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Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnanehttps://www.thatsfarming.com/
Catherina Cunnane hails from a sixth-generation drystock and specialised pedigree suckler enterprise in Co. Mayo. She currently holds the positions of editor and general manager at That's Farming, having joined the firm during its start-up phase in 2015.
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‘I have always wanted to become a vet for as long as I can remember’

That’s Farming editor, Catherina Cunnane, in conversation with Vilde Skålvold (27) in this week’s Student Focus series. The SGGW vet student discusses her non-farming roots, passion for farm animal work and future plans. 

“I am from Norway – up in the north, above the polar circle and do not descend from a long line of farmers.

However, historically, there have been some farm animals way back, but there has never been any animals whatsoever in my family until I arrived and kept pestering my parents into getting a cat when I was a kid.

When I was a child, our neighbour next to our summer house had a farm, so I spent a fair amount of my time there sneaking into the barn to spend time with the cows.

I honestly thought I would never work with farm animals. I love them, but since I have never really had a foot inside the industry and did not know how it works, I did not think it was for me.

Maybe, I thought it would be a little boring, or even a little bit scary.

All in all, I am not a city girl by all means, but I am not a farmer either. How do you fit into somewhere you have never been?

I have always wanted to become a vet for as long as I can remember.

But, I think there was a brief week when I was four that I wanted to work in a toy store and sell plushies, but besides that, this has been my main goal in life.

I honestly do not have a crystal-clear image of a feeling or a major happening that made me think, “this is it – this is what I will do with my life” because it is something I have always just… known. Like I have been made for doing this exact thing.

I had one big hero when I was a child, and that was the one and only: Steve Irwin.

He was not a veterinarian, but his passion for animals and educating people about them really struck me.

I wanted to be able to share knowledge and passion for animals the same way he did one day.

He did not influence this exact choice, but he made me ever so sure that animals were my path in life, regardless of what profession it would end up being.

I watched everything he did, and I was so, so heartbroken when he passed.

SGGW vet student

I am studying veterinary medicine at Warsaw University of Life Sciences (WULS-SGGW) in Poland, having enrolled in the course in 2017.

I will commence my sixth year this fall and graduate in spring 2023.

Getting into vet school in Norway is almost impossible, so I had to look for alternatives elsewhere. Scandinavia, in general, is very hard to get into.

England was very expensive, and if I wanted to go to Italy or Spain or France, I would have to do the course in the respective languages.

Australia and the US were a bit too far away for me, given my life situation.

I looked at most schools in Europe and took up extra classes for a few years to be able to apply to as many places as I could.

I spent two more years just taking up extra classes to be able to apply to all kinds of universities.

So, I landed in Poland because I could do my entire degree in English, and it is also a very cheap place to live, so that is a good bonus.

Farm animal experience 

Fast forward to my fourth year of vet studies, we have had a fair amount of farm animals during the course by then.

During our second year, we had to do husbandry practice for two weeks at a farm of our choice to get some hands-on experience.

I chose a dairy farm up north, and I loved the work. When the pandemic hit, I took an opportunity to help one of the local sheep farmers during lambing back home in the North when our school closed down.

Our seventh semester was mainly farm animals, and by then, I had fallen in love with this part of vet med.

Fotojet (44)

Large animal vet on temporary licence

At the moment, I am working as a large animal vet on a temporary licence in a small village in Mid-Norway.

It is a thing in Norway – the last summer before you have completed your studies, you are allowed to work as a vet, with a senior vet having the ultimate responsibility for you.

So, now, I am weeks into this placement, and the learning curve is breathtakingly steep, but all the steeper is the massive feeling of mastery.

I am essentially doing everything I will be able to do once I graduate.

I drive around to farms to inseminate cows, disbud calves, and treat lambs with pneumonia, you name it.

The summer usually is a season with mostly all the ‘boring, basic stuff’ but I am still at the stage where everything is exciting.

