In this week’s Ireland’s Vets, That’s Farming, speaks to Alex Halpin, a new grad vet, about her studies at Szent István University Budapest and working life.
New grad vet, Alex Halpin believes “if you are determined and put in the work, you will make it as a vet”.
Alex has farming backgrounds on both sides of her family, having grown up beside her family farm.
“My uncle now runs the farm and buys in stores to be reared to factory weight,” she told That’s Farming.
“One of my earliest on-farm memories is bringing in the square bales. All the relatives would help load the trailer, with ‘bale houses’ made along the way.”
“Stone-picking also features as a memory, but a slightly less enjoyable one!”
She always intended to pursue veterinary medicine as a profession.
“I never considered anything else as a career option. Veterinary medicine was in my sights ever since junior infants.”
This year, the Kilkenny native qualified as a vet and is currently working in a mixed vet practice in Carrick-on-Suir, Co. Tipperary.
Szent István University Budapest
Alex enrolled in the five-and-a-half-year course in September 2015, after completing her Leaving Certificate.
A student in the year above Alex, who was attending the institution at the time, influenced her decision.
“I was good in school. Although I worked hard, I knew the points required to study veterinary in UCD were always going to be beyond my reach.”
“I could have studied a four-year animal or equine science degree and applied to study veterinary as a postgraduate in UCD.”
“With limited places, high postgraduate fees, and not wanting to prolong my time in education if, at all possible, I began to look into alternative routes.”
The course she studied is well-known in Ireland, with the last part of the final year divided into several placements to provide practical hands-on experience.
“As Hungary plunged into a nationwide lockdown, Covid-19 cut our final year short, with the last flights out on St. Patrick’s Day.”
“The majority of students, including myself, departed Budapest, and I have not returned since.”
Life after graduation
Although the Covid-19 pandemic curtailed her final year, graduation, and placement plans, it allowed Alex to spend spring 2021 at home.
“My first full spring away from Budapest. It was great to be back home with the vets, experiencing my first ‘spring madness’.”
Throughout college, Alex spent most of her placement with vets who looked after her uncle’s herd.
“I gained invaluable experience working with them over the years. They made me an offer of employment. I leapt at this chance even though it was close to home, which may deter some new graduates, but I knew I would get the support I needed in my first job.”
“Before graduation, I was going on calls with one of the senior vets. I was allowed to administer treatments under his supervision, so the transition from student to a new graduate vet was seamless.”
“The only difference was that as a graduate, instead of relying on others to confirm that what I was doing was correct, I was now the vet.”
CCW Carrick Vets Ltd is a five-vet mixed practice in Carrick-on-Suir, Co. Tipperary.
It covers a large area spanning the South Tipperary, South Kilkenny and Waterford area – from the Copper Coast up to Mullinahone Co-op.
“Throughout the spring, I mainly worked with farm animals. However, as the summer moves on, I am in the small animal clinic more often, so I have variety in my day.”
Expectations and advice
“I am not sure if any new grad vets know what to expect, or are ready for what is ahead of them.”
“You know that the hours will be long, especially in the spring, but you do not realise how long and tiring they are until you are in the thick of it.”
“The amount of driving that you do as a farm vet is also crazy. I clocked up more than 300km a day during my busiest spring days.”
“Make sure whatever you end up driving is comfortable as you will spend a lot of time in your vehicle. Also, an emergency snack box is always a good idea to have under the front seat too”, Alex advised.
“Finding a practice that will support you whilst also encouraging you to give things a go yourself. This is more important in your first job than the salary.”
Alex feels that being able to ask someone questions “no matter how big, small or silly they seem to you, is invaluable”.
“Colleagues that can laugh with you in between calls also help to get you through the manic days.”
“I am enjoying the mix of animals that we see on a day-to-day basis. From castrating alpacas to removing potatoes stuck in cows’ throats, no two days are the same. I think that is one of the best parts of the job.”
To anyone considering veterinary as a career who is worried about not securing sufficient points for Ireland’s only veterinary medicine school, Alex encourages them to look abroad.
“If I could go back, get the points and study in UCD, I would. However, there are alternative routes out there that. Whilst they have their challenges, they will get you to where you want to be.”
“Do not let anyone tell you that you cannot do it,” the new grad vet stated.
“As a female, you will be told quite often that veterinary is a tough job for a woman. If I got a euro for every time I was asked, ‘is it the small animals you are interested in?’ I would be well off.”
A vet advised Alex that “as a female vet, sometimes you have to think of different techniques to do some jobs rather than use physical strength”.
Alex feels that it is ok as “if a farmer wanted brute force, he would call a neighbour, plus, small hands are useful when it comes to lambing”.
“After five years in Budapest, Ireland is the only place I want to be. I may study for a dairy cert at some stage. However, for now, I am going to focus on surviving my first year in practice”, Alex concluded.
Are you a new grad vet? To share your story email: [email protected]