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Inside Job: VES' Dr Sebastien Monier on nurturing professionals for the pet healthcare and veterinary sector in Singapore

Inside Job: VES' Dr Sebastien Monier on nurturing professionals for the pet healthcare and veterinary sector in Singapore

Similar to the human healthcare sector, the pet industry is also moving towards a patient-centric model of care. This evolution is giving rise to new roles and skills, as well as greater focus on continuing education.

Similar to the move towards treatment in ambulatory and specialist centres in the human health and medical care sector, the pet healthcare sector in Singapore is moving towards a patient-centric model of care. Further, a recent Animal & Veterinary Service (AVS) and Singapore Veterinary Association (SVA) survey found that vet paraprofessionals, such as vet technicians and nurses, want better development opportunities and the promotion of lifelong learning.

And this is why, at the opening of a new facility by Veterinary Emergency & Specialty (VES) Hospital Singapore in Whitley, a first-in-Singapore role for the pet healthcare and veterinary industries was announced – a Veterinary Relations Representative. This is a veterinarian who will focus on building partnerships with the veterinarian community to provide a smooth patient care experience for pet owners.

In addition, as of 2020, VES and Mars Veterinary Health (MVH) have committed to a strategic partnership focused on enhancing the development of the veterinary profession in Asia.

In HRO's brand-new section, Inside Job, we sneak a peek into some of the most unique roles and skills that are being developed across Asia. In the spirit of lifelong learning, we firmly believe every job is interesting and we all have the opportunity to pick up a thing or two from how things are done differently across sectors. So we hope you'll enjoy this new segment! 

For this debut feature, HRO's Bridgette Hall and Aditi Sharma Kalra speak to Dr Sebastien Monier, Founder and Medical Director, at specialty and emergency hospital for pets, VES Hospital Singapore, on how the sector is evolving and new roles are emerging as a result.

Dr Sebastien relocated to Singapore in 2014, bringing over his expertise in cardiorespiratory medicine, diagnostic imaging, internal medicine, and critical care. This includes the management of cardiac patients, renal diseases (chronic and acute kidney injury), hepatic and pancreatic conditions, as well as sepsis. 

Outside of work, he enjoys travelling, scuba diving, cooking, and spending time with his family and friends. He has two cats, Dao and Matsu who both were rescued here in Singapore.

Let's dive straight into this Inside Job on upskilling in the pet healthcare and veterinary sector in Singapore.

Q What drew you to the veterinary industry?

I was raised in a family with dogs and cats and have always been interested in medical science since young. This led me to naturally become a veterinarian. Even my parents often remind me that it has been my goal since I was four or five years old!

While in veterinary school, I became very interested in the diagnostic challenges that veterinarians faced and that led me to develop my interest in Internal Medicine. Diagnosis is a journey that involves a lot of investigations. Being an internist is like being a detective, where we have to search for clues to help us reach a final diagnosis for the pets under our care. Think about the American medical drama ‘House, M.D.’, just that in my case, pets are involved instead.

After completing my Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) in France, I moved to Canada to further my studies at the University of Montreal. I began with a small animal rotating internship before moving to a specialised internship in Internal Medicine & Cardiology. This gave me the foundation to pursue my postgraduate studies in these fields. I discovered more about Cardiology which has become one of my main interests and a large part of my caseload at VES.

After many years in Canada, I decided to move to the United Kingdom, specifically London where I practised in a large emergency hospital. Personal reasons led me to Singapore in 2014.

After two years in Singapore and with my previous experience and exposure, I rapidly noticed the lack of a multidisciplinary and 24/7 emergency hospital that includes different specialist-led departments. There was not only a demand from the veterinary community or the pet owners to have access to specialist care but clearly a need to improve the medical standards overall.

My co-founder (Dr Laurent Fillon) and I joined forces to work on this project. After 18 months, we opened VES Hospital at our original location in Rochdale. We grew from a team of 15 to more than 100 associates, and recently moved into a much larger facility at Whitley, ready to diversify our services and face an on-going demand.

