Dr Anne Fawcett didn’t always intend to be a vet or a superhero. Her academic path through university started with an honours degree in philosophy! Many of you might wonder why Anne eventually decided to study veterinary science, or whether she actually uses her philosophy degree when practising veterinary science! Read further to find the answers to these questions, and learn more about the multi-faceted and highly talented Dr Anne Fawcett.. the veterinary world’s real-life Clark Kent.

Your path to studying veterinary science was not a common one, having graduated with a Bachelor of Arts majoring in Philosophy before studying Veterinary Science. What inspired you to become a veterinarian and then go onto specialise in ethics and animal welfare?

“Quite honestly it went like this: I did honours in philosophy and planned to be a career philosopher. Graduated, went to the careers centre and they told me with a smile that I was now qualified to be an ANZ Bank Teller. No offence to ANZ, but I hadn’t studied philosophy with that end in mind. And teaching seemed a bit circular. I could have done a philosophy PhD, but sitting in a library for four years didn’t appeal. I spoke to a counsellor who asked me what was the smallest, most finite unit of happiness in my life? “Animals”, I replied. “How do you build that up?” they asked. “Become a vet” was my answer.

Of course, when I was a kid I had wanted to be a vet. But I also had wanted to be a zoologist, a spy, a fireperson, a police officer, and Cher. None of which transpired (not yet, anyway).

It wasn’t easy transitioning from arts to veterinary science. We were taught to question everything in philosophy, then in the first week of vet school we were being told to rote learn key points about cytology. It took me until fourth year to get over the shock of it all.

But having the philosophy degree comes in handy. From justifying ethical decisions, to understanding the origin of dog and cat names. As a vet, I’ve treated Plato, Socrates, Zeno, Sartre and Kant.”

You recently co-authored a book titled “Veterinary Ethics-Navigating tough cases”. Please share your journey leading to the decision to write this book; how long did it take from initial concept to publishing?

“The decision was very easy. Dr Siobhan Mullan was the founding editor of Everyday Ethics in the British Veterinary Association’s journal, In Practice. She’s a specialist in Animal Welfare Science, Ethics and Law and has made a huge contribution to the field. When she asked me to be co-author I was thrilled.

That was the easy bit. There was also three years of work, including a lot of liaising with contributors, writing scenarios and commentary, reading, awkwardly timed international skype meetings, early mornings, late nights and Endnote dramas.

The book was twice as big as we’d anticipated, so it took a while to typeset, design and print. I was at the AVA conference in 2017 when I went to get changed in my hotel room. I noticed there was a box sitting in my hotel room and I opened it and there was 1.4kg of our book which the publishers had couriered to the hotel. A tear might have been shed.”

You are currently a lecturer in the School of Veterinary Sciences and one of your subjects is “The Veterinary Professional”. Tell us a little about this subject. I suspect some of our older readers may not have had the benefit of this subject in their curriculum.

“I really hope all veterinary schools teach this stuff because its critical to what we do. Communication skills, ethics, clinical skills like consultation skills, the so-called “soft skills” that actually make or break most vet’s careers. It evolved from Professional Practice, a subject introduced to our University’s veterinary curriculum by a visionary parasitologist, Dr Henry Collins. I was in the first intake of students to undertake the course and I was fascinated by it. Others loathed it because they saw it as wishy-washy, when compared to subjects like anatomy. Yet when we catch up at conferences and swap notes about stressors in practice, communication is the number one issue.

I work with a team of amazing academics, including Dr Sanaa Zaki and Ingrid van Gelderen, to deliver this program.

I also teach into other areas including small animal practice, and I run the mentoring program for our DVM students. I work closely with the AVA’s mentoring program. Every vet – newly minted or experienced – should have the benefit of mentorship. Often we do but its informal, so we don’t always know it’s happening. I’ve been lucky to have some brilliant mentors over my career.”

What do you enjoy about teaching?

