Into the sunset

Veterinarian Dr Jackie Campbell smiling while sitting on a grey couch next to a small black dog.

UQ graduate Dr Jackie Campbell is a veterinarian on a mission to ensure that pets not only live well, but die well, too.

During 10 years as a general practice veterinarian, Dr Jackie Campbell (Bachelor of Veterinary Science ’06) noticed growing complexities with end-of life care.

Pets were living longer, and with care options increasing because of advancing medicine, more and more families were looking to support their pets through a terminal diagnosis or final months of life.

Families wanted to be able to access the same level of palliative veterinary care they would be able to access in human healthcare. And Campbell desperately wanted to be able to offer this service.

With further study, Campbell quickly developed a passion for helping pets manage chronic pain, and went on to train in myofunctional massage therapy.

“I then began looking closely at the human models of palliative care – how it’s delivered, and what it means to be a palliative care clinician, before completing further study with the International Association of Animal Hospice and Palliative Care,” she said.

“It’s funny how sometimes your weaknesses can eventually become your strengths. Feeling less experienced in this area of medicine spurred me on to learn more.

“There is magic in those quiet moments as pets approach the end of life.”

Today, Campbell is helping to pioneer the practice of veterinary palliative care in Australia.

She founded one of the country’s first dedicated mobile palliative pet care services, Sunset Home Veterinary Care, in 2014.

“For me, it’s about combining compassionate medicine with the humanity of both the veterinarian and the carers, and making sure that my patients are cared for and my clients feel heard."

Campbell’s dedication to compassionate medicine extends beyond her private practice.

She also coordinates the Pets in the Park initiative in Brisbane, where each month, she donates her expertise to help people experiencing homelessness continue to care for their much-loved pets.

“Pets in the Park is an organisation that encompasses everything that is good and wonderful about the veterinary industry, and the level of community support for this initiative has been overwhelming,” Campbell said.

“Many of our clients would do just about anything for their pets. They would certainly forgo their own meals in order to feed their animals. Our service helps to just ease the financial burden of care and encourages responsible pet ownership.”

In her private practice, Campbell encounters many responsible pet owners who struggle to know the best way forward for their sick or dying pets.

She explains that sometimes there can be a disconnect between what a family wants and what is medically best for their pet. Through medical counselling, Campbell said she becomes the conduit between these two things.

“This is where we help families to explore their goals for care and come to terms with their pet’s prognosis or disease trajectory, often reiterating what has been said previously by their primary care veterinary team but in a supported environment.

“This type of care really takes a lot of time and can be hard to do effectively within the walls of a busy hospital.

"Taking people out of the hospital environment and supporting them at home helps us achieve better outcomes for everyone.”

Talking about outcomes in the palliative pet care space can be a difficult topic, but Campbell maintains a positive outlook.

She is passionate about ensuring pets have access to high-quality pain care and families have access to specialised support, right until the end.

“We are very blessed here at Sunset Vets that we are able to work with families for whom their pets are everything,” she said.

“And it’s very much about helping to alleviate discomfort, pain and distress so, at the end of the day, we know we’ve had a positive impact no matter the outcome.

“Anytime we can alleviate a patient’s pain and then help a family plan for a gentle goodbye before suffering occurs, then my team and I know we’ve done our jobs.”

Learn more about UQ School of Veterinary Science.

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