The Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine has welcomed Augusta O’Reilly as the college’s veterinary licensed clinical social worker.  

Veterinarians, veterinary students, and pet owners have to make difficult choices and have hard conversations, and the grief, trauma, and stress can take a major toll. Over the past two decades, the field has pushed to improve mental health and to create a culture of wellness in order to mitigate high depression and suicide rates among veterinarians. 

For a growing number of practices and veterinary colleges, veterinary social workers are key contributors to improving wellness.  

"My role here is to provide emotional support to the human side of veterinary medicine,” said O’Reilly. “I help clients with end-of-life decisions for their pets; interns, residents, and house officers with work/life balance and advocating for themselves; fourth year students with navigating client interactions—ultimately, I am here to build them up emotionally and mentally and to create a more engaging and healthier workplace for everybody."

O’Reilly offers a safe space where pet owners and students can process their emotions and move through grief and distress. Many pet owners can’t just “get over” the loss of a beloved pet, and they can have a hard time finding support, but O’Reilly is there to help.

“Once they have realized it is okay to grieve, it's a step forward.” 

Finding a support system is key for pet owners and also for students who are struggling with hard decisions and with witnessing suffering and grief. It can be tempting to banish away those negative feelings, but as O’Reilly warns, compartmentalizing too much can lead to a breakdown.  

O’Reilly has always had a strong connection to animals — she wanted to be a veterinarian until a poor biology grade in college dashed her hopes. She instead became a veterinary assistant. A veterinarian at the practice for which she worked encouraged her to pursue veterinary social work.  

O’Reilly, who also serves as board president of the International Association of Veterinary Social Work, earned her master’s in social work and her certificate in veterinary social work from the University of Tennessee. Before joining the college, O’Reilly worked as the director of veterinary social work and a co-facilitator of animal-assisted interventions at the University of Tennessee, a therapist, and a veterinary social worker at a large specialty practice. 

"When I first entered the veterinary social work program, I knew I wanted to be in a college setting. At the heart of it, social work is about being as proactive as you possibly can, so what better way than to work with students and help them before they go into practice?” she said. 

In this new position, O’Reilly is excited to make new connections and learn more about the college community. 

O’Reilly is part of a pet-loving household, complete with two cats, two dogs, and a hamster. She and her family are looking forward to the beautiful hiking and camping opportunities that southwest Virginia offers in the warmer months. 

Written by Sarah Boudreau M.F.A. '21, a writer with the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine


Andrew Mann
Director of Communications and Marketing