“Teaching works best when students and teachers recognise it’s a two-way street. When they do, it’s magical. There is a genuine discussion, the big questions are asked fearlessly, there is swapping of notes and key references, there is meaningful learning and you walk away feeling pumped. Clinical teaching is great because students often see things that experienced practitioners do not, and they bring their enthusiasm which lifts everyone.

Every now and then I get an email or a phone call from a former student, or we run into each other at a veterinary conference, and they tell me I gave them a piece of advice that was useful. That is one of the best feelings EVER.”

What advice would you give to new graduates?

“Attend as much face to face CPD as you can. There is a lot of online material delivered but honestly, networking and making friends is one of the most important outcomes of learning and you won’t do it if you don’t get out there.

Consider how you can improve the welfare of animals. It might be reviewing your analgesia protocols or quality of life scoring, or discussing environmental enrichment with clients, but there are lots of little changes we can make that improve animal welfare and this will always give you something to think about.

Cultivate your curiosity. About animals, about people, about the environment, about diseases. This is where the satisfaction comes from. One of my colleagues said to me she knows she is feeling burnt out when she notices she is less curious about her cases.

Don’t be afraid to get support. Even without being a vet, life has inevitably dark patches. Loved ones are lost (humans and otherwise), relationships stall or break down, you disappoint yourself or it gets too much. Go to the GP. Go to the psychologist. Phone the AVA’s free counselling hotline. Been there, done all that, more than once. It not just okay, I think its an ethical obligation. If we’re in the business of caring, we should be practicing self-care so we’re in the best position to help animals and the people who live with them.

Get involved in your professional organisation and play a role in shaping the future of the profession. You really do get out what you put in and being involved in organisations like the AVA is a brilliant way to make your voice heard (e.g. through contributing to development of animal welfare policy) and meet other people who are not only keen to make a difference but taking positive action.”

Who are the biggest influences in your life?

An ever-changing cast of amazing people, from colleagues I work with to animal welfare gurus like John Webster, David Mellor, Bernard Rollin and Donald Broom to philosophers long gone like Benedict Spinoza. There are so many people in our profession who I look up to and who inspire me to be a better vet. To give an example that springs to mind simply because it relates to the eyeballs staring at me from across the room this very second: ophthalmologist Kelly Caruso. She phacofragmented my dog Phil’s cataracts and restored his vision. Despite being an anxious client, she even allowed me to watch the procedure. It was like a beautiful ballet. Dr Caruso oozes competence, compassion, enthusiasm and a sense of humour. (Just to be clear, its Phil’s eyeballs across the room right now, not Kelly’s!). It’s easy to understand why clients travel from all over to see her. I’ve met them in her waiting room – I know they’ve driven up from Parkes for the recheck. Being around colleagues like that inspires and energises me.

It would be remiss of me not to include Dolly Parton, Cyndi Lauper and Cher in the mix (or mixtape, as it were). My dad encouraged me to watch Countdown as a kid, and while I know he would have loved me to become a Van Halen fan, I’ve grown up a bit more Bananarama. “

Do you have any pets?

“I am not a fan of the word pets but not sure I love the alternatives either. I live with several non-human animals: one tiny hound (1.8kg) with glistening refurbed eyeballs, one three-legged cat (Hero), and three budgies (Mandy, Candy and Cheeky though I did not name them, nor did I intend to adopt them – they were passively acquired through work). Hero is sitting on my desk as I type this and swishing his magnificent tail across my keyboard.”

I’m sure you’ll agree that Anne has had a fascinating career to date!

At VetPrac’s workshop on Navigating Difficult Clinical Encounters Conference on October 15-17, 2018, Anne will be sharing her approach to being a successful and sustainable “Veterinary Professional”. Why not join her for what promises to be an enriching experience, with no doubt a bit of Bananarama style music thrown into the mix! Register HERE.

Contact information:
Twitter: @fawcettanne

Written by Alison Caiafa