Murdoch trains vet students to take on key public health roles

August 18, 2015

The course prepares the vet students interested in pursuing a career in animal welfare, public health and food safetyMurdoch University has partnered with the Department of Agriculture (the Department) to address a key staff shortage in the monitoring of abattoirs around Australia.

Dr Michael Laurence, Dr Peter Adams and Professor Ian Robertson from the School of Veterinary and Life Sciences College of Veterinary Medicine, in collaboration with the Department, developed a 12-week intensive course for final year veterinary students interested in pursuing a career in animal welfare, public health and food safety.

The opportunity to develop this program arose after the Department identified a critical shortage of veterinarians motivated to undertake careers in this non-traditional type of veterinary practice.

Since then, nine students have completed the course with six going on to take up positions as On Plant Vets (OPVs) overseeing animal welfare and food safety in export abattoirs across the country. Three students are enrolled in the program in 2015.

“Work as an OPV is considered a non-traditional role for vet graduates but vital for the functioning of Australia’s food production industry,” said Dr Laurence.

“The job involves examining animals before and after slaughter to check for disease and ensuring that abattoir staff maintain the highest standards of ethical, legal and safe practice. The OPVs are the vets who certify that the meat produced is suitable for human consumption.

“The program gives students the opportunity to learn theory, namely the relevant legislation and the key aspects of public health, food safety and animal welfare. While shadowing the OPVs at abattoirs, they learn all the practical skills the job requires.

“They are assessed by senior OPVs already working at abattoirs and senior Department veterinary staff. The students finish the course qualified to work as an OPV following an induction into the Department. The final part of the training is six months on-the-job experience after graduation.

“It is tremendous for the Department, who are now benefiting from a steady stream of OPVs to employ, helping them with their succession planning as their more experienced vets currently in these roles near retirement. And for the students it’s a fantastic career opportunity. The starting salary for these roles is generally higher than that of a vet going into a standard practice and the training is short circuited by months by having this opportunity while they are still vet students.”

Dr Laurence added that the course was funded by the Department and the opportunity to deliver the course at Murdoch was saving it hundreds of thousands of dollars in training costs.

Ed Dunn from the Food Division of the Department said the program gave it access to veterinarians, inspection and regulation ready, to mitigate the problems of staff shortages in the future.

“The meat industry will have the opportunity to draw on this resource also if markets begin to demand further integration of the abattoir with the supplier of slaughter animals,” he said.

Murdoch veterinary graduate Samson Lui who has been working as an OPV in Esperance for more than a year, said his career enabled him to be a veterinarian who contributed to the health of the general public nationally and internationally.

“It is very rewarding knowing that my team and I have contributed to promoting food safety and Australian standards,” said Mr Lui.

“Speaking personally, working as an OPV cultivates my skills in leadership and management. It offers rewarding career prospects and the Department of Agriculture also offers opportunities and support for continuing education.

“The training at Murdoch was excellent and challenged my skills in critical thinking and sound decision-making. I have since found this to be very relevant to my daily work. I am still applying the skills I acquired on a daily basis.”

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