Meet the girl from the country who has a passion for critical care medicine and adventure, heads the Pet Intensive Care unit at Veterinary Specialist Services in Brisbane, and educates for VetPrac at the Practical Veterinary Skills Bootcamp, Dr Ellie Leister.

What inspired you to become a veterinarian and then go onto specialise in emergency and critical care?

From a very young age I knew I wanted to work with animals, I grew up in rural NSW on a beef cattle property, rode horses all through my childhood, and was surrounded by dogs, cats, guinea pigs, ferrets and wildlife.  I did work experience with Rob Churchill at Crookwell Veterinary Clinic in year 10 of high school and knew that I had found my career. Fortunately, I managed to get through my HSC and gain entry into the University of Sydney Veterinary Science Degree. As a new graduate I was very lucky to have a wonderful start to my career working at The Valley Vet Hospital in Wingham, NSW. From there I ventured overseas to England and worked in the Channel Islands, Norfolk and Wales before settling in Bristol for a few years and turning to the dark side and embracing emergency work. I returned to Australia in 2011 with an itch for something more and stepped into the role of the intensive care veterinarian at Veterinary Specialist Services and Animal Emergency Services in July 2012.  This opportunity opened many more doors and I started a residency in Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care in 2015.  Being able to understand the how and why of critical care medicine is what really makes me tick and I hope to keep pushing the boundaries of knowledge and research in the veterinary field for many years to come.

You manage a team of 16 at the Pet Intensive Care unit at Veterinary Specialist Services in Brisbane. What’s the biggest challenge of this management role?

Managing the PICU doesn’t really feel like a challenge.  To me it is a journey that I’m on with the ICU team. We now have a leadership team for the PICU, and are working together to continue to improve the PICU.  Being able to staff a 24/7 hospital is difficult as shift work is tough on staff in the long run. I don’t think there will ever be a perfect solution; we are constantly trying to formulate rosters that are compatible with a reasonable lifestyle.

In your opinion, what makes a great workplace?

In my opinion it is hands down the team of people you work with; everyone contributes in their own way to a great work place.  I truly love going to work.  Every day is different, you never know what is going to come in through those ICU doors.  We have an amazing group of vets, nurses, kennel hands and client care teams.  They are kind and compassionate and we stand by our core values.

What advice would you give new graduates?

Live life! Get some experience. Work in a good mixed practice (or small animal if large/mixed animal practice isn’t even on your radar) and learn how to deal with situations out of your comfort zone when all you have is your work car, some drugs and equipment in the back! Choose your first job carefully and make sure you have a supportive group of vets and nurses around you; use them for a second opinion and allow them to watch you grow.

What’s your most memorable case in your veterinary career so far?

There are multiple… A couple that jump to mind are little Cleo and TJ.

Cleo was a 2-year-old French bulldog owned by a lovely vet.  She had 1A tick paralysis, aspirated a large amount of vomit and deteriorated acutely. She developed severe aspiration pneumonia requiring 10 days of mechanical ventilation, became septic and developed acute respiratory distress syndrome. Just when we thought we had her out of danger she re-presented with respiratory distress and multiple tracheal strictures at the sight of her tracheostomy and thoracic inlet.  We sought advice from a human paediatric specialist and a veterinary specialist from UC Davis.  We balloon dilated her trachea multiple times before placing an intra luminal stent under fluoroscopy with the Veterinary Specialist Services team.  Unfortunately, she then strictured through the stent and we placed a covered stent within the original stent.  Sadly, a few months later she strictured proximally to the stents and the decision was made to say goodbye.

TJ is another French bulldog case. He was bottle fed and aspirated a large amount of milk at 10 days of age. He ended up in the ICU on IVFT, antibiotics and oxygen supplementation.  He deteriorated and suffered a cardiopulmonary arrest.  In the absence of resuscitation orders, we automatically started CPR.  The ICU nurse intubated him with a 14-gauge catheter, he was given adrenaline and atropine and we achieved return of circulation within one round of CPR.  I called the owner to advise him of the acute deterioration and that he should come down to make decisions, thinking that we would be euthanising TJ.  When the owner arrived, he asked me if there was anything we could do.  I looked up at the large critical care ventilator then back down at the 300gm puppy and said, “I guess we can try and ventilate him”.  I had never put anything that small on a ventilator.  With the 24/7 nursing care of the ICU team TJ lived and made it home to a very caring family.

How do you spend your days off?

True days off are spent with friends doing anything adventurous. Other days off are spent catching up on life, study, gym and watching the world go by with my little sphynx cats!

You can meet Dr Ellie Leister and share her passion for critical care medicine at the VetPrac Practical Skills Bootcamp workshop on November 8-10, 2018 at CSU. To find out more information, check out the brochure. If you’re interested in attending head to this page here!

Ellie can be contacted at [email protected] or 0439606810; the Pet ICU website is coming shortly.

Written by Alison Caiafa