In this week’s Ireland’s Vets, That’s Farming profiles equine vet, Ann Derham. We discuss her pathway to studying veterinary medicine at UCD, life after graduation, dealing with the stress of the lifestyle, and vital advice for new graduates.
Regardless of the intense working environment, erratic emergency calls and long hours, this equine surgeon has reached a peak in her career.
Following graduation, Ann gained invaluable experience across some of the top-class equine surgeries worldwide. She returned to Fethard Equine Hospital, where she initially began her career in equine veterinary medicine.
Ann, who grew up in Skerries, Dublin, has not directly been involved in the agriculture industry, but talks of her brother’s keen interests in ponies, as well as her father’s pre-veterinary experience.
“I always had an interest; I loved the idea of becoming a vet. However, I never thought I would get the points, as each year the CAO requirements kept getting higher,” Ann, told That’s Farming.
Entry to UCD
After a strenuous attempt to achieve the demanding CAO points for undergraduate entry at Ireland’s only veterinary medicine school, Ann studied her desired course from 2009 to 2014.
She considered a career in accountancy before her acceptance in veterinary medicine. Despite the off-putting higher points, Ann secured her place following a year at Dublin Institute.
“After completing my Leaving Certificate the first time, I was not too far away from the point requirements. I decided to attend Dublin Institute to repeat my Leaving Certificate, and was five points off the requirements this time around.”
“I appealed my examination results, and the results of one of my subjects went up by three grades.”
While waiting for the results of her appeal, Ann worked briefly in a meat factory in Kildare to build up experience for an application for a UK veterinary medicine school.
Another option was to study her dream course in Budapest. However, following a year in Dublin Institute, this was not a financially feasible option.
Life after graduation
Following graduation, Ann travelled to Hagyard Equine Medical Institute in Kentucky where she completed an internship.
An opportunity then arose for her to complete an internship in her current practice, Fethard Equine Hospital, which she knew would be her dream working environment.
Before returning to Fethard Equine Hospital, Ann completed three years of residency and a doctorate in veterinary medicine specialisation in UCD. Furthermore, she then gained some experience in equine veterinary practices in the UK.
From September 2021, Ann returned to work in Fethard. She describes her current position as her ‘dream job’.
“I worked hard to get where I am now; for the first five years after graduation, my social life went out the window. Internships are vital stages in your career; you are there to learn,” Ann tells That’s Farming.
Ann specialises in an equine-only referral practice, which she describes as “the best equine veterinary practice in Ireland.”
In her profession within the referral centre, she sees a variation of unusual cases enter the clinic’s doors.
“Some of the rare cases I have seen so far are masses of tumours in the mouth, as well as internal abscesses and tumours. Muscle damage can be an unusual case; it is usually not what you would see in the book.”
An area of veterinary that Ann is most passionate about includes dentistry, as she believes this is an area which is poorly covered in Ireland.
Fethard Equine Hospital
Ann highly commends her current workplace and had dreamed of returning to work here following her internship after graduation.
“The equine veterinary practice employs 4 veterinary surgeons, 2 males and 2 females, so it is a nice mix.”
“Fethards employ 8 interns, 12 to 14 veterinary nurses, as well as admin, laboratory and ambulatory technicians.”
“We work on an emergency on-call rota, which is 1 in 3. It allows us to have a better work-life balance.”
Advice for new veterinary medicine graduates
Ann cares about the future prospect of equine veterinarian availability. She claims the drop-out rate is very high within the first two years of employment within the veterinary industry, which is often due to poor experiences.
“I advise other vets to help new graduates when needed. Do not throw them into the deep end, with the old-fashioned mindset that they will ‘sink or swim’.”
“There are many veterinary practices across the country that will hire new graduates every year, and they will not provide them will a route for career progression. This leads to very bad retention of vets.”
Ann provides valuable advice to those newly qualified veterinarians who are just beginning their career, “get experience in a practice that has a good reputation for training graduates.”
“You should talk to older friends who were ahead of you in college, check where they applied for jobs. Do some research on the practice before enquiring,” Ann, told That’s Farming.
Dealing with life as a vet
Different vets have different approaches to dealing with the erratic lifestyle of managing life as a vet.
“For me, it is not being able to switch off after work. It is the emotional baggage that you carry, after a bad week.”
“As I had chosen to become an equine specialist, I invested myself in this pathway. I went through university, internships and residency to be where I am now.”
Ann thrives on the variety of work involved in Fethard Equine Hospital, each day bringing a unique case to her attention.
“My favourite thing is when a horse comes in lame and leaves 100% sound. I get such a kick from it.”
“This is my dream. There is no better equine surgery in Europe. Fethards is probably one of the best in the world.”
“I never had any ambition or goal to have a clinic of my own. My ultimate goal for the future would be to keep my position here and keep working on building up clients. I am one of the newest surgeons in the practice.”
She concludes, “Do not stay somewhere you are not happy”.
“Move on from practices that do not give you joy. When you are not happy going to work in the morning, you know it is time to leave,” the equine vet concluded.
Are you a vet? To provide an insight into your life like this equine vet, email Catherina Cunnane, editor of That’s Farming, [email protected]
Read more vet profiles.