We are currently the largest veterinary hospital in Singapore in terms of floor space as well as specialists, referral clinicians, emergency vets and paraprofessionals.

Q What does your everyday look like?

As the founder of VES, I believe I am in the position to inspire my colleagues. I continue to think about VES’ ongoing development, sharing ideas and future projects with our partner, Mars Veterinary Health, to continue our expansion and growth.

As the medical director of VES, my role is to maintain and improve the standard of care within our hospital, coordinating with the different departments and promoting excellence and innovation. However, 90% of my time remains clinical as part of the Internal Medicine department, while running the Cardiology service at the same time. My day usually starts early with morning rounds, transfer of patients then consultations and procedures.

dr sebastien monier

Q You're leading the pathway to a first-in-Singapore/first-in-VES role for the pet healthcare and veterinary industries - Veterinary Relations Representative - what does it entail and what do you hope to achieve from this role?

The referral hospital scene in Singapore is relatively new. In more developed markets such as the United States and Australia, an animal referral hospital has been the norm for decades. In contrast, the idea of a specialist referral hospital has only started out within the last five to ten years.

The Veterinary Relationship Representative’s (VRR) role is to help develop Singapore’s referral hospital scene. Through clinic and veterinary outreach, the representative will inform both clients and general practitioner vets on the referral process, improve clarity on services, while getting feedback to improve the process.

The VRR focuses on building collaborative partnerships with the veterinarian community to provide a smooth patient care experience with better patient outcomes for pet owners. This role will also support our referring vet community through continuing education such as events and workshops.

Q Other initiatives you've led include programmes to upskill professionals such as vet nurses and technicians as well as aspiring vet students. Talk to us about the challenges and impact of implementing these programmes.

These programmes will help to transform Singapore’s veterinary profession, by making sure that there is a career path for each individual in the veterinary industry, whether one is a vet, a technician or a patient care assistant.

We are nurturing the expertise of the pet healthcare sector through continuous education and lifelong learning; and also ensuring there is support of students and others who share the same aspiration as us to see a stronger veterinary profession here in Singapore.

In terms of impact, what we want to achieve is to elevate the patient care standards of the veterinary industry and build a better world for pets in Singapore. This is something that happens over time, and not overnight. We believe that by supporting and nurturing professionals and students alike, we will definitely get there.

Q What advice do you have for people aspiring to work in the veterinary industry?

Working in the veterinary industry is both gratifying and very demanding. For most of us, it is a vocation so it is important to know what to expect. I always recommend people who want to be part of the veterinary industry to spend some time in a veterinary practice to observe the day to day life of a veterinarian. This gives a better perspective of what we do and aim for.

For an individual who wants to be part of this industry, empathy is crucial as you deal with pets and their human parents.

Be willing to step out of your comfort zones, be emotionally adaptable and resilient. Learning how to work collectively and collaboratively is essential, especially in a multidisciplinary structure like VES Hospital. 

And be prepared for a fast-paced environment, you never know what your day will be like!

Q What is the most rewarding part of your job?

Seeing a patient recover and enjoying a better quality of life, of course! It is always rewarding when we are able to make a difference to a patient’s life and its family. That is why we work so hard on a daily basis. It validates all the years of intense studies and the incredible motivation and resilience that characterises being a vet.

As VES’ medical director and founder, it is simply observing the team that we have been assembling and nurturing all these years, working collaboratively, efficiently for the good of our patients.

ves treatment ward

Q Beyond the biological knowledge, what are some other important skills you might not realise at first are essential to being a good vet?

It is essential to have compassion and love for animals. After all, that is why we become vets in the first place. Other important soft skills include interpersonal skills to communicate with pet parents, analytical and problem solving skills to diagnose animals, as well as patience and perseverance.

