations over the past 10 years in the one practice. I have progressed from associate vet to senior surgeon after passing my surgical memberships, then became a partner of the practice in 2014. I completed an MBA in 2019 and took a small step back from clinical duties in 2021 (I’m still doing surgery 2 days a week). Certainly, all my prior experience has contributed to where I am now, and as I continue to learn, reflect, and grow, who knows where I might end up!

Pet: Have there been any highlights or really defining moments of your career so far? 

Dr Barker: There are so many! All the big ones as expected, such as passing membership exams, becoming a business owner, opening a new veterinary practice from scratch, and being elected on the AVA board. These big achievements were career defining and the result of a lot of grit and motivation as well as genuine interest in the job and the profession. However, there are many smaller ones that are just as important.

These include, finding a great mentor at one of my first jobs, being supported and appreciated by bosses and colleagues to go for it and creating long lasting and rewarding relationships with clients and teammates. These smaller highlights are pivotal to providing guidance and enjoyment of work. These are the things that help you through those tough days and the reasons I have stuck with this job.

Pet: What do you love about what you do? 

Dr Barker: I love that as an owner I can try my hardest to create the best possible workplace for our team. I enjoy taking on feedback on how we can make everyone’s day better. After working in a variety of workplaces, I know some of the major pressure points! 

Pet: What’s next for you – any goals or plans that you hope to achieve over the next 12 months? 

Dr Barker: That’s a big one! I used to think I could just improve our profession practice by practice but understand I need to think bigger! With my work on the AVA board I am looking forward to making some meaningful positive change to veterinary workplaces and veterinary team well-being through the next year, as well as bringing a greater awareness to our profession through a public campaign. Both of these things are crucial for the sustainability of our profession.

I am also just about to sit down and formulate a strategic plan with the team at Evervet, so perhaps ask me again in a few months!

Pet: What are some of the biggest challenges facing the pet industry? How can the industry work to overcome those? 

Dr Barker: The shortage of veterinarians and veterinary nurses is the overarching issue concerning the industry at the moment. This is such a complex issue to tackle with many factors coming into play. 

Working conditions, remuneration, resilience, transition to work from University, as well as a global uptick in mental health issues are all contributing. The industry needs to work together on a plan to improve all of these factors and do it collaboratively.

Pet: Do you have any thoughts on how we can work to overcome the national vet shortage in Australia? 

Dr Barker: I think there are many organisations trying to do their bit in addressing the shortage. We need to have a summit or similar, to bring these organisations together, to collaborate and pool our resources.

The AVA commissioned a comprehensive report which was released in 2021. This would form a great starting point and is directing a lot of the AVA’s effort.

Pet: What advice would you offer to an aspiring veterinarian? 

Dr Barker: Being a veterinarian is incredibly rewarding. Every day is different, and no two days are the same. There are so many ways to grow and change through your career as a veterinarian. There are also so many perks! Working hours are flexible, team members are the most supportive people, and the clients are mostly wonderful. You can achieve everything you want to as a veterinarian.

Pet: How did you celebrate National Vet Day?

Dr Barker: With lots of cake!

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