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At a time when the veterinary profession remains in the midst of a crisis, Dr Hubert Hiemstra of The Vet Vault podcast series says the platform is providing an important place for vets to exchange ideas and support each other. By John Burfitt
Since it launched four years ago, the podcast series The Vet Vault has attracted a dedicated audience for tackling issues that run the gamut from urinalysis and antibiotic usage through to practice etiquette and mental health wellbeing.
The podcast series, which today boasts over 140 episodes, was set up and hosted by Queensland vets Drs Hubert Hiemstra and Gerardo Poli to explore inspiring stories of how other vets manage to ‘get it right’ in striking the right balance of remaining motivated in an industry plagued with burnout and fatigue.
The Vet Vault has since evolved and now explores a wider range of clinical issues as well as scientific research. In the process, it has expanded its reach and currently has a global audience of about 150,000 listeners, many of whom have applauded the series for exploring and discussing various topics that impact veterinary communities.
But of all the people the podcast series has helped and inspired since its first episode was broadcast in 2018, Dr Hiemstra reckons he’s probably benefitted the most.
“I was at a stage where I felt really disconnected from the profession and while I was always busy with work, I was also wondering where else I’d rather be,” he says. “For a long time, I genuinely didn’t like being a vet and was thinking about leaving. I eventually despised it to the point I almost left the profession.”
The turning point
South African-born Dr Hiemstra graduated from the University of Pretoria in 2002 and after working in South Africa and England, moved to Australia in 2008 with his wife Roslyn, also a vet. In Perth, he worked in a veterinary hospital for five years before starting an emergency service. It was during this period that he finally started feeling like he had found his ‘groove’ in the vet profession.
“This was a real turning point as for the first time in my career I really enjoyed being a vet and wanted to learn more, and also found I wanted to help younger vets starting out,” he says
So the idea was born to create a resource to present inspiring stories from other vets who had been successful and were at the top of their game, and the result was the podcast The Vet Vault, with Dr Poli as co-host and business partner to help steer the way.
“We figured there must be so much cumulative wisdom from all the really good people in the profession, and Gerardo and I wanted to find out what was that wisdom they had to offer, and then dig down deep into the details through in-depth conversations in each of those episodes.”
Into the vault
These days, there are two sections of The Vet Vault. The subscription-based Clinical Channel offers interviews with a range of specialists about specific clinical topics.
The Thrive section has free-to-play episodes and covers a range of topics that vets are likely to face at some point in their careers, with themes like mental health, money, workplace culture and dealing with clients attracting the strongest feedback.
“I‘ve worked in multiple veterinary clinics over two decades in three continents, and it’s the same issues that come up all the time,” Dr Hiemstra says. “It’s all about the unique pressures of this job and the types of people our profession attracts. In talking about and addressing these issues, I really hope we are helping out the vets who are struggling with them or have no idea what to do.”
The recent ‘Money, and other dirty words’ episode was a discussion with Dr Sam Burke—a practising vet, former practice owner and entrepreneur—which addressed the way vets value their services and how to deal with clients who make the often-repeated accusation that the vet is ‘only in it for the money’.
“Probably the biggest stress of being in practice is having the money conversation, as it’s a discussion many vets hate,” Dr Hiemstra says. “We had a number of people respond to that episode who seemed empowered because it flew in the face of the myth that there’s no money in being a vet. Sam, however, has proved otherwise. He is an excellent vet, and also thinks about money in different ways to many others. He also addressed the issues of practice owners who don’t treat their staff well or pay them properly. It really struck a chord.”
The power of talk
There are a number of episodes that deal with mental health, but Dr Hiemstra claims ‘To the brink and back’, a frank chat with Dr Oliver Liyou about how he survived a suicide attempt and near bankruptcy, is one of the most powerful.
“Oliver is so open about his experiences, and it is a powerful discussion about the lessons he learned—there is so much wisdom there,” Dr Hiemstra claims. “That one gets so much reaction as the lessons offered through Oliver’s tale are usually ones so many people can relate to.”
In the ‘Good grief: How to navigate the grieving journey for veterinary teams’ episode, psychologist Rhonda Andrews delves into how a vet can best deal with the various stages of grieving when dealing with a client distressed over a pet who has died.
Dr Hiemstra says Andrews offers vital tips and focused advice which might be most pertinent for vets who have been in the profession for a long time.
“I think we get so blunted after a couple of years of dealing with grief, as it’s such an emotional process that really takes a major toll on some vets,” he says. “There are many different phases of grief, and it’s not just about the client. It could be when we as vets are grieving when euthanising sick and dying animals as well as feeling burnout in the job. Understanding grief a bit more might help some vets get through to the other side of it.”
A year ago, Dr Hiemstra and his young family relocated from Perth to Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, and he estimates he now spends about 90 per cent of his time working on the podcasts with Dr Poli, and the other 10 per cent doing shifts with Animal Emergency Service in Tanawha.
“Doing the podcast has made me more excited about my clinical work as often the issues that come up in the clinic are issues we have talked about in a podcast episode. I must admit the podcast work has definitely made me happier as a working vet.”
Into the future, the aim is for The Vet Vault to continue providing a platform where major issues that apply across the profession can be discussed in a constructive way.
“We just need to be having these in-depth conversations as I believe the more people talk about them and understand they’re not alone in feeling a certain way, it will get easier to maintain a career for the long-term,” he says.
“Having such conversations can influence other vets to make them see things from different angles. There’s been so much talk in recent years about the range of problems we’re enduring and all the things we’re not happy with in the profession, and something has to change. I hope some of our podcast episodes might help that process along, by providing solutions or new ways of looking at problems that leads to a better profession ahead for all of us.”