How veterinary science gives all creatures great and small a voice

Tristan Robinson

Becoming a vet is always high on the list for kids when they’re thinking about what they want to be when they grow up. It was for Tristan Robinson, who spent his childhood caring for his menagerie of farm animals. And this lifelong passion has seen him not only study veterinary science but go on to run a regional veterinary hospital.

From offering advice to pet owners, undertaking routine health checks and performing life-saving surgeries, Tristan has improved the quality of life for countless animals and earned the gratitude of families throughout the Riverina. It’s all in a day’s work for the passionate animal advocate – even if the day’s work means facing the seemingly impossible task of rescuing a horse that’s become stuck in the mud – as Tristan shared with Insight.

Tell us about your journey to becoming a veterinarian and practice director at Wagga Wagga Veterinary Hospital.

“I’m from Victoria originally and grew up on a farm with all sorts of farm animals. We had sheep, cattle, horses, dogs and cats. When I went off to high school, I had aspirations to study veterinary science and wanted to work with animals in a rural environment through a science-based course or career.

“And that’s where I came across Charles Sturt University and the veterinary science program. I worked hard at school and straight after I was accepted into veterinary science at Wagga. I moved to Wagga and studied for six years, which was fantastic. Then I took my first job in Dubbo and had a really good mentor in my first boss there for two years. An opportunity came up to move back to Wagga as an associate veterinarian and then another opportunity arose to get into the partnership running Wagga Wagga Veterinary Hospital.”

Why did you choose a career in veterinarian science?

“The main thing about veterinary science is that it’s about helping people. Working with animals is definitely enjoyable, especially the science behind it and problem-solving. It definitely has its challenges and you need to work hard and have lots of resilience, but overall the career is very interesting and definitely enjoyable. “

What are some essential personal traits and capabilities that make a great vet?

“When making a great vet, the number one buzzword, I believe, is ‘resilience’.

“You need to be able to, if you get knocked down, get back up. Persistence is important. You’re not going to get thanked every time and there’s going to be difficult situations. You really need to be able to see the light at the end of a tunnel. And you need to understand that when doing your best, you might not always have the outcome you wish for every time. You just need to front it up and prepare to do it again.

“It’s really important for veterinarians to have things outside of being a vet, whether that’s sport, community involvement, family – those sorts of things. Overall, I think that makes for a really good veterinarian, one who can communicate well with their clients and look after the patients.”

Did you have any involvement with clubs or committees at uni?

“Coming up to studying veterinarian science at Charles Sturt University, I didn’t know many people so the best way I felt to branch out and meet new people was to join a sports club and the veterinary science club. I’ve been part of the Charles Sturt football club for 13 years now.

“Joining a committee is great. You learn lots of communication skills and people management skills and make connections within the Wagga community. These types of skills are really important, especially if you want to run a business. It really helps to build up your relationships in the community.

“I’m still actively involved with the football committee, where I try to help guide the younger students that are coming through who may have moved out of home and away from their parents. I try to give them some leadership and guidance through their studies and about using sport as an outlet and common ground.”

What does it mean to you to be able to help animals?

“With animals, obviously they can’t talk, so we’ve got be a big advocate for what’s best for the animal. And sometimes owners, they always want the best, but there might be things that conflict with what they really want. For instance, they might have sentimental value with the pet if it was owned by a late family member or it was part of something else in their life that we’re not aware of.

“As a veterinarian you’ve got to understand what a pet owner’s wishes are and also advocate for the animal’s wellbeing. And I think that’s the most rewarding thing when it comes to pets. No, they can’t talk, but we’re able to read their body language and make an assessment and strive for a successful outcome, whether it’s surgically or medically or even just a routine check-up or the vaccination of a puppy. Probably the most enjoyable part of my day is meeting with people on good terms – they want to be there and get as much information out of you as a veterinarian. It’s a really big reward.”

What appeals to you about working and living in the regions?

“Being a country boy raised on a farm, I definitely wasn’t keen to go to the city – that wasn’t for me. I did my research into different universities and I came across Charles Sturt University and the campus at Wagga Wagga offering different agricultural and animal veterinary science-based courses.

“I did a campus tour and really liked what I saw. I really liked the fact that they take you in for who you are as a person, not just a name and a number and a high-school score. With veterinary science, they also do an interview. I liked the smaller class sizes and looking out the classroom window at the paddocks with sheep, and the fact that sports clubs were very active on campus. I just liked the whole feel of it – I wouldn’t have had it any other way. I’m a massive advocate for studying at Charles Sturt University and particularly veterinary science at Wagga Wagga.”

Tell us about a memorable moment in your career.

“I’ve had lots of memorable moments. One that stands out is an incident where a lady rang me to say her horse was stuck in a dam. It was a semi-dried dam that was really muddy and the horse had become stuck in there. It’s not something they teach at university and you don’t read about it in a textbook. It was basically problem-solving – this horse was in a dam and we needed to solve the problem of how to get it out.

“We made contact with the local SES Rescue people and the local police came out as well. It was a combination of people working together with straps and winches. Thankfully, we managed to get this horse out of the dam – he was fine, if a little stressed and fatigued. But it’s probably something I’ll never see again. It’s something that’s etched in my brain. It was enjoyable working with the emergency services to save the horse.”

How do you want to make your mark on the world?

“Making a mark in my career for me is about giving back to the industry. I want to help improve the profession and the mental health status of people in it. There is a lot of pressure on veterinarians. I’m also a big advocate for veterinary science at Charles Sturt University. Our practice [Wagga Wagga Veterinary Hospital] is directly affiliated with final-year veterinarian students in Wagga. I want to continue to nurture the students and share some wisdom along the way. I’d also like to help promote Wagga – I love Wagga and I’m a big advocate for rural living; it has all the services you need. I feel very lucky to have had the opportunities I’ve had and to be where I am.”

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