Dr Mark Schipp welcomes Dr Beth Cookson

13 May 2022

Image: Deputy Chief Veterinary Officer Dr Beth Cookson

 

I am delighted to introduce and welcome Australia’s new Deputy Chief Veterinary Officer Dr Beth Cookson, who is an important addition to the Office of the Chief Veterinary Officer. Based in Cairns, Dr Cookson’s role will focus on animal health and biosecurity threats across northern Australia and building capacity there, along with strengthening our relationship with Indonesia. For this month’s article, I have invited Dr Cookson to outline her career journey and share some insights into her work.

 

Some words from Dr Beth Cookson

Being recently appointed as the Deputy Australian Chief Veterinary Officer is an immense privilege and a career highlight. It certainly wasn’t the career path that I envisioned upon graduating from the University of Queensland in 2004 with an ambition to enter rural mixed practice.

It all started when I applied for, and was awarded, an Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS) Rural Bonded Scholarship in my final year of university. I had never heard of AQIS at the time and hadn’t considered government veterinary work, although I had enjoyed my final year public practice rotation with the Queensland Department of Primary Industries.

The scholarship took me to South Australia where I worked for a year in mixed animal practice and participated in a range of training programs, including the Exotic Disease Training Program at the now Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness. The scholarship program introduced me to a broad range of veterinary career pathways, and after a stint of small animal practice in Darwin I was employed as a field surveillance vet with the Northern Australia Quarantine Strategy (NAQS).

I went on to complete six years of field work conducting surveillance for exotic animal diseases in northern Australia. This involved working alongside indigenous ranger groups in remote communities in the north and in Torres Strait, partnering with research institutions and private veterinarians, delivering capacity building programs in Papua New Guinea, Timor-Leste and Indonesia, and even obtaining aerial marksperson and remote area survival qualifications.

 

Epidemiology and biosecurity

During my early career, I developed a passion for veterinary epidemiology and surveillance. I went on to obtain a membership in epidemiology to the Australian and New Zealand College of Veterinary Scientists in 2013. I also became the animal health surveillance manager with NAQS where I led surveillance programs in the north, developing deeper relationships with state and territory veterinary counterparts and industry groups.

My work took me to Cairns and then back to Darwin, before I moved into animal health policy work in Canberra as the branch head of Animal Biosecurity in 2019 at what is now the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment. For me it was a proud moment - to be following in the footsteps of the likes of Dr David Banks, who I never had the opportunity to meet but held in the highest regard as a veterinarian for the legacy his leadership and advocacy work achieved for biosecurity in northern Australia.

In this role I led the development of import policy and trade protocol negotiations for animals and animal products, and had the opportunity to travel to Paris, Kuala Lumpur, Phuket and Singapore amongst other international locations as well as working closely with our domestic peak industry organisations.

 

Contributing to issues of national importance

One of the most rewarding things about being a government veterinarian is the opportunity to contribute to issues of national importance and the diversity of roles and experiences available. The changing dynamics of global transboundary animal disease spread brings into sharp focus the important role of veterinarians in all sectors. It calls for even closer collaboration between private-practice, research and government veterinarians. Together we can effectively prevent, detect and respond to new and emerging disease threats.

The veterinary profession is at the forefront of addressing some of these immediate and pressing challenges and it is an exciting time to be involved. Programs like the Northern Australia Biosecurity Surveillance Network (NABSnet) are excellent examples of government and private veterinarians working closely to share knowledge and improve the outcomes of disease investigations for producers and contribute to national surveillance efforts.

 

Focusing on animal health in northern Australia

As Deputy Chief Veterinary Officer, I will be a technical focal point for animal health in northern Australia, helping to build the resilience of our animal industries across the north and working closely with our regional partners to respond to significant disease threats like lumpy skin disease and foot-and-mouth disease. The health and resilience of our profession is deeply important to me, and I was pleased to recently join Dr Mark Schipp for the regular Veterinary Leadership Dialogue with AVA President Dr Warwick Vale.

We discussed ways to improve joint support for the veterinary profession. To do so, many complex issues must be addressed like improving work conditions, advocating for the value of veterinarians and elevating veterinary recruitment. We also reflected on the changes to the veterinary workforce, and the challenges of rural and regional veterinarians. The current demographic of the veterinary profession is reflected in women working in the role of six of Australia’s nine state and territory Chief Veterinary Officers.

I look forward to my new role supporting the veterinary profession, and I hope my position helps to inspire other women to follow into leadership roles within our great profession. There is more to do to support all of our colleagues and to ensure we create a positive future for a collaborative, innovative and resilient profession that we are all proud to be part of.

I encourage all veterinarians to follow and support the work of the Office of the Chief Veterinary Officer – we have a capable and expert team of which I am thrilled to be a part of. Thank you to Dr Schipp for the warm welcome, you can follow more about our work through his social media channels on LinkedIn and Twitter.