Veterinary Practitioners’ Career and Wellbeing

Working within the veterinary industry is not for the feint-hearted. Despite the perception that veterinary professionals get to play with cute puppies and kittens all day, the reality is very different.  Veterinarians endure high levels of work stress and their profession has one of the higher rates of suicide—about four times higher than the general population and twice as likely as other health professionals.  Put another way, this rate equates to roughly one every 12 weeks (Hamilton, 2016).  Despite the pressures of the profession, it can be as rewarding and personally satisfying as any other.  My research focused on developing supportive strategies for veterinary practitioners to enhance their work engagement and well-being.

Workplace Stress

Veterinary professionals are subjected to, amongst other things, abuse from clients, compassion fatigue, financial concerns, and the often difficult and emotional task of euthanizing animals (Hamilton, 2016). They are required to remain composed, client after client.  Imagine the distress of putting someone’s beloved pet to sleep in one consultation, only to step straight into another consultation with a difficult client who is abusive.  All this without so much as a five-minute break to catch a breath—they are expected to remain professional and composed without the chance to process what has just happened.

Workplace Culture

There have been many changes to the profession over the past 30 years, including gender shifts, and decreases in income levels and status (Macwhirter, 2002). Currently, there are many job vacancies advertised both within Australia and overseas, and seemingly not enough applicants to fill the places. With the demands of the job taking its toll on many practitioners, there is a need to focus on developing workplace strategies to retain them in the profession.  My research involved consulting practitioners to learn about strategies that practice owners may implement to support their staff.  Here are some of the recommendations from the research:

  • Acknowledge the “shadow side” of the profession. It is useful to have avenues for staff to openly discuss the stressors they are facing. Doing this can help to “normalise” the issues and prevent feeling ostracised or having the perception they are the only one feeling this way.
  • Provide information. Provide an EAP service or the contact details for a qualified and experienced counsellor or psychologist who is trusted to work with clients in this field.
  • Develop a culture of wellness. Make sure staff take their breaks. Taking regular breaks can be challenging due to the nature of the job, but breaks are essential for maintaining wellbeing.
  • Consider other incentives. Many veterinarians say it is not always about the money (from working overtime), and there are other things that can be more personally valuable to them (e.g., time off in lieu, a rotation system for working overtime, or small gifts that mean taking time out, such as a movie voucher).

Staff retention is more important than ever in the veterinary industry.  Fostering a healthy workplace culture is an integral part of organisational wellbeing. There is a need to reduce the stigma involved with practitioners speaking up and seeking help, so that they can receive the support they often need and deserve.  After all, veterinary professionals contribute a great deal to society and industries.


Hamilton, Nadine D. (2016). A psycho-educational intervention program for veterinary practitioners: learning to cope with being a veterinarian. [Thesis (PhD/Research)]

Macwhirter, P. (2002). A life course approach to veterinary science. Australian Veterinary Journal, 80(8), 454-455

About the Author:

Dr Nadine Hamilton is a psychologist who completed a Doctor of Education research degree that focused on developing strategies to enhance veterinary practitioners’ career engagement and wellbeing.


An innovative industry needs an innovative workforce.  With its reputation for advanced technology and continuous innovation, the Australian cotton industry draws on the expertise of a range of workers, including on-farm workers and contractors, agronomists and consultants, and research scientists, to name a few.  Yet, there is the very real potential for disruptive new technologies to demand changes to workforce profiles of the industry. This challenge raises the question, what is the expertise—the personal strengths, knowledge, skills—that the future workforce needs to maintain and improve the cotton industry’s strong production outputs in a competitive market?

ACCELL and CRDC postdoctoral research fellow, Dr Nicole McDonald, is researching and developing practical strategies to support the cotton industry to attract and develop the next generation of expert workers.  Your input to this R&D is valuable. Please take 5 minutes to register your interest via the link below:


The first phase of Dr McDonald’s applied R&D project will identify:

  1. the career motivations of the next generation of workers,
  2. the workers who are set to innovate and capitalise on new technology, and
  3. the support and training needed to maximise the potential of these workers.

The findings of the R&D will inform evidence-based strategies for workforce management and development for cotton production businesses and, more broadly, the cotton industry.

CF - Cotton on_

Courtesy of Cotton Australia

Many cotton growers are advocates for attracting and developing new talent in the industry.  Excellent initiatives such as the Cotton Gap Year are proving very useful. There are obvious benefits to recruiting new talent and investing in training.  But, employing a relatively inexperienced recruit can be risky. And, transferring what is learned in training to enhance on-the-job performance can be challenging, particularly when new skills learned in training may be lost within a year if not put to good use. These are just some of the reasons why this R&D project is so important.

We want to support growers and other professionals in the cotton industry to ensure their future workforce is the best they can be, and that the cotton industry is the first choice for talented and capable young people making career decisions.


  • Do you work in a cotton industry profession either on-farm, or related to farm production (e.g., growers, farm hands, agronomists, consultants, scientists, researchers, extension officers, contractors)?
  • Are you someone who has been working in the cotton industry for 5 years or less?
  • Do you currently employ someone who has been working in the cotton industry for 5 years or less?

If  you answered “yes” to any one of these questions then we want to hear from you.  It takes only 5 minutes to register your interest via the link below:


This project is supported by the Cotton Research Development Corporation (CRDC).

Vocational Psychology for Agriculture

As the human population continues to grow, the demand for food continues to outstrip the security of its supply.  This conundrum is not a problem of any single nation state; it is an international problem—a problem for humanity. Its importance is manifest in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) as the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger. Despite halving the prevalence of extreme hunger since the inception of the MDGs, the rate of improvement is decelerating and more effort is required to maintain the downward trajectory of the prevalence of hunger (United Nations, 2014). Regular access to nutritious food is not just a problem of production and supply, as there are other causes such as conflict and corruption; however, sustainable and equitable production of food is a vital part of the solution.  ACCELL has the SDGs within its vision and aims to conduct R&D that is useful and, moreover, vital.

As a branch of applied psychology, vocational psychology has the scientific and professional capability to make a substantive contribution to agriculture. To that end, the three objectives of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) succinctly capture the intent of the research agenda for the Vocational Psychology of Agriculture—Farming Food and Fibre (VPA—FFF; McIlveen, 2015; McIlveen & McDonald, 2018) that is advanced by ACCELL:

  1. the eradication of hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition;
  2. the elimination of poverty and the driving forward of economic and social progress for all; and,
  3. the sustainable management and utilization of natural resources, including land, water, air, climate and genetic resources for the benefit of present and future generations (FAO, 2015).

Thus, the VPA—FFF is motivated by an ethical mandate to contribute to the social and emotional well-being of the world’s population. Continue reading