Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Dr Mike Woodham talks about the Australian Veterinary Orchestra and music as a creative outlet

Australian Veterinary Orchestra
Members of the AVO at their debut concert last year. Dr Woodham is second from the left.
Dr Mike Woodham owns Sugarland Animal Hospital (you can check out their facebook page here), but is also the man behind the Australian Veterinary Orchestra. He's committed to the wellbeing of veterinary professionals, having heeded his own warning calls, and he reckons music can help many. He's even, we learned, been known to seranade the odd patient.

Can you tell us a bit about your practice – where do you work and what sort of case load do you have?

I am about 95% small animal clinician and the rest made of exotic and some large animal work. We are located in Tropical Bundaberg QLD, home of the Rum, Brewed Drink and Sunshine! Surrounded by beautiful beaches and one of the best climates in the world.

You set up the Australian Veterinary Orchestra to promote wellbeing and the concerts raise money for the AVA’s Benevolent Fund. What was the trigger?

During an AVA conference happy hour I noticed the conference organisers had hired a local jazz group to play, I had the thought then “surely with the number of vets we have in Australia we could get something together like this”. Also I have a friend who is a member of the Australian Doctors Orchestra and she is always raving about how fun it is when they get together, I thought to myself “surely we are better than the doctors” haha.

Better than doctors!
For those who don’t know, what’s the connection between music and wellbeing?

There are numerous scientific studies that outline the benefits of either listening to or performing music. Imaging studies can show areas of the brain stimulated by music that relate to the reward centres of the brain, also release of the feel good hormone dopamine.

Listening to music can affect your mood, you can use music to pump you up or to help you relax, It can help you exercise, perform better and for longer. Music therapy can be used as a means of self-expression and its inherent restorative or healing properties.

My father died suddenly at the age of 55, I was running my own business at the time and quite stressed, adding that burden left me in a difficult situation of post-traumatic stress and burnout (common in our industry), as a scientist I thought surely there are some answers. Undertaking the challenge to find some answers and seeking advice through counselling, my counsellor asked “what have you enjoyed doing in the past?” I remembered I had had a good time in high school playing music. She suggested I take it up again and I have not looked back since.

Playing music and more especially music in a community allows for strong connection and purpose. Playing music brings flow and escape from your day job and provides an outlet to give unconditionally to others.

tuba Australian Veterinary Orchestra
Dr Mike plays the tuba.
What instruments do you play?

Primarily tuba, piano and bass guitar, I have dabbled in other brass instruments and I sing.

Do you have any other interests or hobbies?

Surfing, scuba diving, tactical shooting, ATV riding, camping with my kids, fishing occasionally, I like the gym and love to travel.

Do you live with non-human animal companions? How do they react when you play your instruments?

I have a rescue dog called Scruffy and RSPCA cat called Nelson Biederman IV.
There are a number of instances where I have serenaded my clinical patients on weekends or evenings while practicing my Tuba, so far the feedback has been interesting.

Stress and burnout are rife these days. What do you think predisposes veterinarians to stress?

There are a number of elements well researched and documented, for myself I feel isolation, lack of connection, a high-paced job or workload combining with the contrast of compassionate nature to some of the difficult issues we have to face from the public such as animal cruelty, euthanasia, disposable pets, owners financial situations, our lack of reward for effort etc. can really add up to significant stress.

The AVO in 2014. Its looking to be even bigger in 2015!
How do you think veterinarians can better manage their stress?

Pick up and instrument, start a hobby or connect to a community group outside of your work. You only need 20 hours practice to learn an instrument! [ed: Oh bagpipes, you and I have some catching up to do].

How can people get involved in the veterinary orchestra?

We are holding a concert at the AVA/NZVA panpacs in May and are looking to recruit interested players!

The Australian Veterinary Orchestra will play alongside the Brisbane Philharmonic Orchestra at the 2015 Pan Pacific Veterinary Conference in Brisbane on May 27. If you’ve not seen them you need to – their debut concert in Perth in 2014 was very special. PLEASE NOTE: ALL PROCEEDS GO TO THE AVA BENEVOLENT FUND.