Stint with Vets Beyond Borders gives a vet the change of scene she needed

04 Aug 2023

Dr Catherine Henry operating out of a converted shipping container on Thursday Island

Dr Catherine Henry had been considering volunteering for a while, but with a young family and the outbreak of COVID, it was difficult finding the right time. Having moved out of clinical practice and into an industry role, she found at times she missed the clinical work, especially surgery - so volunteering was a way to fill this gap and still use her clinical skills as well as meeting her passion to improve animal wellbeing and assist their communities. 

She first heard about Vets Beyond Borders (VBB) a couple of years previously and had really enjoyed volunteering with VBB on a couple of RSPCA Community Action Days around Sydney. The idea of doing a longer volunteering stint really appealed. Catherine has always loved travelling, meeting people and experiencing life in different communities. Volunteering with VBB ticked all these boxes. 

She spent a week on Thursday Island, off the coast of Far North Queensland, with a team of VBB volunteers – three vets and three vet nurses. The Thursday Island clinics have become a regular feature on this tiny island which has no resident vet. To address this, VBB has teamed up with the Animal Welfare League QLD to run clinics every 2-3 months, supporting the work of the local Thursday Island Animal Support Group. Over 1000 animals have been treated since these trips began, improving the welfare of both the animals and the community of Thursday Island.

“It was very clear that the Thursday Island community were becoming increasingly aware about the repeat trips by VBB and the ability to access veterinary treatment for their animals. It was also evident that the community knowledge about veterinary issues and animal welfare had significantly increased since VBB started their trips”, Catherine said.

“The community was very welcoming, friendly, and appreciative. Word was also spreading beyond Thursday Island, so by the end of our trip we were also treating animals from nearby Horn Island, and some of the team were even transporting the animals over to veterinary facility and back home on the ferry”, recalls Catherine.

Dr Catherine Henry (right) with seasoned Vet Beyond Borders volunteer, vet nurse Helen Spry

While most of the work was routine first opinion work – predominantly desexing and vaccinations – Catherine performed her first entropion procedure and was grateful to have other vets on hand to advise before and during the procedure. Collectively they were delighted to be able to give that dog an improved quality of life.

When it came to the clinic facilities on Thursday Island, Catherine was pleasantly surprised.

“VBB has managed to set up a very functional and efficient veterinary clinic on Thursday Island. I was blown away by the amount and variety of stock, (medications, parasiticides etc.) and facilities on arrival. There was a reception area with consult table and kennels and pre-med area, and then just over the road was the shipping container that has been converted into a surgical theatre. There were two anaesthetic machines using isoflurane, two operating tables with excellent lighting, plenty of surgical instruments and ,most importantly, very effective air conditioning!”. 

There were so many positives to her experience - meeting people from Thursday Island and Horn Island, seeing the appreciation the community had for the facilities VBB was providing and being part of a VBB team of volunteers. Catherine also found it wonderful to be able to use her veterinary skills to give back and provide a service to these communities.

When asked if she felt she personally benefitted from the experience, the answer was “Absolutely!”.  

Having a break from the usual day to day routine, the opportunity to use veterinary clinical skills, meet new people and work with wonderful veterinary and VBB colleagues provided a significant emotional boost. 

“I definitely see a mental health benefit to these volunteering opportunities.

And working alongside colleagues with such diverse backgrounds has opened my eyes to new techniques, protocols, and perspectives, making the experience truly rewarding.

I'm incredibly grateful to be part of an organisation that encourages giving back and enabled me to partake in this volunteering opportunity on Thursday Island. At Elanco, we are inspired to find our purpose and nurture it as often as we can.

It was an enjoyable and stimulating albeit busy trip! I wholeheartedly recommend volunteering with VBB and I’m already looking forward to joining them again next year.”

VBB has volunteer vacancies in countries right across the Asia Pacific Region, including Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Fiji, the Cook Islands and Indonesia. Volunteer veterinarians must have a minimum of 2 years post-graduate clinical experience and possess a veterinary qualification recognised by the Australian Veterinary Boards Council, or the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, and be registered to practise in the jurisdiction in which they currently reside.

To find out more about VetMatch and current vacancies – domestic and international –