At the same time, being a vet can be a very emotional job. It is important to be able to manage one’s own emotions and distance yourself from moments such as the death of a pet in order to maintain a mental balance.

Q Technology has impacted a lot of industries, how has it impacted yours and what are some of the positives and negatives?

Technology has had a major and obviously very positive impact on the veterinary industry. Advanced medical technologies such as MRI and CT scans have boosted our abilities to diagnose accurately and quickly. This is particularly true for complex and critical cases we see on a daily basis in our hospital. VES Hospital provides some of the most advanced diagnostics and treatments thanks to this technology.

It has also allowed us to progressively fill the gap between human and veterinary medicine even if there are still many advancements to make!

New technology such as telemedicine and artificial intelligence have a lot of promise and are expected to be used more and more in the veterinary industry.

However, advanced technology is but only a part of our diagnostic arsenal. What is critical is the professional clinical analysis and problem solving skills that vets have to employ during every patient diagnosis.

The human brain remains the best technology!

Q What does the future of work look like for vets? What upskilling needs to happen?

Similar to the move towards treatment in ambulatory and specialist centres in the human health and medical care sector, the pet healthcare sector in Singapore is moving towards a patient-centric model of care. There is the need for more accessible, high-quality pet healthcare to treat complex medical conditions in Singapore. To achieve this, we hope to see more veterinarian specialists in Singapore. VES Hospital is the perfect place to welcome these specialists.

At the moment, veterinarians in Singapore have to undergo training overseas for several years before being certified as specialists. To achieve specialist qualification, one has to have undergone a rigorous training programme supervised by qualified senior specialists, published studies in peer-reviewed journals, be involved in a set minimal number of cases and pass an exhaustive examination process. As VES is committed to provide specialised and emergency services as well as grow and nurture the next generation of vets, we hope to establish a framework that allows local veterinarians to upskill and become specialists without having to travel overseas.

The future of work for vets will also be one where there will be more awareness and understanding of vets’ mental health, especially for employers. As mentioned earlier, being a vet can be emotionally and mentally draining. Hence, this heightened awareness will be critical to help transform the veterinary industry in Singapore.

Q What's been your best or most memorable day at work?

There are too many of them!

As an internist, we often perform endoscopic procedures to retrieve foreign objects from the digestive tract. We are always amazed at what a patient can actually swallow. I will always remember this young Standard Poodle that clearly developed a fetish for socks where I removed more than 10 socks from his stomach! ;)

On a more personal note and as a founder of VES Hospital, the first day of operation at our original location at Rochdale in 2017 will always be memorable. We were not only fully operational and receiving pet patients, we were also welcoming fellow vets from the referring veterinary community. It was truly a busy day and evening! Thinking back, while the hustle has never really stopped, that day was especially special to me because the team knew we were embarking on a mission that was needed and welcomed - to transform the veterinary industry in Singapore.

Q What advice do you have for pet parents?

The most important advice? Enjoy all the happy moments that any pet brings to your life. They can mean the world to pet parents and we have clearly seen a shift on how important pets are to their owners in the past 10 to 20 years. A pet is a family member.

Find a general practitioner or “family vet” whom you trust. Build this relationship over time. They will know your pets better than anyone. This relationship is essential. I often say it is more difficult to find a trusted family vet than a specialist.

Get insurance for your pet. Not only do you want to protect your pet from the pain of old age, ill health and accidents, as a pet owner, you also want to be protected from the hefty financial pain and cost that could come with the treatment of a pet. Unfortunately, there are not many pet insurance plans to choose from in Singapore. It is my hope that this will change and that such protection for pets will be developed similar to several European countries.

Be prepared for an emergency. No pet parent wants anything to befall their pets, but it is always advisable to be prepared. Have on hand contact details of your trusted family vet. 

If you feel that your pet needs specialist input, do not hesitate to discuss it openly with your family vet. 

ves ct scan

Lead image / Shutterstock
All other images / VES

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