North Queensland’s depleted veterinary profession is about to receive an injection of new blood, when the first cohort of Veterinary Science students graduate from James Cook University (JCU).
Five years of hard work from both staff and students will finally pay off next month (December) when the first batch of JCU animal doctors enter the veterinary industry.
And the word from the profession indicates that practitioners are poised and ready to snap up this next generation of vets, with many students already securing jobs in country practices in Queensland and elsewhere.
“Before taking on the massive responsibility of training up the region’s future vets, we made sure we asked the people on the front line what they wanted from our graduates,” said Dean of Veterinary Science Professor Lee Fitzpatrick. “Their responses formed the basis of our integrated curriculum, which has grown to become quite the innovation.
“We have already been receiving favourable feedback from vets from across the profession and that’s reflected by the jobs being offered to our graduates.
“The end product will speak for itself. It will be an honour to call them colleagues.”
Joshua Berryman is one of more than 40 students eagerly anticipating the day he can finally call himself a vet.
“It’s been a long time coming, and a hard slog, but it’s coming to crunch time and it’s so close now I can hardly sit still,” he said. “I can’t wait to get out there and start practising.”
Josh was a 17-year-old Ignatius Park College pupil when he lobbied former Prime Minister John Howard a for a vet school at JCU when he visited Townsville in 2004.
The Wulguru student presented a petition signed by 5,000 people to the PM in a bid to secure funding for a Veterinary Science program at JCU.
“All I knew was that there was a shortage of rural vets in North Queensland,” said Josh. “I wanted to be a vet so badly and I just couldn’t see why I shouldn’t be able to complete my studies here in Townsville.”
His tenacity worked. Two years later the Government injected $26million into the University to establish an undergraduate veterinary program to serve North Queensland. Josh was one of the first students accepted into the course when it launched in 2006.
During the first four years of the program, the pioneering students, who hail from all states and Territories of Australia, acquired the knowledge and skills to diagnose, treat and prevent disease in a wide range of animals, including companion animals, farm animals, aquatic species and native fauna. >P2
The students have also been given extensive training in effective communication and business practise.
In their vacation breaks, the young medics undertook 25 weeks of animal industry and clinical placements, and this program of experience has taken them across Australia and beyond.
Fifth year comprises a series of rotations in which the budding vets consolidate their learning through placements at new facilities at the Tableland Veterinary Service (TVS) in Malanda; Townsville Veterinary Clinic (TVC), Aachilpa Veterinary Group and the JCU Veterinary Emergency Centre and Hospital in Townsville; and government agencies, private enterprises and properties in Townsville, Rockhampton and Mackay. The year concludes with eight weeks of electives, where students can focus on areas of special interest.
Josh, now 23, said the last five years had given him the knowledge and skills to enter the veterinary workforce with great confidence. He already has a job lined up after graduation at Mount Isa’s North West Veterinary Clinic.
“I feel privileged to be one of the first students to come through this program,” said Josh, who was President of the JCU Veterinary Students’ Association in 2007.
“I’ve taken class in state-of-the-art facilities, I’ve been trained by world class experts from both JCU and institutions across Australia and overseas, and I’ve been mentored by veterinarians who are at the top of their game. I could not have asked for anything more.
“I feel so lucky to have been able to complete my veterinary studies in North Queensland and I plan to return the favour by spending the rest of my career serving North Queensland farmers and pet owners.
With only weeks left of their final year, Josh and his classmates are studying hard for their final exams.
“It’s been such a brilliant five years,” said Josh. “Everyone is so supportive here, both staff and students, and I can say with the utmost confidence that I’ve made some friends for life.
“Graduation will be a mixed bag of emotions. It’ll be sad when it all comes to an end, but at the same time, this is also the beginning of what I hope will be a long and successful career as a North Queensland vet.”
On December 18 the close-knit group will don cap and gown and stand proud as James Cook University’s inaugural graduate veterinarians.