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As a busy veterinarian with a passion for permaculture and a TV profile to boot, Dr Lydia Pethick wants to spread the word about the role of holistic gardening—and other passion projects—in staving off burnout and boosting wellbeing. By Dr Phil Tucak
Permaculture’s principles of embracing wise stewardship of the earth’s resources and transforming problems into innovative solutions, resonated with veterinarian Dr Lydia Pethick who now uses every opportunity she gets to empower others through sharing the joy of gardening and promoting veterinary wellbeing.
During her childhood, Dr Pethick was inspired by her father’s work as a doctor helping people, while her mother instilled in her a love for animals, which resulted in Dr Pethick growing up with an interest in biology amidst a menagerie of animals.
As a veterinarian, Dr Pethick wants to create a positive ripple effect in the veterinary profession by sharing strategies for collaboration, empowerment and overcoming struggles.
“I love that I now get to help both animals and people. I’m passionate about increasing wellbeing, resilience, collaboration within the veterinary profession, raising awareness of the struggles and finding solutions together,” she says.
“I love being able to connect with and support other veterinarians. I get to help people in different ways as I connect with, present, and share on different platforms about improving our wellbeing. I’m also able to help animals through the policies I help create and the projects I get to manage.”
Dr Pethick works as a veterinary policy officer with the Western Australia Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development where she contributes to biosecurity and livestock imports legislation and policy development. She is also currently a board member on the Veterinary Practice Board of Western Australia.
Prior to this, Dr Pethick worked at Western Australia’s now defunct Animal Resources Centre overseeing the veterinary care and biosecurity of laboratory animals, during which time she also completed her Membership in Medicine and Management of Laboratory Animals with the Australian and New Zealand College of Veterinary Scientists (ANZCVS).
“Prior to completing my membership, I was already a keen edible gardener, and tending to the garden was grounding, calming, and rewarding. While taking short study breaks, I would go out into the garden and smell the aromatics, feel the sun on my skin, pick and taste the ripe fruit, and it would enliven my senses, and rejuvenate me for another round of study,” recalls Dr Pethick.
“Then once I’d finished my membership, I pursued more training in permaculture and completed a course in therapeutic horticulture, a field that showcases the interconnectedness of nature and personal wellbeing.”
Dr Pethick’s gardening journey also started from a young age, and she has many fond memories of her grandfather’s garden of fruit trees in Singapore and a childhood spent climbing trees, growing plants, and exploring nature.
“After graduation from veterinary school, I dabbled in edible gardening and after my husband and I set up home in urban Perth, I had dreams of recreating the oasis my grandfather had in his garden. Initially my ideas were haphazard and there were many experiments. To have a more cohesive garden design plan, I attended gardening, seed saving and permaculture workshops by different instructors,” says Dr Pethick.
“I next completed a Permaculture Design Course in 2019, which involved theory, hands-on practical work, and site visits, including designing our permaculture plan for our home. The course was amazing—with wonderful like-minded people, each passionate about improving the world within their spheres of influence.”
Central to permaculture are the ethics of people care, earth care and fair share—an ethos Dr Pethick has gravitated towards, realising the importance of recognising the interconnectedness of all life, and of building community, connection, and collaboration.
“Permaculture is bigger than gardening. It is the wise stewardship of the earth’s resources, turning the problem into the solution, designing integrated plant and animal systems, learning to better manage water, soil, and nutrients on our property and to design gardens that work with nature, rather than against,” says Dr Pethick.
“I shared my gardening journey and wins on social media and in 2020, I was contacted by horticulturist Trevor Cochrane who produces television programs such as The Garden Gurus. I’d caught his attention through my storytelling and passion for gardening and so the opportunity came about to present gardening stories on topics I’m passionate about.”
Now with a raft of television stories under her belt, covering everything from the creation of beverages sourced from the garden such as elderflower cordial, to the joys of keeping backyard poultry, Dr Pethick’s confidence has been further strengthened by undertaking media training and just being cognisant of the extensive work involved behind the scenes to create a few minutes of television content.
“I am very grateful for the experiences in the media industry. A lot of research goes into the stories, especially the animal stories, to ensure accuracy. Then there’s the script writing and preparation of props and the gardens for filming,” says Dr Pethick.
“Presenting to camera was a steep learning curve for me. When I first started doing solo-presenting, I remember having minimal sleep due to nerves and being so anxious that I might forget my lines. Fast forward to now, I’m co-presenting with Trevor and enjoying the relaxed and fun, conversational style of presenting.”
Having experienced burnout during her own career, Dr Pethick is mindful of the challenges faced by veterinarians and is keen to share her experiences along with strategies for overcoming stress.
“Our veterinary passport gives us so many opportunities. It’s amazing to be passionate about different things but also good for multi-passionate people to remember we cannot do everything all at once. Life has seasons. I encourage regular check-ins with yourself and to remember that rest is productive. It is sustainable to recharge and operate from a place of rest,” says Dr Pethick.
“Diverse careers can be very rewarding. Keep exploring and be open to trying different things and open to your evolution—your journey is like a tapestry, all the different coloured threads of experiences interwoven to form a unique masterpiece. And instead of comparison, use other’s journeys to galvanise you to create your own unique and beautiful journey.”
Dr Pethick has presented at veterinary professional development events and has also enjoyed speaking with undergraduate veterinary students about veterinary professional life, to support and champion them.
“I’m passionate about improving wellbeing in our profession. I’m mindful of the struggles in our profession—through my own career, interactions with others, time on the veterinary board and my past lived experience with burnout. Learning to stay well, supporting others, connecting people with mentors, and encouraging and empowering others is very important to me. Finding my own ‘balance’ is a constant work-in-progress and takes ongoing and regular recalibration,” she says.
“Choosing to work part-time helps make time for non-vet related pursuits that contribute to my wellbeing. I am still working on establishing healthy boundaries, practising gratitude daily and incorporating activities that recharge me like movement, time in nature, investing in relationships, honouring my sleep and nourishing myself through healthy consumption—such as nourishing food, hydration, healthy content, learning and self-care practices.”
Dr Pethick is committed to putting her own struggles and lived experience with burnout to the good—helping others as well as herself, to turn sadness into strength, and any pain into purpose.
“I’m working too on self-acceptance and being kinder to myself—shifting from being a harsh inner critic to being my own cheerleader and coach.”
Dr Pethick welcomes connections on LinkedIn and you can follow her gardening content on Instagram @DrLydiaPethick and her wellbeing content on @ChooseJoyOverJudgement.