That’s Farming speaks to Susan O’Riordan, a fourth-year veterinary medicine student at UCD in this week’s Student Focus segment. She discusses following in her father’s footsteps, farming 450 cattle and the Covid-19 pandemic’s positive impact on her student life.
Templeglantine, Co Limerick native, Susan O’Riordan, the daughter of a vet, was exposed to life in a veterinary clinic from a tender age.
Her father is a veterinary surgeon, who runs Fealeside Veterinary Hospital, a mixed practice based between Abbeyfeale, Co Limerick and Castleisland, Co. Kerry.
Susan recalls distinct memories as a young child, sitting by the surgery table with her sister, Grace, observing their father carrying out small animal operations.
“I was born and raised on the family farm. Many of my early childhood memories trace back to fond times spent with my brother and two sisters on the farm.”
UCD veterinary medicine student
She told That’s Farming: “Anything livestock-related sparked enormous interest in my mind. My father was a veterinary student in UCD, and I wanted to follow in his footsteps.”
In later years, studying agricultural science and biology for her Leaving Cert compounded the 22-year-old’s belief that veterinary medicine was the course for her.
The fourth-year University College Dublin (UCD) veterinary medicine student, whose parents have farming backgrounds, will graduate in 2023. “I began my veterinary studies at UCD after the Leaving Certificate. Furthermore, I spend most days going on farm calls with my father and helping him in the small animal surgery.”
“I am fortunate that I am in the position to go on placement whenever I want as I feel I learn most by seeing things in practice.”
“Through helping my father, I have become quite confident in my animal handling ability and clinical skills, which has given me great satisfaction as I can see myself progressing. Furthermore, I realise that the time that I am putting into preparing for my career as a vet is paying off.”
The family runs a suckler enterprise, with Billy and Judith being the “main bosses”, as the vet student described. Susan, her sisters, Shaleen and Grace, and brother, Jeremy, have all been involved in running the farm over the years.
Their suckler and calf-to-beef enterprise comprise Charolais-crosses, Belgian Blue-crosses, Limousin-crosses, and Simmental-crosses with Charolais stock bulls.
They operate a spring and autumn-calving system on their farm, which comprises 450 head. Paddock systems are in operation and reseeding is carried out annually.
“A strong work ethic has been instilled in us from a very young age. As children, we always had a role within the farm. Since we were able, we were given little responsibilities like cleaning drinking troughs, feeding calves, and checking fences.”
“This progressed to power-washing out sheds, checking cattle and feeding cattle meal in the evenings after school. A few years ago, I volunteered to do our dehorning, vaccinating, and dosing, which I have been at ever since.”
It has mainly been Susan and Grace and involved in the farm’s day-to-day management in recent years. Their brother is a doctor in Drogheda, and their older sister is a pharmacist and post-grad medicine student.
“Neither of them have much time to give on the farm anymore. However, they would always oblige and help us out if they were around and were needed,” she added.
The Covid-19 pandemic has allowed the veterinary medicine student to spend more time on her family farm.
Through farming, she had the freedom of the countryside, an escape from college work and an outlet that she enjoyed.
College from home also gave her the flexibility and the opportunity to put clinical information learnt in lectures into practice on the family farm, in the surgery and on calls, which was certainly beneficial when it came to recalling information in exams.
“For my first semester of college last year, I had lab practicals every week. Therefore, I needed to stay in Dublin.”
“I was away from home for the most of four months, which I personally found very isolating and lonely.”
“Thankfully, our second semester was moved completely online, and I was able to come home for the spring.”
“I was in my element as I got invaluable calving experience at home this year. Living on a farm throughout Covid-19 gave a sense of purpose and routine to my days.”
She also spent several weeks this summer seeing small animal practice in Dublin. She “particularly enjoyed” the time she spent at the Animal Welfare Clinic on Charlemont Street.
“It was a very progressive practice, and I found their vets highly approachable, supportive and inclusive of students – I learnt so much during my time there,” added Susan, a recipient of the Entrance Scholar award, presented to first-year students who achieve over 560 points in the Leaving Cert.
A significant college highlight for her has been the lifelong friendships she has formed within the vet building.
She stated that veterinary is a “very sociable course” with an immense sense of community between students.
She has had the opportunity to experience events organised through Vet Soc and FAVS (Farm Animal Veterinary Society), such as the First-Year nights, Vet Ball, Mystery Tour and The AVS Sports Weekend, to mention but a few.
“This year, I became of member of the FAVS committee. I am excited to see what opportunities I will experience through that.”
“I found the pre-clinical years challenging. The material we were studying did not seem to have much relevance to what happens in clinical practice.”
“Much to my relief, the pre-clinical modules were stepping-stones to the clinical years which begin in third year.”
“Although third year is a notoriously difficult year, I thoroughly enjoyed all aspects of our modules.”
“I found it significantly easier to study and retain the information. The topics we were covering were highly relevant, and they were areas which interested me.”
Advice for aspiring vet med students
Susan provided some constructive advice for those considering veterinary medicine.
She advises people to discuss the career in-depth in terms of its pros and cons with an experienced vet. “This is a conversation that I had with my parents most weekends when I was in Leaving Cert,” she admitted.
“They wanted to ensure I was making a well-informed decision on my career choice. If you are lucky enough to get into veterinary, do not be fooled into thinking that it is all about socialising and that your classmates leave all their study until study week or a few nights before the exam.”
“It is a difficult course. Everyone who is passing their exams is putting in the work every week to keep on top of lectures, even in the early years.”
“Our parents brought us up to believe that women are equal to men and that anything men can do, women can also do. We were always encouraged to work hard both on the farm and in school. There were never any limits put on our abilities based on whether we were male or female.”
“Throughout history, women have played a central role in agriculture. When on calls, I always hear various stories about women who were widowed young and had to run the family farm themselves.”
“We have had numerous female vets employed in the practice throughout the years. I have never once heard of any client comment on how their ability as a vet was in any way compromised because they were not male.
“Being honest, women in ag is a phrase that bothers me. I feel that using this phrase is actively segregating women and highlighting that there are differences between male and female abilities, when in fact, there are none.”
In terms of her own career, Susan plans on finding a mixed practice position away from home before eventually moving back to join the family practice.
“Agriculture is an extremely important aspect of my life, and I am very fortunate to have a family that supports my choice to study veterinary.”
She believes that agriculture in Ireland will face numerous challenges in the coming years, especially in terms of climate change, antimicrobial usage, and the increasing popularity of plant-based alternatives to animal products.
“I am confident in our generations ability to overcome these challenges. I am excited to see what the future of veterinary will look like in Ireland,” she concluded.
To share your story like this UCD veterinary medicine student, email – [email protected]