2017 June - The Doctors' Health Advisory Service

The Doctors’ Health Advisory Service: a confidential, readily available source of advice and support for veterinarians, students, family members and colleagues


Professor Garry Walter AM, MB BS, BMedSc, PhD, FRANZCP

Professor Walter is Foundation Medical Director, Doctors’ Health Advisory Service (NSW & ACT)

Several studies in recent years in Australia and overseas have highlighted the psychological difficulties that can affect veterinary practitioners and the range of factors contributing to those difficulties.

For example, a systematic literature review

  • [1] cited as stressors the heavy workload, long working hours, managerial aspects of the job, difficult client relations, and performing euthanasia. Another study
  • [2] found that veterinary practitioners have a proportional mortality ratio for suicide approximately four times that of the general population and twice that of other healthcare professionals; among other contributing factors suggested by the authors were negative experiences during undergraduate training, work-related stressors, knowledge of and ready access to means, the stigma surrounding  mental illness, professional and social isolation, and individual characteristics prior to entering the profession. In a survey of Australian veterinary practitioners
  • [3], about one third of respondents reported poor psychological health, in keeping with other health professionals.


In light of study findings like these, and personal experiences of Boardtalk readers, a reminder about the Doctors’ Health Advisory Service (NSW & ACT) is warranted. The DHAS was founded in 1982 to assist medical practitioners with personal and health problems. In NSW, the role now extends to dentistry and veterinary professionals. It is an independent and confidential service offering advice and, where required, referral pathways to doctors, dentists and veterinarians, and their families and colleagues, and to students and the families and colleagues of students in these professions.


The DHAS is an advisory, not treatment service. How does it operate? The DHAS provides a 24-hour phone line, which is manned by an answering service. Calls are then returned by qualified DHAS staff (a psychiatrist and social worker) or health professional associates. Callers are not required to leave any identifying data, only a phone number to enable a return call. Depending on the nature of the call and discussion with the caller, advice will be provided about “next steps”, if these are required. The next steps may take the form of one or more of the following:

  • Subsequent discussion between the caller and the DHAS staff or associate.
  • Referral(s) may be suggested to a GP, psychiatrist, drug and alcohol specialist, other medical specialist, psychologist, or other allied health professional.
  • On a case-by-case basis, and with the caller’s permission, the above named professionals may be contacted by the DHAS to facilitate the referral.
  • An offer is always made to the caller for ongoing contact with the DHAS, as required.

Importantly, the DHAS is not an emergency service – the answering service advises callers to contact 000 in the case of an emergency. 

Already this year, the DHAS has had a steady stream of calls from veterinary professionals with myriad health concerns, alongside calls from people from a veterinary background or with a veterinary “connection”, simply expressing their willingness to assist the profession generally in this area. If required, we trust that we can assist you – we welcome your call on 02 9437 6552 (website: dhas.org.au)



  1. Platt, B., Hawton, K., Simkin, S. and Mellanby, R.J., 2012. Suicidal behaviour and psychosocial problems in veterinary surgeons: a systematic review. Social psychiatry and psychiatric epidemiology, 47(2), pp.223-240.
  2. Bartram, D.J. and Baldwin, D.S., 2010. Veterinary surgeons and suicide: a structured review of possible influences on increased risk. Veterinary Record, 166(13), pp.388-397.
  3. Fritschi, L., Morrison, D., Shirangi, A. and Day, L., 2009. Psychological well‐being of Australian veterinarians. Australian veterinary journal, 87(3), pp.76-81.