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Written By

Bianca de Loryn


College of Science and Engineering

Publish Date

5 May 2023

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Becoming a vet

Placements are an important part of studying a Bachelor of Veterinary Science at JCU. So far, second year veterinary science student, Julia Kaminakamura, has worked with cows, crocodiles and tropical fish, but her favourite placement was at a thoroughbred breeding facility in the Gold Coast Hinterland.

Julia Kaminakamura has always loved animals, but there was one crucial event that inspired her to become a veterinarian. “I was walking my dogs, and there were these two other dogs that weren't on a leash. They came up to my dog and bit her in the neck,” Julia says. “I thought that she was going to die.” Luckily, the local vet was able to save her dog. “They were very thoughtful about my concerns. That was when I realised that I wanted to be like them, and I wanted to help animals.”

Julia started studying a Bachelor of Veterinary Science at JCU in 2022, when the COVID-19 restrictions had largely been phased out, and so she is happy that everything is now hands-on again. “When I started last year,  a few classes were online in the first few weeks,” she says. “But after that, we had plenty of face-to-face interaction through classes and practicals, which was lovely.”

Julia is now a second-year student, and she has already completed four placements around Queensland in very different fields. Placements are internships that help students to learn how experienced vets care for animals in a variety of different settings. “There are required placements that cover a set of farm animals, for example, horses, dairy cows, beef cattle and sheep,” Julia says. “And there are discretionary placements, which means we can work with any animals we want.”

Julia at Harleys Creek.
Julia at Cairns Marine.
Left to right: Julia Kaminakamura at Hartley's Crocodile Adventures and at Cairns Marine (Supplied: Julia Kaminakamura).

Taking care of Australian wildlife

When it comes to discretionary placements, students can choose from a list of JCU’s existing partners, or they can reach out and apply with an organisation that they are interested in working with. Julia was keen to learn more about Australian wildlife, so she decided to do her two discretionary first year placements at Hartley's Crocodile Adventures near Port Douglas and at Cairns Marine.

At Hartley’s, which is a zoo and a crocodile farm, Julia worked for two weeks in the crocodile farm section of the business. “I loved feeding the crocodiles because I've never done that before. They are very cool crocodiles. They tried to snap me, but they were cute, because they were all relatively small.”

At Cairns Marine, a company that collects and supplies marine plants and animals for display in aquaria, Julia worked with fish and turtles. “I learned a lot about corals, about what pH balance and what water quality is needed, and about food supplements,” Julia says. “I also worked with some turtles, I fed them, and I cleaned their tanks.”

Julia cow examination.
Julia horse examination.
Left to right: Julia Kaminakamura during her first year cow and horse placements (Supplied: Julia Kaminakamura).

Working with racehorses and domestic pets

Julia says that as a vet student she finds it important to work with a wide variety of different animals. “I think JCU did a good job making sure you've realised which animals you're interested in, or if you prefer either working with farm animals or in clinical roles with domestic animals.”

As for the regular farm animal placements that all JCU vet students undertake in their first year, Julia has already finished a dairy cow placement in the Atherton Tablelands, and a two-week horse placement in the Gold Coast Hinterland.

Working with horses on placement has also been Julia's favourite experience so far. “It was really good because I got to experience how the production of racehorses is managed, and how vets are involved in this,” Julia says. “They did regular checks — a vet would come in on Monday, Wednesday and Friday to check on the pregnant mares. I watched the vet doing routine procedures, such as scanning, X ray and surgical procedures. That was incredible.”

Looking back, Julia says, “I've done eight weeks of placement for first year. But before third year starts, I still have my beef cattle placement, one more sheep placement and one aquaculture placement, such as at a barramundi farm.”

Julia is already looking forward to her third year, when her placement experiences will get even more exciting: “That’s when we start doing clinical placements with domestic animals.”

The JCU Vet Ball is a good opportunity to build connections (Supplied: Julia Kaminakamura).

Forging her own path as a future vet

For those interested in studying veterinary science, Julia’s top tip is about building support systems: “Who you spend time with affects your experience a lot, so it’s important to always surround yourself with people who have the same motivation as you,” she says.

Julia also thinks that people should take the courage to ask for help. “It's better to solve your problem now before it gets bigger,” she says.

As for now, Julia isn’t sure where her future vet career will take her. “I would like to specialise in horses because I loved the horse placement so much. Or I work at a mixed vet practice that has mostly dogs and cats, but maybe where some horses might come in as well.”

As Julia is currently in second year and still has three more years to go, she still has plenty of time to decide where her career will take her.

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