AVA Member Spotlight: Going down an unusual path - Deborah Monks

Deborah Monks with Big Mike the goose

International Women’s Day (8 March) is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity.

The veterinary world is teeming with accomplished women making their mark on the profession. Here is the story of one AVA member, who, through research, education and clinical practice, continues to champion exotic animal medicine while mentoring young veterinarians who share her passion and love for animals.

From the age of 4, Deborah Monks knew she wanted to be a veterinarian. “I loved animals as a kid. I strayed from my chosen path briefly in late high school, and did a year of Science at university, looking to be an astrophysicist. But then I remembered my calling and transferred to veterinary medicine,” Deborah said.

After graduating in 1995 from the University of Queensland, Deborah began her career in veterinary practice, treating predominantly small animals.

“Avian and exotic pets didn’t get a lot of love from many veterinarians and I thought that they deserved high-grade veterinary care, befitting any other species,” she recalls.

“So, I went to the UK to do an avian residency. That residency was recognised by both the European College of Zoological Medicine and the Australian and New Zealand College of Veterinary Scientists, and I completed both examinations to become a recognised avian specialist in Europe and Australia.”

While in England, she obtained her Certificate of Zoological Medicine. Deborah’s casebook was of such a high standard that the Royal College of Veterinary Surgery in London requested a copy for their library. Deborah became a Diplomate of the European College of Zoological Medicine and Surgery, in the Avian Section in 2006 – a rare qualification for an Australian veterinarian.

Returning to Australia with her newfound expertise, she opened her own practice in Brisbane in 2006, servicing only avian and exotic patients. If you thought this was a niche market – think again; since first opening her clinic doors, Deborah’s practice has continued to expand and now has five veterinarians and seven veterinary nurses. Now, 22 years on in her career, she finds herself working in an almost all-female veterinary clinic.

“We have a single male vet student, working as a vet nurse on the weekends. Other than that, it is an all-female environment. This wasn’t by design; this came about organically and every day I’m impressed by the skills and the level of commitment the team have towards the patients in our care,” said Deborah.

Given her status as a leading avian veterinarian in Australia, she acknowledges her duty to mentor the younger veterinarians in the clinic.

“We all work really hard in our practice to provide a supportive environment, with accountability for actions. I like to think that I model assertiveness and self-responsibility. Certainly, my staff seem much more self-empowered after just a year or two of working in the clinic.”

When she’s not in the middle of treating a Bourke’s parakeet or a coastal carpet python, you’ll often find Deborah speaking at conferences both in Australia and abroad, including the AVA national conference, on the best and latest treatments in exotic animal medicine. Deborah has authored several book chapters and edited two books, including a textbook on reptile medicine and surgery. Her research work in the field of exotic animal medicine has been published in the Journal Avian Medicine and Surgery and in the AVJ. The most recent paper in which she was a co-author documents the identification of a haemoparasite that crossed over into a parrot breeding establishment (see Deborah's article on page 93).¹

Last year, Deborah was appointed to the Scientific Committee of the European College of Zoological Medicine and is currently on the AVA Policy Advisory Council representing the unusual pets and avian veterinarians group. She is also on the International Committee for the Association of Avian Veterinarians.

Of the women veterinarians who paved the way for her, she says, “There are many amazing women in the profession, who have modelled a veterinary career path. I’ve been fortunate to work with a great number of fantastic females and I’ve learned from each of them.

“I was lucky enough to do my residency in conjunction with another avian resident, Dr Petra Zsivanovits. We had a very open approach with each other and from her I learned that honest feedback, forward focussed on ‘what would I do differently’, is essential in continuing to develop your professional skills.”

After more than two decades of working with Australia’s not-so- furry creatures, Deborah is still excited to see what unusual animal will next walk through her practice doors.

“Avian and exotic animals really are amazing creatures. When you pay attention, they have such a diverse range of personalities that it makes them really fun patients.

“It’s a joy to come  to work and I love what I do. But the key is to make sure you have some balance in your life. For me, rowing is an escape and a good way to unwind and take time for myself. As veterinarians, we give a lot of ourselves to our clients and our patients. It’s important to prioritise time for yourself – it’s essential for longevity in this wonderful profession,” she said.

Melanie Berenger
Communication Officer

Nidhi Sodhi
Science Writer

This article appeared in the Australian Veterinary Journal: Aust Vet J 2018;96(3):N14


  1. Verwey JK, Peters A, Monks D, et al. Spillover of avian haemosporidian parasites (Haemosporidia: Plasmodium) and death of captive psittacine species. Aust Vet J 2018;96:93–97.

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