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Overseas-trained veterinarians wanting to practise in Australia have to first sit and pass the Australasian Veterinary Examination—not an easy task but as one foreign vet attests, definitely achievable. By Phil Tucak
Columbian veterinarian Dr Natalia Gomez was determined to register to work as a vet in Australia. After successfully passing the Australasian Veterinary Examination (AVE) and now practising in Sydney, she hopes that her hard work and perseverance will inspire other overseas-trained vets to follow her lead.
“Working as a veterinarian in Australia is the greatest gift I’ve given to myself!” she enthuses.
From an early age, Dr Gomez’s fascination with science and animals led her on a path towards becoming a veterinarian. One of her early childhood memories is when she received a microscope for her birthday, allowing her to examine the insects and other nature specimens she discovered in her neighbourhood. She also remembers one of her first dolls was Veterinarian Barbie.
While awaiting the result of her veterinary school application, Dr Gomez decided to learn English and travel to Australia for six months. It was during that trip she fell in love with the country.
“Australians may not realise the strong connection they have with animals. That was the first thing I saw when I came. Birds walk around you and have no fear of humans, seagulls and ibises beg for food if you eat in front of them. If there is a stray dog wandering the streets, someone will take the dog to their local vet,” says Dr Gomez.
While studying veterinary medicine back in Colombia, Dr Gomez worked as a veterinary nurse on weekends and established her own pet rehabilitation and physical therapy business. After qualifying as a veterinarian, in 2017 she returned to Australia, initially working in menial jobs before finally gaining work as a veterinary nurse.
“The first year was very tough. One of my job interviews didn’t go so well and I knew I was not getting the job, however before leaving I told the owner, Dr Ben, that I was interested in volunteering at his practice. He smiled and told me his story, of being from Iran and how he had done the Australasian Veterinary Examination and now he had his own veterinary practice. I could not believe it.” says Dr Gomez.
Dr Ben’s story inspired her to tackle the AVE herself.
Qualifying to practise in Australia
The AVE is a pathway to registration for any overseas-trained veterinarian whose degree is not recognised in Australia or New Zealand. The examination process is run by the Australasian Veterinary Boards Council (AVBC).
“If a veterinarian is able to register in their own country, they may apply to sit the AVE. The first step is having their qualification assessed and to make sure their English is sufficient to give them a chance to pass the examination and to communicate in practice,” explains AVBC executive director Dr Julie Strous.
“The next step is a multiple-choice examination (MCQ) where candidates attend an invigilated testing centre to complete two papers. This test is an excellent ‘drafting gate’ for entrance into the clinical examination which is held at the University of Queensland. Most candidates who pass the MCQ go on to pass the AVE clinical examination. This may be on their first attempt, or subsequently, through being eligible for supplementary examination, a full re-sit.”
The AVBC assists overseas-trained veterinarians in navigating the examination process, and a dedicated committee ensures the competencies tested are equivalent to those of an Australian or New Zealand new graduate veterinarian.
“The clinical examination can be quite confronting in having to demonstrate hands-on skills for the assessors. Throughout the process, our committee members and staff are on hand to help and provide support as needed,” says Dr Strous.
“The pass rate for the MCQ stage of the examination has been between 42 and 63 per cent in recent years. The numbers applying have ranged between 22 and 38 per year up to 2018 and then they jumped to 57 in 2019, and this year 81 candidates sat at nine venues worldwide. Of those who pass the MCQ, well over 90% pass the clinical exam and go on to register as veterinarians in Australia and New Zealand.”
For candidates considering taking the examination, Dr Strous advises they take the time to read through the requirements and try to identify where any skill gaps lie.
“If you graduated some years ago and have gone on to focused practice in a narrower branch of veterinary science, you may need to seek out help to refresh your skills in those areas where your experience after graduation has been limited.
“Knowing how to connect with your fellow veterinarians and ask for help is an important skill. Use the AVA website, specifically their AVE Candidate Hub page, and also use the social media-based groups that have developed in recent years.”
Dr Gomez’s own experience
For Dr Gomez, the whole process took three years, as she juggled study with veterinary nursing work commitments.
“I ended up studying for the MCQ for two years, then I applied for limited registration and worked as a vet for one year while preparing myself for the practical examination. There are online websites such as Zuku Review and VetPrep where you can pay for a membership and study the most important topics and practice questions. I also used the book Saunders Comprehensive Review for the NAVLE, and the online Merck Veterinary Manual,” says Dr Gomez.
“Having now passed the examinations, I am focusing on becoming an elite general practice veterinarian and hope to study for a Membership in internal medicine. I also have a keen interest in abdominal ultrasound, and I am currently doing a post-graduate qualification in western veterinary herbal medicine as I’d like to be an integrative veterinarian.”
Follow Dr Gomez on Instagram at: @nataliathevet