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Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane
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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‘Post-graduate entry will be the best route for anyone, like me, who did not have the necessary maturity in secondary’

That’s Farming editor, Catherina Cunnane, in conversation with Declan McIntyre (26), Glencolmcille, County Donegal, in the second of a two-part series as part of this week’s Student Focus.

In the first article, Declan told us how after his Leaving Cert exams, he “did not know what I was going to do with my life” and took a year period before returning to study veterinary nursing.

He then enrolled at University of Veterinary Medicine and Pharmacy in Košice, Slovakia, where he is set to graduate from as a qualified vet in 2023.

“The course involves theoretical and practical classes during the school term and then some obligatory work placements throughout the school holidays.

The first few years lay the foundation for developing an understanding of anatomy, physiology and biochemistry, and you understand how a healthy animal functions from head to toe.

After this, you then begin to learn about pathological changes and understand how various diseases begin and progress.

There are lots of weekly tests and exams in the early years, and then as you progress through the course, it ends in 6 state exams.

These state exams are oral and begin by pulling multiple long-answer questions from an envelope, and then you have time to prepare an answer.

After this, you read aloud your answer to the state panel, which is typically around six lecturers. This form of exam is intense and can be challenging.

However, I think it is a very useful form of examination as you are then asked questions which can involve quickly thinking on the spot, which shows that you have a deep understanding of the material.


If considering vet med, I would advise seeing as much practice as possible before applying.

It is not a decision to be taken lightly. You need to be sure this is something you can see yourself doing for the next 40-50 years.

It is a tough profession and has an alarming drop-out rate, but I cannot imagine doing anything else.

There are always other ways to achieve your dream career. Information seems much more readily available today, even since I was in secondary school.

At that time, it seemed like Ireland’s only veterinary school was the only option, but there are many other ways into veterinary.

Life experience

Securing extremely high points at the age of 17/18 is a great achievement but veterinary medicine involves so much more than academic performance alone.

Of course, you must be studious and academic, but more importantly, you must have a serious work ethic, be a great communicator and a good team player.

I think vets and employers also appreciate the resilience and maturity that comes with studying abroad and the life experience gained by taking a slightly longer path.

Post-graduate entry will be the best route for anyone, like me, who did not have the necessary maturity in secondary school.

As a child, I always looked up to vets and thought they were great role models, and this perspective has never really changed for me.

In fact, I have an even greater respect for vets now that I have worked alongside them behind the scenes as a student and seen the highs and lows of veterinary medicine.

Many pet owners and farmers do not understand the demanding lifestyle, sleepless nights, verbal abuse and the negative aspects of veterinary.

Despite some flaws in the job, the positives definitely outweigh the negatives.

I have a passion for animal health, welfare and treating every animal as if they were my own.

It is an exciting job, and no two days are the same. The day-to-day variety in this career ensures you will never get bored.


I plan to be a mixed animal vet, a path which is becoming rare today, as most new graduates are choosing to be small animal vets.

I have always wanted to be well-rounded and capable of working with all species.

Throughout my work experience over the years, I have always been most impressed with vets who can adapt and are equally comfortable on-farm as much as they are in the consult room or surgical theatre.

I have secured a position for my first job, which I will begin working this summer after graduation.

So, I am moving to Cumbria to a busy, truly mixed practice in which I am confident I will develop my skills and learn from a really strong team of vets with both farm animals and family pets.

I definitely foresee myself doing some certificates in the future. I think it is important to continue education even after qualifying to ensure your standards stay high, especially in veterinary, as everything is evolving so rapidly, and clients expect a lot.

Moreover, I think the veterinary industry has a very bright future. Currently, it really is an employee’s market when looking for jobs.

There are an endless amount of jobs out there currently, which can be overwhelming when looking for a job, but it really is a ‘good problem’ to have as you can choose the best job for you, which will vary for each individual.

From public health,  food safety, the farming sector and small animal practice, the future looks bright, and vets are in serious demand.

Women in veterinary

Veterinary medicine is definitely dominated by women today. If I was to guess, I think the students in my university are close to 80% female.

The women I study alongside have become great friends, good study partners, and my girlfriend is also a vet student who I met here.

I have probably worked with more female vets than males and have had very good female mentors in the practices I worked in during my placements.

For anyone unfamiliar with Aleen Cust, I would highly recommend reading her inspirational story about how she became the first female vet in Ireland.

My ultimate goal is to be a great mixed-practice vet. Many people choose to specialise in one specific field, but I have always been most impressed when working with highly skilled true mixed-practice vets.

It is very inspiring to see someone remembering so much information about multiple species and also having the skills to go from operating on huge cattle to tiny puppies or kittens.

In the long run, I would like to settle down in a rural area, and I think it is essential to offer veterinary services for all species.

Moreover, I would like to pursue some further education in the form of post-graduate certificates and offer a small-animal orthopaedic service in future.

I think this is a really useful service to have in a rural area, as you are guaranteed to see lots of fractures and cruciate ligament ruptures each year.

Moreover, I have thought about practice ownership or becoming a partner in the long run, but for now, my priority is to use my first few years in practice to develop my skills and learn from my colleagues.


I am very happy with where I am at currently, and even if I could turn back the clock and try to go straight into veterinary after secondary school, I would not have met some great people or made friends from all over the world.

Being a vet student is a very demanding yet enjoyable life. It is important to find a balance between your academic life and your social life.

Exam periods are tough, with many weeks spent at a desk studying to ensure all of the material is covered.

However, the practical classes and farm trips are always great fun and are a good chance to learn away from the books.

It is a very busy few years with work experience and summer jobs during the summer holidays.

In summary, I have loved life as a vet student from the beginning, and I will miss university and all of the great people I have met here.”

To share your story, email – [email protected]

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