Holly O’Connell, who spent her early childhood years on her grandparent’s dairy and poultry farm, was always destined to become a vet.
“I had the happiest moments on their farm, bottle-feeding calves, helping nan clean the chicken’s eggs and going for drives on the quad with da,” she explained to That’s Farming.
As well as her farming roots, Holly’s other grandfather, Gerry, worked as an A.I. technician before he owned his own animal health business. “I think I have them to thank for my love of farming and veterinary.”
After completing her Leaving Certificate in 2018, Holly was devastated when she missed out on Ireland’s only veterinary medicine course in UCD by five CAO points.
With a belief that “everything happens for a reason”, the Adare native did not give up on her childhood dream; she took a gap year and worked as a secretary at East Limerick Veterinary Centre.
While working at the practice, she gained valuable hands-on experience. She assisted vets, Peter and John, on-call, conducting TB tests and large animal surgeries such as LDAs and caesarean sections.
“I loved being out and about meeting our farmers. The experience will stand to me massively in the future,” she added.
The big move
Holly was accepted into the veterinary faculty of Szent Istvan University in April 2019; she was exempt from the entrance exam as she received outstanding grades in her Leaving Certificate biology and chemistry examinations.
With experience under her belt, Holly travelled to Budapest in September 2019. Even though she was miles away from the Emerald Isle, she found a home away from home as many Irish students also attend the university.
“With around thirty of us being Irish in my year, everyone is so passionate about veterinary that they are willing to up and move their whole lives overseas to study it. I think that speaks volumes.”
She admitted it was a huge culture shock when she arrived but her housemate, Amy, a third-year veterinary student from Dublin, helped her adjust to this new lifestyle. “Amy had to teach me how to use the dishwasher, washing machine and a thing or two about cooking.”
Holly admitted that her chosen course can be challenging at times. “It is everything I could have imagined except it is ten times harder.”
“For the first few months, I definitely underestimated how hard it would be. Subjects like anatomy are as fascinating as they are challenging.”
During first year, students focus on equine, bovine and canine anatomy. They also complete practicals and labs, especially during histology and chemistry modules.
“I would recommend this course to anyone who is positive that they want to become a vet and is willing to work hard for it.”
“It is very difficult, and I couldn’t imagine trying to complete it if I wasn’t certain that this is something that I’m passionate about,” Holly added.
Holly advises aspiring veterinary students to “do it their own way” and take the path that best suits them.
“Veterinary medicine will be a challenge from start to finish and the challenge that you will face trying to get started is only preparation for what comes after you do.”
She also urges prospective students to complete work experience to ensure this is the right career for them. “Finally, never give up, remember that everything happens for a reason and seize every opportunity that comes your way in the process,” she added.
Studying abroad has influenced Holly to travel and work abroad when she completes her undergraduate studies in 2025.
She hopes to gain experience during her travels before returning home. “I think I would like to work in mixed or large animal practice during that time.”
Fascinated by the ‘One Health’ initiative, Holly thinks it is a part of veterinary medicine that will become more prominent in years to come. She aspires to further her studies and relishes the idea of owning her business one day in relation to this initiative.
Interview conducted by Catherina Cunnane
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