Tell us a bit about yourself!
I’m Jo de Klerk (used to be Hardy which I’m better known for). I live in South Africa, near Port Elizabeth. But I’m British through and through and have spent most of my life in Kent, UK.
I work for myself. I do lots of little things… I have a business called ‘JDK Veterinary Services’, where I do house visits for dogs and horses who need rehabilitation work. So I do a lot of pain management, neurological, orthopedic and acupuncture work. I also have my writing business ‘Jo de Klerk Vet and Pet Writer’, where I freelance as a content writer for business in the pet field. I write a lot of website content, journal articles, blogs, etc.
When did you decide to become a vet?
I decided to become a vet when I was already 18 and trying to figure out what I wanted to study at university. I liked animals a lot, as well as problem solving, and biology, so it was a sensible choice.
However, I also like to look at the bigger picture when it comes to veterinary and think about disease control and how animals can play a role in bettering the lives of the impoverished. So I’ve already done my Masters in Tropical Animal Health, where I completed my thesis on the socioeconomic impacts of cart horses in Cape Town. I hope I can do a PhD in this field one day too.
How was it to study at the prestigious Royal Veterinary College?
It was the best to have the opportunity to be part of the RVC! They’ve consistently been ranked in the top three vet schools in the world, and the education that they provide is incredible. The facilities are exceptional, and it really sets you up for a career anywhere in the world you want to go.
I would highly recommend it to anyone wanting to go to vet school, but remember, like any other vet school, the curriculum is intense, so you have to make sure you want to do it!
We know you focus on pain management in dogs and horses as a veterinarian. Can you tell us a bit about what the work includes and how did it become your main interest?
I was interested in this field from the time when I was newly graduated. I used to work in a rural practice in the UK and saw lots of arthritic Labradors. Labs are prone to arthritis, and I was frustrated that the pain relief I was prescribing wasn’t enough. So I studied Pain Management through the University of Tennessee, as well as Western Veterinary Acupuncture through WVAG, which gave me a whole new insight into how to manage painful conditions.
My work now includes a much different approach. Yes, I still use medications, but I also do acupuncture, physical therapy, weight control and massage.
For those who don’t know, you were one of the “Young Vets” in a BBC show. What was that experience like? Would you care to share some insights and a funny story?
Young Vets was stressful! Looking back at it, it was such a wonderful experience which I’ll treasure forever, but at the time, trying to learn while having a camera pointed at you for the last 18 months of your training was nerve-wracking!
It was always tricky not to make mistakes, as I am a bit of a perfectionist, and the last thing I wanted to do is make a huge mistake on camera which millions of viewers would see. But one of the main things I learned from the whole process is do your best but it’s ok not to be perfect. It’s a standard that nobody can live up to, and is tiring. So I’ve definitely come out of it a better person.
Anyway, I clearly lost all care for embarrassment when I turned to the camera (after helping to save a chihuahua from swallowing a fishhook) and in the cheesiest voice said, ‘we saved a life today’. And that was used very prominently in the opening credits!
Between working as a veterinarian and being an awesome mom, you are also a writer with 2 books (that we know of) published by now. We would really like to hear more about your books!
Thanks, I’ve actually published 11 books now, and am working on my 12th. I love to write. It gives me a creative outlet.
My first two books I’m particularly proud of: ‘Tales from a Young Vet’ and ‘Tales from a Wild Vet’ who Harper Collins published. They were written with an incredible co-writer, Caro Handley, who writes celebrity biographies. The first book is about my experience training to be a vet while being filmed for a TV show and the second book is about my travels as a voluntary vet after I graduated across Africa.
What do you do in your free time? If you have any… 🙂
I try to have plenty of free time, as I’m a firm believer in having a good work-life balance. If you’re refreshed and have time for yourself, then you’re more productive at work.
With that being said, most of my free time now goes into playing with my toddler. She’s a bundle of energy and great fun. She loves animals and the outdoors, so we do a lot of walking, and exploring nature.
Since you have worked in the UK and now in South Africa, can you compare your experiences? Can you tell where you like it better as a veterinarian?
Oh, they are wildly different. The UK has a much better set up for supporting vets with lifelong learning. Also, in general, pets are much better looked after, probably because of the financial aspects that go with a first world country.
South Africa on the other hand has a much better work-life balance. The working hours are shorter, and it’s so nice to be outside in the sunshine and warmth a lot of the day. On the other hand, I have seen the most horrific cases of welfare in South Africa, and the diseases are rife, so there can be lots of tragedies too.
From what we heard so far, you have a lot on your plate. Would you like to share with us how do you manage to stay on top of everything?
It’s important to do something you really love. If you don’t love it, don’t do it. Because in the end, mental health is so important, especially in this profession that has a very poor track record for mental health.
I always feel fresh with work because I do both clinical work and writing work in equal measures. This means I have variety, which for me is important as I know I get tired with monotonous work.
But in the end, if you are struggling with keeping up with your work, family or health, then it might be worth looking at other options to diversify your skills or cut down your hours.
Do you have any advice for future vets?
My main advice is – make sure you want to do it. Most of the people I went through vet school were burnt out in their first year. It’s a really hard career, and it’s not all fluffy puppies. Do loads of work experience before you apply to make sure it’s what you want to do.
If you do end up studying to be a vet, great! It’s a very rewarding career at times! But make sure you have a great support system and you know how to recognize burn out. Also make sure you have a method to relax, whether that be sport, music, socializing, baking, whatever. And do it often!
What are your goals for the future?
As mentioned earlier, I’m really interested in the bigger picture and I would love to diversify out of my clinical role into a role where I can study and maybe predict zoonotic disease outbreaks, particularly in impoverished parts of the world where they hit so hard.
But who knows really… A few years ago I wouldn’t have predicted what I’m doing now! I love to just knock on doors and see what opens. And this attitude has given me so many amazing opportunities in my career which I’m so grateful for.