Steering Group



The AVA Veterinary Wellness Steering Group supports the AVA Board and Management to successfully deliver our THRIVE wellness initiatives.

 Appointed steering group members are:


Dr Diana Barker - President

Diana is an experienced small animal surgeon and the managing director of a practice group in Melbourne’s inner suburbs employing more than 60 staff.  She holds an Executive MBA from the Monash Business School and obtained her Membership with Australia New Zealand College of Veterinary Scientists in small animal surgery. Diana has represented the profession at both regional and state level including roles with the Melbourne Metropolitan Practitioners Branch and the Victorian AVA Division, as well as being an active member of the AVA’s Veterinary Business Group and the Chair of the Veterinary Wellness Steering Group.


Rebecca Coventry

Rebecca Coventry, affectionately known as Bec, is a highly accomplished and dedicated professional who has made significant contributions to the field of veterinary nursing and education. With a diverse background spanning clinical practice, education, and leadership, she has demonstrated unwavering commitment to the betterment of her industry. Bec's passion for her profession led her to assume pivotal roles within the Veterinary Nurses Council of Australia (VNCA). Since 2021, she has served as a Director, actively shaping the direction of the organisation. Moreover, her tenure as President from 2021 to 2023 underscores her exemplary leadership skills and her commitment to driving positive change within the industry, with a commitment to advocating for the registration, recognition, and national standardisation of veterinary nurse and technician education underscores her determination to raise industry standards. Beyond her illustrious career, Bec is a passionate advocate for wildlife rescue, reflecting her love for animals. At home, Bec shares her life with a whole lot of dogs, three cats, birds, and fish, keeping her very busy. B.Ed, Dip VET, Cert IV VN, TAE, SBM, AVN, RVN


Anna Dawson

Anna is currently the Manager, Strategic Programs at SafeWork NSW. She leads a team to develop the next Psychological Health and Safety Strategy and continues to provide advice and support to industry on how to achieve compliance with the work health and safety laws around psychological health. Prior to this, she was the Assistant State Inspector in the specialist Psychological Health and Safety team. Anna is an Organisational Psychologist with significant experience in workplace mental health, having worked as a clinician as well as managed the mental health and wellbeing function at a strategic and operational level within a large organisation. She has deep knowledge of the types of psychosocial hazards in the workplace that have the potential to cause occupational stress and advocate for focusing on good work design to minimise the risk of psychological injury. Anna is keen to collaborate with the steering committee to develop innovative solutions, reduce the impact and causes of mental ill-health with a focus on targeting preventative strategies to eliminate and minimise work health and safety risks impacting Veterinary practitioners.


Dr Debbie Neutze

BVSc (Hons), Grad Cert. Management Improving the health and wellness of the veterinary profession has been a key focus for Debbie in the many projects that she has undertaken during her career. Debbie is the current President of the ACT Veterinary Practitioners Board and a member of the AVA NSW Division committee. Debbie has previously served the profession in several roles within the AVA, including as the AVA National Strategy Manager, AVA Policy Manager, AVA National Membership and Strategy Manager, Executive Officer of the NSW Division and Executive Officer of the Australian Veterinary Practice Management Association (now the Veterinary Business Group). Prior to this Debbie, owned three successful small animal practices. As the AVA National Strategy Manager in 2014, Debbie prepared a Veterinary Health and Wellbeing Strategy including the Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Framework for the AVA; part of this strategy was adopted by the Board. Debbie became responsible for the development and introduction of the current AVA Graduate Mentoring Program, the AVA’s gate keeper training using the Mental Health First Aid Training program and improving the AVA online VetHealth resources. Through her work, particularly as the Executive Officer of the AVA business group, Debbie developed an appreciation of the fact that improving wellness within the profession requires prosperous practices, long term career satisfaction and good client-veterinarian relationships.


Rosie Overfield

Rosie Overfield is well-known and well-respected in the Australian veterinary profession as an experienced counsellor, HR advisor and mental health and well-being programs facilitator. With over 20 years of experience in the industry, she has a strong focus on consultancy and training in mentally healthy workplace design and practices, HR and leadership models for psychological safety and psychosocial factors. Rosie is a nationally registered counsellor with a Bachelor of Communication, a Graduate Diploma of Counselling and a Master of Human Resources and Organisational Development. Rosie is proud to be the Australian Veterinary Association’s Principal Master Mental Health First Aid Educator since 2016. Her engaging and warm style has seen her train over 800 veterinary professionals to proactively support each other. Rosie is also a practice owner and a graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors course, giving her a unique perspective and diverse skillset to positively contribute to the AVA’s Veterinary Wellness Steering Group. Rosie feels privileged to promote the THRIVE principles – prevent harm, promote the positives of the veterinary profession, and protect those in crisis. B. Communication, Grad Dip Counselling, MHROD, GAICD, Cert IV VN


