Who are our alumni?

John Debenham (BVSc '11)


It has been widely touted that we should aim for a life where we work to live and not the other way around, but John (JJ) has proven that actually, you can tap into both.

After graduating, JJ went to work at the Tchimpoung Chimpanzee Rehabilitation Centre in the Congo. He describes how he was faced with a chimpanzee, named Wounda, who was severely anaemic and unable to move. The permanent vet was not due back for a week and the local workers spoke mainly French, so he admits that the experience tested him, but also revealed what he was actually capable of.

Wounda required a blood transfusion, so he had to anaesthetise one of the adult male chimpanzees, collect blood, cross-match it and then transfuse it to her. The situation was touch and go for a week, so he took Wounda into his home, so that he could help her eat and support her with intravenous fluids and a range of treatments.

Today, she is happy and healthy and has been released into a big forested island with a group of other rehabilitated chimpanzees. This case study was published in the Journal of Zoo and Wildlife Medicine.

JJ makes no secret of the fact that being a vet takes grit and is not as glamorous as it might seem, but couldn’t imagine himself in any other profession. Today, he combines wildlife disease research and teaching at the Norwegian School of Veterinary Science, with clinical work at a Norwegian Zoo - and he loves it.

“I work with a fantastic group of people, have challenging cases that push me to my utter limits, feel that I make a big difference in the lives of animals and humans, and learn a lot along the way. Be prepared for an ever-changing career of ups and downs, but huge emotional reward.”

When asked what superpower he would like if he had the choice, he said telekinesis, so he could do without the dart guns when it comes to helping dangerous animals. Funnily enough, saving animals and giving wildlife a fighting chance, is a pretty impressive superpower too.

Lara Fossati (BVSc '06)

Lara Fossati

You may recognise Lara from her many stints on Bondi Vet, but being a quiet achiever, she confesses that she was a tad camera shy.

Lara kicked off her career working in mainly small animal practices before completing a rotating medicine and surgery internship with Small Animal Specialists Hospital, a referral hospital. After a year, she was offered a role in Emergency. Lara completed her membership in small animal medicine and then earned a role managing the Anaesthesia Department.

Lara could have been set for a successful career doing clinical work, but an unexpected offer came up to work as a technical advisor two days a week with Nestle Purina. It was the perfect balance between industry and clinical work.

With time, Lara’s passions grew and now she works full time for Nestle Purina in pet specialty and prescription diets, but she still maintains her passion for clinic by working in Emergency on Sundays. Admittedly, she says Sunday is a long day, but she loves it.

She says she owes her love for working with animals to her childhood dog. When her dog became unwell, all she wanted was to be able to understand how she could help. Lara recalls the day she graduated as her fondest memory at the University. When you physically walk out the door, although it is sad, you bring together seven years of University into one special day with your family and friends, and there’s just nothing like it.

For future students, her pearls of wisdom would be:

“Never stop learning and keep your mind open to any field. Continue to learn even when you’re out of practice. You’re not meant to have all the answers straight away and it’s ok to ask for help sometimes. Move through the motions of diagnosis and don’t give yourself a hard time. When faced with challenging situations, trust yourself and you will see how capable and adaptable you actually are when you apply your knowledge.”

Zara Boland (BVSc '04)

Zara Boland

Zara was originally trained as a civil and structural engineer, however she found herself volunteering all her spare time to work with animals. This strengthened her resolve to finally bring that fire in her belly, to work with animals, to life.

She recalls the first day she walked through the doors at the University as her fondest memory and admits that at the time, she had no idea what her grand plan for the future would be. Little was she to know that, that first seemingly insignificant step would launch her on a career trajectory that would take her around the world.

After graduating, Zara worked with a small animal and avian vet in country NSW and Victoria. From grafting feathers onto sea eagles, she then went over to the UK and worked in a mixed animal practice. This took her onto roles working with exotic animals, zoos and the Government; looking at the legal and illegal export of animals.

These experiences paved the way for a career-defining role with Nestle in London. She was the first vet to be hired and proved that the gamble was well worth the investment, by growing and expanding the role. Aside from working on product lines, she took on media spokesperson roles and managed crisis management.

Zara went on to start her own company called Vet Voice, which was borne out of the realisation that there was a communication gap between vets and clients. This opened up opportunities to speak to a wider audience through various media channels, across television, radio, print and online. For Zara, being able to share a message through the media, means she can help more people, and in turn, more animals.

Purina became one of Zara’s clients and now she is part of the Global Purina Nestle Team based in the United States, but she still maintains her links with the UK as the only female Board Director on the British Veterinary Association, amongst other things.

For others who are considering a life as a veterinarian, her advice is: “Don’t limit yourself - think beyond the James Herriot model.” Her journey proves that the skills you learn as a vet are multifaceted and the opportunities are endless.

Professor Rosanne Taylor (BVSc '88 (Hons 1), DipVetClinStud, GradCertEducStud (Higher Education), PhD

Professor Rosanne Taylor

Professor Rosanne Taylor, Dean of The Sydney School of Veterinary Science, The University of Sydney, has experience in veterinary practice, government and academia, working in Australia, USA and Hong Kong. Her expertise is in veterinary neuroscience and veterinary education and her research has contributed to understanding of the pathobiology and treatment of inherited brain damage. She has been recognised with teaching awards for leading curriculum and cultural change and is an international consultant in veterinary education. Rosanne is the first female Dean of Veterinary Science, appointed 100 years after the Faculty was established.