I am glad to be able to get comfortable with the ‘boring, basic stuff’ so that I can tackle more complex stuff later.

Furthermore, I have also had placements at one of the largest small animal hospitals in Sweden and another placement at a clinic up north in Norway.

Covid-19

The highlight of the course is definitely to be able to get hands-on experience with all kinds of animals.

This year, my highlight is to be able to work as a vet during the summer, getting a test of my life after I complete my studies.

Theoretically, the course is meeting my expectations. I wish we had more practical training, especially in the first few years.

The Covid-19 pandemic also made the last two years extra hard since we had to do everything online.

This is not really a course you can do online, so I am very happy to be back to normal again.

Rigorous course

Studying vet med has always been my plan A. People told me I needed a plan B in case I did not get in, but my plan B was to find other vet schools elsewhere.

Norway was my first choice, and besides that, the location of my plan B did not matter as long as it was approved on the list of schools that allows you to come back to Norway to work.

The course is very rigorous. We are taught skills required to describe mechanisms underlining animal health, diagnose diseases and implement therapy for entire herds of animals or single animals.

Competences in soft skills like working in multidisciplinary teams, problem-solving, critical analysis and elaboration of knowledge are other areas.

Protecting public health via monitoring of animal feed, animal production, production facilities, and distribution of animals are others.

You are additionally obliged to complete internships for eight weeks of clinical practice, plus two weeks of husbandry practice and four weeks of veterinary inspection.

Fotojet (43)

Advice

If you want to become a vet, go for it. It does not matter how long it will take you. The time will pass anyway.

If you are passionate about this, roll up your sleeves and give it your all. I promise you will not regret it.

Another tip for when you are shoulder deep into your exam period and want to quit and do anything else but study: remember why you are studying.

You are not studying for a test; you are studying to save your patients one day.

Your grades do not define you – many other important qualities make you fit to become a vet.

Find alternative paths if plan A does not work. Just because you cannot get into one particular university does not mean you will not be able to become a (great) vet.

Find options in different countries and look at their requirements. Some schools require field experience and interviews.

Some only require that you take an exam to get in; others require different courses before applying.

The possibilities are endless and study abroad if you can.

Once you get in, the only thing remaining is to study hard until you can say, “trust me, I am your doctor”.

I think everything that happens to you makes you who you are.

If I were to go back and change something, I might have ended up in a completely different place, which is not always a good thing.

Experience

This study and profession are filled with a rollercoaster of the highest of highs and the lowest of lows.

I want to be able to help animals (and their humans) and make a difference for the ones who need me.

I also love to constantly learn new things and to be challenged. It is a very fulfilling career.

My entire life revolves around this one goal: to become a vet.

Now that I am so close to finalising that goal, I suddenly find myself in the position that many of my friends did when we finished high school and had to start choosing paths.

Future

I do not know where I want to go from here because there are so many options, and I want to do everything.

I guess I will have to try as much as I can, and we will see where I end up down the road, but it is scary and exciting.

In saying that, I think I would love to start with a mixed practice for a few years, and then maybe I will decide to specialise one way or the other later. I would love to do some exotics as well.

Moreover, I love diving into something and getting really good at it. I just need to find my number 1 passion within vet med first.

It always changes because there is so much exciting stuff you can get into.

We live in a time where people really care about their animals and have the means to be able to help them.

I do have much experience in the large animal arena yet, but new solutions are worked on every day, and it is not an area that is standing still.

I am very excited for the future of vet med, especially for large animals.

There is something very empowering in the fact that a former male-dominated career now is an arena with mostly women.

However, there are lots of room for males as well; we need a good balance of both!

My ultimate goal is to be able to travel around the world and work with all kinds of animals, great and small,” the SGGW vet student concluded.

See more Student Focus profiles.

Other articles on That’s Farming:

To share your story like this SGGW vet student, email – [email protected]

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