Dr Michael Paton

Michael is a University of Queensland graduate who worked in private veterinary practice, in Australia and the UK. He joined the then Department of Agriculture and Food, Western Australia in the 1984. Gained Australian College of Veterinary Scientists qualification in epidemiology in 1989. He led a team studying the epidemiology of Caseous Lymphadenitis (CLA) in sheep and has published two book chapters, 21 scientific papers and 41 international and national conference papers and his PhD on CLA and other topics. He was a Councillor and Honorary Treasurer of the Australian and New Zealand College of Veterinary Scientists and President of the Animal Welfare Chapter. He was WA AVA President in 1991 and 2017/18 and is currently a policy councillor. He has been an AVA mentor since 2005 and assisted the development of the AVA’s National Mentoring Program. Michael has been a member of the World Small Animal Veterinary Association’s Professional Wellness Group since 2018. This group was formed as a focus to address the wellness challenges in the global veterinary family. He has a strong background in strategic planning and prioritisation skills in all his work and volunteer activities, but particularly promoting the benefits of a national wellness approach within the AVA and internationally, using epidemiology principles in animal welfare science and in major research projects on chronic sheep disease. BVSc., MACVSc (Epidemiology), Grad Cert Animal Welfare, PhD


Dr Benton Smith

Ben is an experienced veterinarian, business owner, mentor, and mental health advocate. He graduated as a veterinarian in 1996, and since then has obtained his ANZCVS Surgery Membership, an MBA, and his Diploma in Company Directorship through Australian Institute of Company Directors. An experienced practice owner and director, Ben believes that developing a supportive and safe workplace aids in fostering a trusting team culture. Ben's passion lies in enhancing the careers of veterinarians and veterinary support staff, thereby elevating the overall quality of veterinary care. In addition to supporting his team, Ben is a member of the Veterinary Wellness Steering Group of the Australian Veterinary Association, helping to find solutions to mental health issues affecting the veterinary community. Recently, Ben received an invitation to join the Victorian Government's Mentally Healthy Workplaces Consultative Committee, where he will play an important role in guiding the development of mental health frameworks, tools, and resources. Outside of his formal roles, Ben volunteers as part of the Indigenous Dog Health Program in Utopia, NT and is a mentor for AVA’s Graduate Mentoring Program.


Bruce Smith

Representing the AVBC Sustainable Practice Committee, Bruce will endeavour to bring his lived experience in practice, management, and governance with the aim to facilitate and the regulatory perspective to assist the Thrive initiative in developing adaptive, resilient, and sustainable careers and workplaces. Over a career spanning more than 30 years as a specialist small animal surgeon in both private and institutional practice, Bruce has experienced and observed both the positive and negative effects of the workplace on individuals, teams, and organizations during a period of significant and ongoing change. Reflecting on the professional demands that span the intense technically focus work in the service of animals and clients to the collaborative responsibilities to team and organisation, Bruce recognizes the essential value of developing and promoting a broader, integrated systemic industry-wide perspective that includes educators, practicing professionals, and those who support and regulate the field. Bruce holds a Bachelor’s degree in Veterinary Science and Master’s degree in Science, specialist qualifications in small animal surgery, a diploma in veterinary practice management and is a graduate of Australian Institute of Company Directors. He has previously served on the AVA Sydney Metropolitan Practitioners Branch, the Surgery Chapter Executive and Council of the ANZCVS and was Clinical Director of the UQ Veterinary Teaching Hospitals 2019 – 22.


Dr Cathy Warburton

Cathy graduated from Murdoch University in 1989 as a veterinarian. She worked as a clinician, trainer and manager in private, university and corporate practices for 25 years, mostly in the pressure cooker environment of Emergency and Critical Care. Cathy’s experiences, and those of the people around her, clearly demonstrated how veterinary work can be both rewarding and enjoyable, as well as stressful and emotionally exhausting. There were times in her career where the rewards predominated and others where burnout prevailed. In 2014, Cathy realigned to focus on the concept of well-being in the veterinary industry. She now sees her role as creating the space and safety to have conversations that explore the big questions of our lives as humans working in the veterinary industry. The experiences and training that inform Cathy’s work are her long involvement with the industry and a humanistic outlook intermingled with training in positive psychology, coaching, group work, spiritual care and meaning-centred therapy. Cathy is also a Mental Health First Aider. BSc, BVMS, MVS, TAA, Dip Pos Psych and Well-being