The Life of a Regional Vet: Emma Barrett

For as long as she can remember, Emma Barrett (2001) has wanted to be a vet, but owning a veterinary hospital was a thought that had never crossed her mind. That was until a colleague unexpectedly approached her to purchase her practice. We talked to Emma, to find out more about how she became the owner of Coral Coast Veterinary Hospital and what her life has been like, since graduating from the College.

What have you been up to since leaving Santa Maria?

After graduating from Santa Maria in 2001, I was accepted into Veterinary Medicine at Murdoch University and started my double degree the following year. After five hard years of study, I graduated as a vet at the end of 2006 and made my way back up to the Gascoyne to begin my career. I worked at a number of clinics in the Gascoyne and Pilbara regions, until I bought my own vet hospital in 2015. Since becoming a practice owner, I have welcomed two beautiful children and have just finished co-authoring a book, ‘Women Leading The World’ due to be released in April!

What inspired you to become a veterinarian?
I think everyone who becomes a vet has the calling from a very young age. I grew up on a banana plantation in the Gascoyne and always had a variety of animals, such as dogs, cats, horses, chooks, goats and sheep, along with any other creature I may have rescued. Two nights a week, I’d be captivated watching A Country Practice and the life of a country vet was my dream. I don’t think any other career option ever really crossed my mind during my younger years.

What do you find most fulfilling about your work?
I don’t think there is anything more fulfilling than sending a healthy and recovered patient home with their family. I also receive deep fulfilment from a darker aspect of my work, assisting pets to pass over at the end of their journey. This is always a very raw and personal moment between pets and owners and it is a privilege to be a comfort at the peak of their grief.

Did you always see yourself owning a veterinary practice?

When I graduated as a vet, owning a practice wasn’t part of my plan. I had no knowledge or experience in business and I just didn’t think that it would be for me. When a colleague and mentor opened her own practice in 2009, I was invited to join her team and embark on this exciting new adventure as part of a brand new practice. The loss of her father and wanting to move closer to family with her four children prompted Dani to approach me to buy the practice. I felt completely out of my depth and would not even entertain the idea for a few days! I then realised what an amazing opportunity it would be for me to learn and grow in my career. So, within three weeks, I was the new owner of Coral Coast Veterinary Hospital!

What are the differences you’ve noticed between working as a Vet in the Gascoyne Region and in the Metropolitan area?
Regional vet work is very different to working in a metro practice. In the country, especially the northern parts of Australia, veterinary hospitals are very isolated. Without a referral or emergency hospital close by, we have to be able to perform a wider range of procedures on a variety of species. We get to see really cool and interesting cases, that may just be referred to a referral centre in the metro area. While there is less opportunity to specialise in an area, we get to be a jack of all trades, learning to be innovative and adaptable! I love that we get to form close relationships with our clients and patients within a tight knit community. The hardest part of regional practice is the expectation to be available and on call 24/7. This can be particularly hard on family life and work life balance. Unfortunately, as natural empaths, it can be very difficult to set boundaries to protect our mental health, which can lead to early burnout.

I imagine owning a veterinary practice would be quite intense; what do you do in your downtime to relax?
Life outside of my vet practice revolves around spending time with my two young children, renovating my home, reading and riding my horse. I wish I could say I have time to relax, but life in general is very busy these days, I don’t think I would have it any other way given the choice though! I live in a great part of the country, close to some amazing coastlines and outback escapes.

Do you have any advice for students who may wish to study Veterinary Medicine?
Veterinary Medicine is an exciting and fulfilling career, which can pave the way for a number of different career pathways. The calling to be a vet is hard to ignore, it requires passion, persistence and resilience – but you won’t regret it! I would advise spending some time doing work experience in a few clinics to make sure you have a clear understanding about what the job entails and have a chat with vets about their perspective. Go into this career with your eyes and heart open and you will be rewarded.

Thank you for taking the time to sit down and chat with us, Emma! 

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