Monday, June 2, 2014

AVA conference wrap up: exams for fun, a veterinary orchestra and animal-themed footwear

"We promise it won't hurt" - the absolutely delightful, not-scary-at-all invigilators for the Australian Veterinary Boards Council Inc National Veterinary Exam.
During the AVA conference last week I visited the Australian Veterinary Boards Council Inc. booth to sit a voluntary exam. Yep. A voluntary exam. Not something you’d think would be hugely entertaining but if you have an opportunity to sit their exams I highly recommend it. I actually enjoyed the experience.

Part of our annual registration fee goes to the AVBC, an organisation which started in the 1980s as an annual meeting of all of the veterinary registration boards. The aim is to determine standards of acceptable veterinary practice and accredit veterinary schools.

In 1999 the profession was required to take responsibility for the National Veterinary Exam – that’s the exam that overseas vets take to ensure that can practice here. This is one of the roles played by the AVBC. And to make sure that is done fairly, they benchmark the questions by testing them on Aussie and New Zealand vets wandering around at conferences.

The AVBC team attend conferences and have a quiet booth where you can volunteer to sit the exam. Unlike most exams, you’re allowed to do it in your own time, you can bring a cup of tea and eat, its relaxed and very pleasant. They don’t even record your mark. In fact if you are a bit of a stress head when it comes to exams (who isn’t?) this might be a good exercise in desensitisation. And once you have sat the paper you can compare your answers with the actual answers (hopefully there isn’t too much discrepancy but as a small animal vet I did notice my performance in the large animal questions wasn’t exactly stellar, although I did recall more than I thought I would).

For more information check out their website here.

Another highlight was the debut performance of the Australian Veterinary Orchestra. The AVO, as it is known, is the brainchild of veterinarian Mike Woodham who owns Sugarland Veterinary Clinic.

Here’s an excerpt from an article I wrote about it in the Australian Veterinary Journal.

 “My father died suddenly in 2005 at age 55, which was a tremendous shock and hit me rather hard,” Dr Woodham said.
“As a professional I didn’t realise that I suffered from some of the usual stress and anxiety associated with busy practice. Adding the burden of the loss of a loved one made me recognise that perhaps I was not coping as well as I thought.”
As a scientist and diagnostician, Dr Woodham decided more research was in order. He sought professional advice and counselling, and learned how to recognise and cope with stress and anxiety. He’d played music from an early age, and his counsellor suggested that taking it up again might help. 
“After some music therapy I can certainly endorse the benefits of music to veterinary mental health,” he said. 
Dr Woodham plays seven instruments, ranging from piano to tuba.
“I learned bass guitar last year and am starting on acoustic guitar this year.”
The idea for the AVO came to Dr Woodham as he listened to a jazz ensemble at the 2013 AVA Conference, and thought that the veterinary profession would have enough musical talent to gather a music group.
“I have a friend in the Australian Doctor’s Orchestra who told me of their acclaim, and I thought ‘surely we are better than the doctors’!”
And they were pretty darn good, earning a well-deserved standing ovation at the end. And a few tears along the way.

Dr Woodham plays his tuba.
Joined by the Hills Symphony Orchestra (not to be confused with Hill’s Pet Nutrition, although the latter did sponsor the evening), nine veterinarians displayed their hither-to hidden talents, such as the ability to rock the oboe or wield a bassoon. It was like discovering someone you work with is really in the X-men.

All funds went towards the Veterinary Benevolent Fund, and gee it was nice to see members of the profession come together to support each other. Mental health issues affect everyone of course, but veterinarians have a particularly high suicide rate and often feel very isolated in practice. The job poses some unique stressors, so bringing awareness to the issue and promoting wellness, not just crisis management, is so important.

Finally, conferences are one place where vets get to wear things we can’t really wear at work for health & safety reasons. Like amazing shoes. I ran into a delegate from Victoria who was wearing the most amazing pair of rabbit heels. Maybe not something you’d slip on to hang the washing on the line or play squash, but we struck by serious shoe envy.

Gloria said her shoes were from Irregular Choice. I checked their site and they also make kitten heels.