Hartington, Nebraska, is home to a couple of television stars who also happen to be practicing veterinarians.
Drs. Ben and Erin Schroeder just wrapped up a season starring in “Heartland Docs, DVM,” on the National Geographic channel.
How do a couple of vets from the Midwest wind up with their own TV show? Well, the answer has nothing to do with being a vet.
“It’s a long story,” Ben Schroeder said.
He and Erin and took a leap into the real estate business, remodeling an old clothing building and an old hotel.
“The local paper did a nice article on us, and someone thought the next Chip and Joanna Gaines might be located up here in Nebraska,” he said, referring to the couple known for their HGTV show “Fixer Upper.”
Shortly after that, the Schroeders began getting calls from TV producers who wanted to talk to them about hosting a remodeling show. However, with a full-time veterinary practice, they told the producers that remodeling wasn’t their main focus in life. To their surprise, a producer from Glass Entertainment said they wanted to come out and see what they do when they’re on the job.
“We shot a pilot episode, and Erin and I cry every time we see it,” Ben said. “We love what we do, and it showed.”
Things took off from there and the show sold to National Geographic. It launched Jan. 25 and ran each Saturday night for six episodes. Season 2 is in the works.
Filming the pilot episode of a show is challenging, in that the producers told the Schroeders to ignore the cameras, which is tough to do since “they kind of get in the way,” as Ben said. The couple figured out that really meant they needed to just do what they do and be themselves.
“That’s what we try to do,” Ben said. “We’re trying to portray what real life is like for country vets in Nebraska.”
Living in a small town in northeastern Nebraska means that no matter what species of animal comes through the door, they have to take care of it. The nearest specialist is at least two to three hours away, Ben said.
It’s made for some on-the-job learning situations. You don’t set up a practice knowing everything you need to know just because you went to veterinary school, Ben and Erin said.
But since filming began, their practice isn’t quite like other rural vets.
When a typical country vet heads to a farm to make a house call, there’s typically just one vehicle coming up the farm’s driveway. The Schroeders bring an entourage.
“We can really fill up someone’s driveway quickly,” Erin said.
“We do try to give each producer a heads up and ask them if it’s OK to film,” Ben said. “It’s a small town so by now, everybody knows what we’re doing. It’s been really well received.”
Ben said one of the best parts of their TV work is educating off-farm folks about producers, including what they do and how much they care for their animals.
“We in the Midwest love our animals,” he said, “and not just our pets. Farmers get up in dangerously cold weather to take care of their animals. We want people to know we have a heart here in the Midwest.”
Erin said the show is a chance to help bridge the knowledge gap between rural and urban America.
“People would be surprised at how much compassion our producers have for their food animals, often putting the needs of an animal before their own,” she said. “I think that fact has been lost in translation over time. We’re trying to give people far removed from agriculture a picture on how modern ag works.”
Their range of service calls stretches about 120 miles in every direction. The practice is in Northeast Nebraska, so the Schroeders are both licensed to practice in South Dakota, while Ben is also licensed to practice in Iowa.
The variety of animals they treat is different from one episode to the next, and it occasionally includes wildlife. During their recent season finale episode, they treated a wild deer that had been hit by a hay mower. They’ve cared for owls, raccoons, snakes and everything in between.
“While treating wildlife doesn’t pay the bills,” Ben said, “it’s a part of being a good veterinary steward. It’s just the right thing to do.”
The Schroeders describe themselves as “school sweethearts.” They met while studying veterinary science at Kansas State University. Ben was a junior when he saw the new freshman class coming in, and Erin was among them.
“I decided right then and there that I needed to meet that gal,” Ben said with a hearty laugh.
He did his undergraduate work at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Erin, a native of upstate New York, was a standout basketball player for Syracuse University.
The demands of being a veterinarian can make it hard for the couple to find time to do everything they want to do, including family activities. They were recently on the way to watch one of their sons play in a district basketball game when a phone call from a client forced them to turn around and head out to a call.
“A horse had been injured badly and we needed to get there as quickly as possible,” Ben said. “We also did make it to the basketball game but trying to establish a work-life balance can be difficult sometimes. We do get pulled in different directions.”
One of the couple’s favorite parts of being veterinarians is what happened during that recent call to treat the injured horse. They got to tell stories and crack jokes while stitching up a client’s horse. Relationship building began with Ben’s father, a great storyteller. Ben and Erin took over the veterinary practice after his father retired.
“We take the time we need to in order to get to know the 20 to 30 clients we see every day,” Ben added. “That’s one of the best parts of this job.”
Erin agreed: “We love the relationships we develop with our clients and their animals, as well as the relationship our clients have with their animals. You feel very included in people’s lives when you treat their animals.”
Chad Smith can be reached at email@example.com.