Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA)
Features | National development

The Multifaceted Role
Of An Ava Vet

The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) ensures a resilient supply of safe food, safeguards animal and plant health, safeguards animal welfare, promotes agrotechnology, and facilitates agri-trade for Singapore’s well-being. AVA scholar and animal-lover Dr Han Zi Yang tells us more about his multi-faceted role.

Singapore’s limited arable land supply means that the Republic needs to look abroad to feed the people. To ensure imported food supplies are both diverse and safe for public consumption, AVA is constantly on the look-out for new sources of safe and quality food. AVA also supports and regulates the technologically-advanced farms in Singapore that provide us with a modest supply of eggs, fish and vegetables. This guarantees Singapore a certain level of self-sufficiency in food.

But ensuring food safety and supply is only one aspect of AVA’s extensive portfolio. AVA also pays particular attention to animal and plant health. Through proper surveillance and inspection, AVA is constantly on the alert to prevent animal disease outbreaks, thereby protecting Singapore from potential animal diseases such as Rabies and Avian Flu.

Veterinarian Dr Han Zi Yang is part of this food safety and animal health regime in AVA’s Surveillance and Inspection Department. The AVA Undergraduate Scholar has been with AVA for just under two years but is already brimming with exciting insights in this field.

Growing his love for animals

“Most people don’t know this, but we have over 100 coastal fish farms, three poultry farms, two quail farms, three cattle farms and even a goat farm and a crocodile farm. A typical day will see me heading to a farm to conduct surveillance work, collecting samples for food safety testing, and checking on the health of animals – the variety of farms keeps me very busy!” Dr Han tells us with a laugh.

Dr Han developed a love for animals (he owns two rabbits) in his younger years, and the gregarious young man had a childhood ambition to become a zookeeper. Dr Han also remembers his regular visits to the zoo with great fondness, and he also recalls reading up about a diverse series of animals and watching numerous animal documentaries.

Dr Han Zi Yang
AVA Undergraduate Scholar

Designation: Veterinarian

Studied: Bachelor of Veterinary Science,
First-Class Honours and Dean’s List Recipient,
University of Melbourne, Australia

“I thought it’d be enriching to be able to marry my interest in animals with my studies in Science in Junior College, and this led me to apply for the AVA scholarship,” Dr Han muses. With the support of the AVA scholarship, Dr Han pursued his Bachelor of Veterinary Science in Australia’s University of Melbourne.

A unique university experience

Dr Han’s university experience was nothing short of eventful. In his early undergraduate years, vet students were required to participate in farm work during the holidays to learn the ropes of farming. Working on a dairy farm required him to wake up at 4am daily to execute tasks such as milking cows, preparing hay and animal feed as well as maintaining the paddocks. He spent part of his holidays out in rural Australia, working on pig and poultry farms for days on end.

In addition to his participation in unique farming activities, Dr Han was also attached to vet clinics and hospitals during his final years in university. His time as a veterinarian understudy gave him the chance to be attached to the Werribee open-range zoo, where he gleaned insights on zoo medicine and the challenges of managing the health of zoo animals kept in an open-range setting. He adds, “I remember having to examine the animals from afar on our vehicles using a pair of binoculars. I had a hard time recognising the zebras and calling them by their names, while the zoo vets and keepers were doing it with ease.”

“I also remember performing multiple veterinarian roles – for instance, week one would see me performing surgery on small animals; in week two, I would be in rural Australia working on large animals such as horses; and in week three, I would be back at the University’s hospital for my emergency rotation.”

Some of Dr Han’s fond memories include receiving phone calls in the middle of the night and venturing out to farms in the cold with only the guide of minimal light to help cows with calving (the process of giving birth) difficulties. Delivering a live calf at the end of the day was always a satisfying experience despite the cold and fatigue.

"The life of a vet is undoubtedly exciting. There is never a dull moment with the diverse roles that AVA scholars are expected to play."

He adds, “Communication skills are critical for a vet. We had to ask our clients (farmers and pet owners) all the right questions to elicit proper responses, because our animal patients are after all unable to voice their feedback. Good responses aid in our understanding of an animal’s situation and help us better perform our procedures. It was rewarding to see that farmers and pet owners are extremely thankful after an animal recovers.”

An exciting career

Dr Han's university experience gave him numerous opportunities to hone his communication skills, especially when communicating with stakeholders ranging from pet owners to farmers and Aboriginal Australians. These rich experiences have helped him develop essential communication and interpersonal skills which he applies in his current work at AVA.

He makes it a point to build good relationships with local farmers when ensuring that their farming activities are in line with AVA’s regulations. Dr Han tells us, “Singapore has limited farm land and it is our responsibility to ensure our farmers fully optimise it. We also encourage them to go beyond merely producing and to constantly develop their technical expertise. Our close relationships with local farmers allow us to better understand their needs and to offer bespoke support and advice that meets their needs.”

He tells aspiring AVA scholars that, as a veterinarian and a Public Officer, it is imperative to be tenacious, be daring to try new things and be willing to make mistakes with the purpose of learning from them. He adds, “The life of a vet is undoubtedly exciting. There is never a dull moment with the diverse roles that AVA scholars are expected to play. If you wish to improve animal health and contribute to AVA in new and novel ways, then my best advice is to simply go for it!”