Veterinary Work in Australia: A Guide for South African Veterinary Professionals

Considering veterinary work in Australia? Learn from South African professionals who made the move. Insights & advice for a successful transition.

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Are you a South African veterinarian or nurse considering a career move to Australia? Australia offers exciting opportunities for veterinary professionals, with its diverse landscapes, unique wildlife, and advanced veterinary practices. To help you navigate this transition, we’ve gathered insights from three professionals who have made the move from South Africa to Australia to become part of the team at Animal Emergency Australia.

Learn about their journeys into veterinary work in Australia and their experience along the way – plus tips and advice for other South African veterinary professionals wanting to do the same. So let’s hear from veterinarian Dr. Hubert Hiemstra, veterinary nurse Marilie Bester, and veterinary recruiter Letizia Rinaldi on their experiences and advice for exploring veterinary work here in Australia.

Dr. Hubert Hiemstra: Veterinarian and Podcaster

Hubert started his veterinary career in South Africa in 1997 and has since spanned 2 decades and three continents, including a stint working in the United Kingdom and later starting and running his own emergency practice in Western Australia for nearly a decade. This inspired his mission to pick at the frayed edges of the vet profession to try to find the common threads that can lead to a fulfilling life with a veterinary degree and the right mindset. In addition to his work as a veterinarian, he’s also host and creator of the popular Vet Vault Podcast, which helps vets create the career they dream of.

What brought you to Australia? What was the experience like?

We spent 3 years in the UK first for work and travel and then decided not to go back back to SA. (Looking at South Africa from the ‘outside’ made us realise that we didn’t want to build our future on such unstable foundations. Working in a new country was an easy adjustment. Vet work is vet work – just different snakes! Aussie culture is also so close to South African culture that it was an easy adjustment – much easier than adjusting to life in the UK.

What tips or suggestions can give those looking to do the same?

Sooner is better than later. Comparing our experience moving when we were young and child free without serious ‘baggage’ in South Africa, ie a house, a business, (any money!), vs friends we have here who moved when they were more established – our way was WAAAAY easier and less painful.

Don’t overthink it – it’s the right decision. (The frog-in-the-boiling water story applies very much to life in SA). The opportunity to move to Aus is the biggest gift that your vet degree will give you.

Dr Hubert Hiemstra veterinarian

What’s your experience been like working both in Australia and with AEA?

Working in Australia is very easy to adjust to – good standards, nice clients, generally good balance. AEA provides an excellent work environment with room to grow your career. It’s nice to work for a company that genuinely cares for its team and cares deeply about the work we do.

I’ve worked in 10-20 clinics on 3 continents during my career, if I count locum jobs. There are no perfect workplaces, including AEA, but what makes AEA different from everywhere else I’ve worked is the relentless striving to get better – to be a better workplace for happier humans. You’ll struggle to find a vet job in a company that cares more about the well-being of their team.

Marilie Bester: Senior Veterinary Nurse at Animal Emergency Service Underwood

Marilie Bester is an experienced veterinary nurse who relocated to Australia from South Africa and currently works at Animal Emergency Service Underwood, where she has found fulfilment in providing high-quality emergency veterinary care.

Did you study in South Africa before coming to Australia?

I studied a Diploma of Veterinary Nursing at the University of Pretoria. I worked at Onderstepoort Veterinary Academic Hospital for a total of 18 years, and assisted with embryo transfers in cattle in different African countries and in Argentina. I also did locum work as a vet nurse in England and Scotland.

What brought you to Australia and what was the experience like?

Australia provided us with the opportunity that I could be a stay-at-home mum with children aged 2 and 3. South Africa didn’t provide us with that opportunity in 2009. After staying at home for 5 years I wanted to get back into vet nursing. AES gave me the opportunity to do night shifts and be with the girls when they get back from school in the afternoons. It was hard when I started work again, I didn’t work for the 5 years leading up to joining AES.

What’s it been like working with AEA?

New ticks and snakes, night shifts and having young children, but the support of the team made it easy to go back to each shift. AEA has a very supportive and accommodating culture if you are willing to learn and work hard.

Any final thoughts for readers?

Just do it! We have no regrets after 15 years.

