Case study: Health process
These case studies demonstrate how complaints and other concerns are managed, and what the profession can learn from them. They are a regular feature of this pānui. Please let us know if there are specific issues you would like us to cover.
This month’s case study focuses on a slightly different part of the Vet Council’s fitness to practice process. It involves a veterinarian who worked through a health process after declaring their bipolar disorder diagnosis and a drug dependency.
The Council’s assessment and monitoring process is designed to separate health issues from conduct or competence concerns. With a focus on rehabilitation, our intention is that a veterinarian should be able to safely remain in work with treatment for a health issue or return to work as quickly as possible.
With a health process, we seek to better understand the veterinarian’s health situation; what, if any, measures are needed to ensure they can practice veterinary medicine safely; and how they can be supported to continue working. Health cases are handled in a non-judgemental, confidential, and supportive manner.
How it was managed
The Vet Council sets the standards that veterinarians in New Zealand must meet in order to get or maintain their registration, which includes fitness to practice.
This case was referred to the Vet Council’s Health Team. After considering the case and its potential pathways, the Health Team received advice from the Council’s Medical Advisor who suggested the veterinarian should have a health assessment performed by a psychiatrist.
After their medical assessment, the veterinarian was invited to enter an informal written agreement with the Vet Council, called a Voluntary Undertaking (VU). In this particular case, the VU outlined that the veterinarian would begin seeing a psychiatrist and GP, and that information from these visits, and reports, would be regularly shared with the Council. The VU also required the veterinarian to have a senior vet mentor them, and have random hair testing done through a health monitoring programme.
From there, the veterinarian started seeing their psychiatrist routinely and met the terms of their health monitoring programme for two years. After this time, the requirement for reporting from the veterinarian’s GP and psychiatrist was removed, along with the need for random hair testing.
This case demonstrates how taking a pragmatic approach to a health condition enabled a veterinarian to continue working, with monitoring requirements that were eventually relaxed. The majority of health cases that the Vet Council is involved with are notified by the veterinarians themselves.
The Vet Council’s approach to health is to always try to work with veterinarians to help them practice safely. If you’re unsure or worried about a health condition, you are welcome to contact us for an informal, confidential chat.