Dr Tegan Stephens interview: unusual and exotic pet vet
Today we talk with Dr Tegan Stephens who works as an unusual and exotic pet vet in Sydney, Australia. Her days are filled with treating many different species of animals.
How I became an unusual and exotic pet vet
I’ve been reptile mad since I was a toddler and always had it in my head I would one day be a reptile vet.
While at university I realised it was very hard to have a reptile focus without also seeing birds.
I’d never had much to do with birds, although, my brother had a pet budgie growing up that enjoyed attacking me at every opportunity.
Also, during my time volunteering at the National Zoo in Canberra I was frequent attack fodder for cranky swans, parrots, geese and on one memorable occasion, a randy ostrich!
Somehow after all these incidents with birds, they became my calling, along with a continued love of reptiles.
I was then lucky enough to secure a nursing job at my current workplace during my first year of veterinary school.
After completing final year rotations working with crocodiles and fish in the Northern Territory and the university exotics hospital, the timing worked out to allow me to come back to Bird & Exotics Vet as a new grad, and I’ve never left.
I’ve been lucky enough to also work with wildlife, rabbits, ferrets, guinea pigs and fish since graduating, and love getting to treat literally hundreds of different species of animal.
My day at the Bird and Exotics Vet
At the Bird and Exotics Vet in Sydney, Australia we see a mixture of primary and referral cases with a breakdown of approximately 60% birds and 40% exotics which includes :
- small mammals (such as rabbits, ferrets and small rodents),
- and everything else that is not a cat or dog.
A typical day for me might look like this:
- counselling an owner with a feather picking eclectus,
- helping a baby cockatiel with a crop infection,
- seeing a snake with mouth rot,
- and then going into dental surgery on a rabbit.
I often feel proud of what I do
I’ve had many cases that have given me a happy glow.
These include pulling wriggling worms from the skin of a frog affected by sparganosis, bringing blocked rabbits back from death’s door, and performing surgery on a Siamese fighting fish (Betta) to remove a retinoblastoma.
The moments I’ve felt most proud however are seeing the junior vets come through and gain confidence and skills. There’s nothing like seeing a younger vet come out of a surgery you’ve helped them build the skills for, having absolutely rocked it!
The biggest challenge of my career
Learning to balance veterinary work with family life has been a challenge for me.
As new graduate veterinarians, you generally come out of university in the headspace that being a vet is your life, and you’re able to dedicate your entire focus to work and study.
Learning how to shift that balance to allow time and energy for a family (or anything else that comes along to fill up your life) is difficult for most people, and something I’m still working on.
My favourite animal
This is something we get asked frequently at our practice (along with, what’s the weirdest/coolest/most dangerous animal you’ve seen?) and it’s a really hard one to answer.
My favourite animal hands down is the saltwater crocodile. They’re just nothing but awesome, and really impressive creatures.
As an animal I see on a daily basis however, I have to admit I’ve fallen in love with rabbits. They are generally a species that is taken for granted, and I have met some of the most loving and hilarious little bunnies over the years. They’ve solidly and unexpectedly burrowed into my heart. (pun intended!).
I’m really excited about
It doesn’t quite fit this category but the most exciting thing in my field right now (I feel) is the increased awareness of reptile behaviour and the need for evidence-based enrichment and husbandry.
There has been such a change in expectations of how mammalian and avian species need be managed over the past few decades, and reptiles had been left behind somewhat until recently.
This increased awareness about the needs of reptiles will only mean good things for our reptilian companions.
When I’m not working…
I have 2 small boys under 5, so a day at home feels very much like a day behind the scenes at the zoo.
I also work with the AVA as the secretary for the Unusual Pet and Avian Vets special interest group, which can be difficult work, but it is very rewarding to give back to the veterinary community.
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Do you have a veterinarian that you would like to learn more about their work? Pop their name and clinic details below and we’ll get in touch for an interview!