Dr Jacqui Johnston Interview: Holland Park and Carina Veterinary Clinics
Dr Jacqui Johnstone BSc BVMS is a small animal vet in Brisbane who manages to juggle the demands as a veterinarian with that of a family with young children. Read on to hear about how Dr Jacqui was drawn to a career in veterinary science and what she loves about her role in her Southside Brisbane community at Holland Park Carina Veterinary Clinics.
I always wanted to work with animals and being a vet seemed like the obvious choice, until my final year of high school when I started to question if it was what I really wanted to do.
I grew up in Adelaide and at the time there was no veterinary science school at the University of Adelaide, so I decided to apply for science and biomedical engineering locally and threw in the option of studying veterinary science in Perth just in case.
Next thing I remember I was offered a place at Murdoch University Veterinary School and my supportive parents helped me make the move interstate at the young age of 17 to follow the veterinary path.
Since graduating, I’ve worked in several small animal clinics in Adelaide, Perth and now Brisbane where I’ve been based at the Holland Park and Carina Veterinary Clinics in Southside Brisbane for about 7 years.
I ended up marrying a bioengineer, Wayne, and his academic work has moved us around including a short stint in Hawaii which was a fantastic place to live.
Our kids are in primary school now and since they’ve been on the scene I’ve been working part-time to keep a nice work/life balance.
What a typical day in small animal practice looks like
Currently, I primarily work as a consulting vet where I perform blocks of consults one afternoon and a few mornings a week.
Occasionally I will fill in on longer days when other vets are away.
Wayne has the car for school drop off on the mornings I work, so I will enjoy a walk and bus ride to the Carina Vet clinic picking up a coffee for myself and nurse on the way.
Small animal consults can be quite variable.
Vaccinations, skin and ear cases, behaviour concerns, sick and injured animals. We usually have a stray dog or an injured bird or wildlife to take care of as well. Depending on the day I might work up a case that is in our hospital or do a house call before finishing up.
I haven’t been drawn to studying for a speciality. I discovered through the years that my strengths lie in general practice.
Although I initially chose a career as a vet for the desire to work with animals, I’ve since discovered that I really enjoy working with people. I get great satisfaction helping owners understand what’s going on with their pets and their pet’s health.
I recently completed Fear Free Practitioner Accreditation to improve my ability to provide stress-free vet visits to pets.
I’m a member of the ASAV (Australian Small Animal Vets) and our clinics have practice membership to the CVE (Centre for Veterinary Education). I like to keep up to date with continuing my education so I do a lot of the webinars and podcasts that come with the memberships.
Improving the behaviour of pets at the vet clinic
I get a lot of enjoyment from improving the behaviour of pets at the vet clinic so they feel safe and not threatened.
I feel most proud when a patient that has been scared or stressed on previous visits gradually becomes accustomed to their visits and starts becoming more relaxed.
There’s no better win than the dog that has refused all treats previously due to fear but learns to become relaxed enough on a visit to take a liver treat.
Once I’ve crossed that threshold I find these dogs continue to relax and start looking forward to getting the treats.
I’ve been expanding the treats I have on offer and recently had a patient who wasn’t convinced the consulting room was the place she wanted to be until I started to offer her cheese spread. After this tasty cheesy treat as you can imagine, we became firm friends!
Burnout in veterinary medicine
One of the most challenging experiences of my career was about 4 years after graduation (eek that makes it about 17 years ago). I’d been working full time and the various stressors our job entails such as long hours and emotional fatigue, started to catch up with me.
One morning I woke up and just couldn’t go to work.
I took a week off work as stress leave and with a good GP reflected on what was going on and made some changes.
It wasn’t long after that I made the decision to not work full time again.
By working part-time I can really enjoy my job, but full time, I can get emotionally exhausted and the enjoyment disappears.
I’m not sure I’d still find it as challenging with the life experience I have now, but part-time suits my family life at the moment.
I imagine I’ll increase my working hours in the future when the children get older.
I do feel very privileged to work in a career that is suitable for flexible hours.
Dogs Vs Cats – who wins?
Well in the dog vs cat debate I’m a dog person.
Cats are lovely and I especially like the black and white ones, but…. dogs win (especially whippets).
If we were talking about my all-time favourite animal, well then it’s a close call between ringtail lemurs and red pandas.
We used to visit the Adelaide Zoo a lot when I was growing up and my mum volunteered there for a long time so I was probably more exposed to exotic animals than dogs and cats.
Oh dear, whoopsie daisy
I really wish I was better with remembering names.
I often need the computer files to remind me who various people and pets are. Poor Humphrey the other day had to be put up with being called Henry for most of his consult before his lovely owner gently corrected me. Apologies Henry!
Charities I support
When I’m not working
When I’m not working I have lots of mum responsibilities!
This year I’ve been president of our kindy’s parent management committee and I’m looking into other community-based activities to be involved with next year, one of which will be the school’s P and C.
Although I get a kick out of looking after other people’s pets, I do enjoy getting out on my own for a walk with our whippet, Doc, or fossicking around in bookshops and op shops.
My best advice for animal owners
Cherish your animals.
The life expectancy of cats and dogs are far too short compared with our own but it’s such a joy to have them in our lives.
Go on, give your dog or cat (or bird or guinea pig….) a pat right now!
Thanks so much to Dr Jacqui for sharing what she gets up to as a vet. I think your advice to cherish your pets is so important. If you would like to learn more about your own vet, touch base with us at [email protected] and let us know who and where they practice and we will make contact with them!