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Sarah van Herpt

Sarah van Herpt is a veterinary nurse at The Nest Te Kōhanga, Wellington Zoo’s animal hospital and centre for native wildlife.

Sarah van herptWhat do you do on an average work day? 
My day revolves around caring for patients – both Zoo animals and sick or injured native wildlife. In the morning we do our patient treatments and cleaning. At 11:15 am each day we have something happening in our treatment room for visitors to see. This is a great time to do animal health checks, and to educate visitors about the animals and the issues they face. Being a vet nurse I also do a lot of cleaning and organisation of the hospital, to make sure the vets have everything they need to do their job. As we are a zoo hospital, we are also responsible for the quarantine of incoming and outgoing animals.

What did you study at school? And after high school? 
At high school I studied English, Statistics, Chemistry, Physics and Biology. At university I first did a BSc in Ecology and Zoology, and then a MSc in Conservation Biology. Throughout my study I always had a strong focus on animal behaviour and conservation, as these are my passions. Then while I was working as a keeper at Wellington Zoo I was always really fascinated about what was going on when we took our animals to The Nest, so I also did a Certificate in Veterinary Nursing. I am definitely a life-long learner!

Was your study directly related to what you do now? 
Yes, my study at university and also my nursing certificate both definitely help me in my role today. Having an understanding of an animal’s natural history and behaviour really helps you provide the best care for them while they are in hospital, especially as we are dealing with wild native birds that are generally not used to people. Having the ability to research and learn more about the animal’s natural environment helps us to provide appropriate husbandry and medical care.

What would you like to share with young women who are thinking about their career choices right now? 
Even if you don’t know what you want to do I definitely recommend getting some life experience, either through travel, or university study, or both! Don’t rule out university because you don’t know what career you would like – it is an excellent time to be able to try different things, talk to people and learn more about what’s out there. Science is so important in so many fields – I encourage everyone to keep it a part of what you do.

What are some of your career highlights so far? 
I have such an amazing job that it is really hard to narrow down the highlights! I love that we get to take conservation leave as part of Wellington Zoo’s commitment to conservation; I have had some incredible experiences working with the Kea Conservation Trust and the Kakī Recovery Programme. I love the work I’ve been involved in around enrichment, and I received an award that allowed me to travel to Beijing to present at an international conference about the enrichment work we do at Wellington Zoo. I also can’t go past my first general anaesthetics of animals like Sumatran tigers, Malayan sun bears and chimpanzees – it’s always a pretty awe-inspiring moment! Most of all I’m blessed to be able to make a difference to animals' lives each day in my role as a vet nurse.

Why do you believe engaging in STEM (Science Technology Engineering Mathematics) – whether it’s working in the field, studying it or just educating one’s self around the issues – is important to New Zealand? 
Conservation is such a huge part of our identity as New Zealanders; we are world-renowned for some of the projects we have put into action. I hope that being able to show the world the care and effort we take to look after our ecosystems and species inspires other people to see what they can do.

Why is is important to have more women working in STEM? 
Everyone should have the opportunity to succeed in whatever they want to do. If women want be more involved in STEM then they should dive right in – passionate people have so much to contribute and we should encourage that, no matter their gender.

Sarah van Herpt is a veterinary nurse at The Nest Te Kōhanga, Wellington Zoo’s animal hospital and centre for native wildlife.

This profile is part of our series of girls and women in STEM. 
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