Graduation another step in Wildlife Hospital expert’s passionate journey
As Gina Martelli marks her 20th year of veterinary nursing, she can take no small measure of pride in her latest achievement.
On Friday, 10 March, Gina will graduate from Otago Polytechnic | Te Pūkenga with a New Zealand Diploma in Veterinary Nursing.
That’s no small feat given the Dunedin Wildlife Hospital veterinary nurse and practice manager is often busy helping a range of feathered friends – at various hours of the day and night.
Yet she’d have it no other way. In fact, despite all her accomplishments in the animal kingdom in the past two decades, she says she’s living “a wildlife veterinary nurse’s dream right now”.
Since officially opening in 2018 and operating out of Otago Polytechnic’s School of Veterinary Nursing, the Wildlife Hospital has treated many hundreds of injured birds, many of which carry a nationally critical, endangered or vulnerable status.
The constant stream of feathered in-patients includes kākāpō, kea, takahē, various kiwi, numerous penguins, and even the rare kakī, of which only about 130 adults remain in the wild.
“I did a lot of behind-the-scenes prep work in the two years prior to the Wildlife Hospital opening. So it’s been a real privilege to be able to pass my wildlife knowledge and experience on to staff members who are new to wildlife,” Gina says.
Ignoring a school career councillor’s advice that she should become a dietician, in 2003 Gina enrolled at Ara, where she completed a National Certificate in Veterinary Nursing. She then spent five years in a small animal practice in Christchurch before taking on a job at Wellington Zoo.
“My seven years there involved all sorts of animals, ranging from primates, large and small carnivores, marsupials, reptiles, invertebrates and birds.
“Wellington Zoo was where I fell in love with our native species and knew that this was the path I wanted to take.
“After leaving the zoo, I resumed working in small animal practice in Wellington as well as after-hours/emergency care and also did some small blocks at the Kamo Wildlife Sanctuary, working with their big cats.
“I was also involved in the pop-up Hoiho Hospital in Dunedin in 2016 and 2017 before moving to Dunedin in 2018 to help open the Wildlife Hospital.”
Working with leading wildlife veterinary surgeon Dr Lisa Argilla, Gina says her role is challenging but highly rewarding.
“The work we do, especially with hoiho and kākāpō, is directly improving these species’ chance of long-term survival.”
In addition, Gina teamed up with Dr Argilla and Otago Polytechnic veterinary nursing academics to help introduce two post-graduate programmes focusing on avian wildlife in 2021.
More recently, however, her academic focus has been on herself.
“I decided to pursue the NZ Diploma in Veterinary Nursing because I wanted to bring my qualification up to current industry standard, as I had been nursing for so long. I also wanted a qualification that reflected my experience.”
“I had discussed doing the diploma with Associate Professor Francesca Brown, Head of Otago Polytechnic’s Veterinary Nursing programmes, and she suggested I enrol with Capable NZ and do it via their Assessment of Prior Learning pathway, as it would recognise my level of industry experience.
“It was a learning curve for me as I had not done this kind of study for many years. But once I got my head around it, I was away and really enjoyed it.”