Our editor, Catherina Cunnane, in conversation with Corinne Palma in this week’s Student Focus. She discusses her move to Ireland to become a veterinary medicine student at UCD.
I am a 22-year-old Czech-Italian studying veterinary medicine at University College Dublin in Ireland.
I was born in Italy, lived in Prague in my teenage years and moved to Ireland in 2020 to commence my studies.
Despite not coming from a farming background, I am interested in it, particularly veterinary, and I hope to work to an extent in this field one day.
As much as a cliché this sounds, I have always wanted to be a vet, and I cannot remember ever thinking of a different career.
During my life, I only became more and more certain about becoming a vet, and people like Jane Goodall or Chloe Breakwell, an Australian vet with a deep interest in conservation, have only assured me about it thanks to their wonderful work.
I am in my third year of a total of five years of study, having enrolled in 2020. UCD’s veterinary medicine course is hands-on based, which was one of the main criteria I was looking at when choosing which schools to apply to.
I have seen some coming out of some vet schools after six years and being afraid of being left alone in a consult room or scared to give a vaccination, and I did not want this to happen to me.
UCD is also accredited by many bodies, giving me the opportunity to practice in different parts of the world after graduation.
I wanted to study university in the UK or in Ireland, and after getting on the waiting list for Edinburgh and getting offered a place by UCD, I instantly decided to confirm my place in Dublin.
As I am now in my third year, I have only completed my pre-clinical placements. I have done most of these in the Czech Republic because it was during COVID times, and it was not easy for me to return to Ireland.
However, I had the chance to go lambing in Donegal in March, which was an amazing experience that I shared with some classmates.
The farmers we stayed with were among some of the loveliest people I have ever met.
I am also planning on doing a clinical placement in Northern Ireland, and I am going to Africa to shadow a wildlife vet in spring.
Apart from the course in itself and all the arising opportunities, I feel one of the highlights was getting to know Irish people and their mindset.
They are quite similar to Italians in being so relaxed about things and focusing on having fun, which I think is extremely important in vet school.
I am greatly enjoying the course and especially now that we have started our clinical years and we are learning about real-case scenarios.
It really gives you the feeling of moving somewhere and actually getting the knowledge to be a vet.
I am enjoying my studies, as I spend a lot of time spent on-campus. We usually have lectures and practicals every day, which leaves you with very little free time.
However, as I have mentioned before, it is all starting to be more and more clinically relevant and enjoyable.
I have been to Ireland once before even considering studying here, and I enjoyed the company of Irish people so much. Therefore, after I found out I could apply to study here, it was a clear choice.
My advice to aspiring vets is this: get as much experience as you can, even before applying to vet school.
This is something that no one will ever take from you, and you get invaluable knowledge from watching the vets, and some might even let you scrub in if they know you well enough.
Plus, you also get mentors that both you and them will be comfortable with after graduation.
Even though it may seem like the end of the world at the time, it is not if you do not get your desired college place.
And there are endless possibilities: you can take a year off and travel or work at a local clinic/farm, do some volunteering abroad, or you can apply to schools overseas that have other application systems.
I am a strong believer that there is no reason to look back into the past as we cannot do anything about it and change it.
All the things that I have done and the choices I have made have led to me being where I am, and the person that I am, and I would not be here otherwise.
A big low in my time at university has been COVID. Being in a totally different country, at a new school with people that I did not know (and honestly sometimes did not even understand because of their accent), was a big challenge.
However, this got better in second year when most restrictions were lifted, and we could all meet.
Another big disadvantage of Ireland that I did not know about before coming here was the extremely high prices of everything.
Just to compare, I could get a room on a campus in Prague for €100 a month. However, I also adjusted to this and, really, it is all worth it.
On the other side, what I really enjoy is getting to know people from literally the whole world.
I have always loved travelling and so getting to know their cultures and celebrating their traditions, like Thanksgiving or St Patrick’ Day, has been a privilege to me.
As I said before, there is nothing else I could picture myself doing.
Treating animals, and seeing them getting better, thanks to you, is such a rewarding experience that I believe I will never get tired of it.
I am planning on taking some time off and travelling. I would like to do some volunteering work on the way but primarily just relax before going into practice.
Moreover, I would probably like to work in emergency and have time during the year to do conservation and volunteering work where needed, such as in Africa, south-east Asia, or Latin America.
As already mentioned, I admire Chloe Breakwell’s work and would like to follow her path of helping under-resourced communities and animals in danger around the world.
I am not quite sure about the future and will see where my path takes me.
Gender equality and mental health
Unfortunately, veterinary professionals are known to have higher suicide rates compared to the general population.
There is a lot of talk now about mental health and work-life balance, which will hopefully shape the minds of the new generations of vets.
Even though there are more women than men in veterinary medicine, I have been told by, I would say, too many female vets that they personally or their opinion has been rejected by clients as they wanted to talk to the male vet.
I do really hope this is going to change in the future, and I will do anything I can to help it.”
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