Marilie bester veterinary nurse

Letizia (Tee) Rinaldi: Veterinary Recruitment Team Leader

Tee Rinaldi is a veterinary recruitment team leader who helps veterinarians from around the world find opportunities in Australia. With her expertise in recruitment, Tee offers valuable insights into the job market and the recruitment process in Australia.

Do you have a veterinary background? Did you study in South Africa before coming to Australia?

I don’t have a background in the veterinary profession. My background is in Clinical psychology and Human resources. I did 1 year of study in Science, in South Africa, Jo’berg, before immigrating to Australia in 1996, to Brisbane where I completed a Master in Clinical Psychology and a Bachelor in Human Resource Management at the University of Queensland.

It wasn’t easy leaving your family and friends behind, or a just started degree – now…. I would never look back and have the ability to visit and host family and friends often!

What brought you to Australia and what was the experience like?

I am still so very grateful for my dad bringing us to Australia. So I was lucky not to have had to work this out alone. In saying this, I did actually immigrate on my own as the family left before me. I had to complete my first and last year at Uni in Jo’berg before immigrating to Aus.

I remember my mom and dad picking me up from the airport on my first day of arrival in Aus. Driving back to our house in Chapel Hill (lost of saffas) I remember saying to Dad, “Wow look at all the parrots flying free Dad – maybe someone has lost them?” He laughed and said, “No baby, they fly free here, no one has lost them.

Tee Rinaldi veterinary recruiter
My second comment was in shock that people walk alone, outside, safely. Holy moly! People can walk around alone and enjoy the beautiful country’s fresh air and I promise, it is so so clean in Aus.

So I enrolled at UQ and was studying and working in Aus now, and it’s Feb 1996. It was hard at first with my accent and a little differences in culture. It quickly became so much easier. Australians are so friendly and welcoming. Very quickly, I had assimilated into my new surroundings. I had a group of friends at Uni and through continuous application in supporting environments, became a leader in various positions throughout my careers, in varying (colourful) industries. I find the Australian way is to accept and support, “You’ll be right mate”. Confidence grown.

What tips or suggestions can you give to those looking to do the same?

Australia is most like South Africa, of all the continents I have visited. The climate, vegetation and general environment are really a good mix of Jo’berg, Cape Town and Durban. Stunning beaches, even better wineries and so clean wow! One difference in oceans is, that we don’t have Cape Towns’ Antarctic ocean – wowzers! My veins used to constrict and I felt pain for what I thought was hours. The drive to the Gold Coast is about 45min – 1 hour (most like Durban) and to the Sunshine Coast 1.5 hrs. No flying or 7-8 hour drives!

To veterinarians out there, AEA do offer relocation support where possible. I would suggest (if you can afford it) engaging with an immigration lawyer to provide you with all the real info you need. If you don’t have one, AEA can introduce you to our immigration lawyer, and some of these visa/PR fees we consider paying for.

Your qualifications need to be recognised by the Australasian Veterinary Boards Council (AVBC). So, for South Africans this means you studied at the University of Pretoria (Onderstepoort) and have a Bachelor of Veterinary Science (BVSc). We have a dedicated team of professionals who can help you with any questions you have. Email us at [email protected] and ask for Tee.

What’s your experience been like working with AEA?

I have found my forever home, team and place with AEA. My experience coming on board has been nothing but incredible. The AEA team live and breathes their core values, operating with integrity, honesty and kindness. They empower a culture of supporting people and development, and team. When you work for AEA you are not working for a corporate, you have joined an employee-owned national company and business model, that ensures we remain at the heart of veterinary excellence, driven by the constant pursuit of better patient outcomes!

This is a forward-thinking group of people in the constant pursuit of better outcomes for patients and people alike. The Employee Value Proposition (EVP) is: “We Challenge the heart, Support the mind, Thrive on trust and Operate with Integrity, Compassion and Kindness, in all we do”. I have been, welcomed, developed, trusted, challenged (positive) and promoted throughout my time with AEA. I love it.

We live and breathe our values and have a strong and curious culture. Very brave people come together each day, committed to a real cause! Better lives for patients and people.

Moving to a new country to pursue veterinary work is a significant decision that requires careful planning and preparation. By following the advice of our Animal Emergency Australia team members, you can navigate the transition smoothly and embark on a rewarding career in veterinary medicine in Australia. Are you ready to explore vet work in Australia? Be sure to reach out to our team and see our current available careers.

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