Biochemistry graduate studying veterinary medicine in Budapest
That’s Farming editor, Catherina Cunnane, in conversation with Stephanie Walmsley (25) in this week’s Student Focus series. She discusses studying biochemistry in her native Canada and taking an alternative route to veterinary medicine at University of Veterinary Medicine Budapest after not succeeding in her attempt to secure a place at Canadian universities.
“I hail from Nova Scotia, Canada, but currently reside in Budapest, Hungary, where I am studying veterinary medicine.
I have always wanted to be a vet, so I cannot put a finger on when I realised that I wanted this career path.
Before I worked at a mixed practice veterinary clinic in British Columbia, Canada, I was focused only on small animal medicine.
The clinic that I worked at for a few summers dealt with small animals, horses, cattle, and occasionally small ruminants.
I really enjoyed the farm visits we made while I was there, so I am now most interested in treating cattle, chickens, and small animals once I graduate.
All of the veterinarians and veterinary technicians who taught me the basics while I was volunteering influenced my career path.
I would not have continued if they had not encouraged all of my annoying questions and let me try the hands-on skills required in this profession.
I enrolled at University of Veterinary Medicine, Budapest, in 2019 and am currently in my fourth year, with a view to graduating in 2025.
I did not get into the veterinary universities in Canada and decided to come to Budapest instead of waiting a year before applying in Canada again.
It is much more expensive to be an international student in America and the UK than it is to come to Budapest, so this was the best option for me.
After high school, I did a BSc in biochemistry at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, before coming to Budapest.
In Canada, students must take at least two years of a full-time undergraduate degree and complete the required prerequisites before applying to a veterinary medicine programme.
I decided to do the full four years of my biochemistry degree because I studied part-time during my first two years so that I could figure skate competitively during those years.
I retired from skating after my second year so that I could focus on school full-time. After graduating from McMaster, I came straight to Budapest and have been here ever since.
Course content and structure
This is a 5.5-year course. The first two years are very theoretical and are focused on basic sciences and anatomy.
Since I had already completed similar courses during my previous degree, I was exempted from a lot of the modules in first and second year.
In the third year, courses become a bit more specific to veterinary medicine – this is the year that students take bacteriology, parasitology, laboratory diagnostics, pharmacology, and pathology and start with small animal and equine medicine.
Fourth and fifth years focus on building clinical skills and continue to build theoretical knowledge that can be applied while we complete shifts in the small animal and equine clinics.
The last semester of the degree is solely made up of practicals and clinical blocks. We are also expected to write and defend a thesis before graduation.
The highlight of my time so far here at Univet has been helping with a caesarean section of a sow.
The goal of this practical was to teach us about scrubbing into surgery, performing c-sections, and neonatal care of piglets.
I was responsible for the care of one of the piglets, and it was so sweet being able to cuddle with it while watching the rest of the surgery from afar.
As part of my school requirements, I have done two summer practical placements at a large-scale dairy farm called Aranykocsi Zrt and one placement at a chicken farm called Atlantic Poultry Inc.
My first placement at the dairy farm was for an animal breeding course and focused on animal husbandry and breeding. My second placement at the dairy farm and my placement at the chicken farm were for an animal nutrition course.
These placements focused on animal husbandry, nutrition, and nutritional disorders of the animals. All of these placements were during summers between school terms.
I enjoy this course, and it is what I expected it to be. I love going to school in Budapest because of all the students I have met from all over the world.
It is interesting to learn about others’ perspectives and experiences.
Also, I find that a lot of the professors at this school genuinely care about their students and will go out of their way to accommodate for any issues students may have.
This was not my first choice, but I am so glad that I am here. Budapest is a beautiful and exciting city, and I have met so many lovely people at this school.
I would recommend that those wanting to study veterinary medicine should gain as much experience in different types of practice as they can.
They should try working at a few different clinics/workplaces because the mentors, work environment, and clientele can really impact one’s motivation to continue in this field.
I also think that starting good habits early is important – good time management and knowing how to compartmentalise and make time for yourself will really help once students get to veterinary school.
If your ‘plan A’ does not work out, look into other options. There are so many good schools in Europe, and they will all allow you to follow this career path.
I had to change my plans drastically when I did not get into school in Canada, but I will still get to where I want to go and do what I love one day.
I want to be a vet because I love helping people, helping animals, and science and I think that it is really important to enjoy working with people in this profession.
The owner is just as much a part of the healthcare team as the veterinary staff. They are responsible for monitoring their pet, providing treatments at home, and communicating with the veterinary staff.
After graduating, I would like to spend 3-5 years working in Europe or the UK at a mixed animal practice with strong mentorship.
After this, I will be able to decide whether I would like to go back to Canada, further my studies, or stay where I am.
I am unsure whether I will return to Canada because I will be required to complete a few big exams to be licensed as a vet there.
If I do go back, I think gaining more experience in the field beforehand would give me more confidence in writing the exams.
I would like to gain more experience with different specialities before furthering my studies.
As of now, I am not sure about which speciality I would choose, but I am interested in small animal emergency medicine, poultry medicine, and small animal dermatology. My ultimate goal is to own my own practice one day.
I should have applied to the veterinary school in Budapest straight from high school instead of getting a degree in biochemistry first.
I think that my first degree really helped me to get through the first two years of veterinary medicine, and I was able to figure skate while going to school there, but I would have saved four years if I had come straight here.
Currently, my life as a vet student revolves around classes and studying, but I have managed to find a good balance between school, friends, fostering animals, and taking care of my physical health.
My life is basically writing lists and schedules out so that I have time for all of the things that make me happy.”
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