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HomeEditor's Picks‘Physiotherapy was not for me and veterinary was where my passion was’
Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane hails from a sixth-generation drystock and specialised pedigree suckler enterprise in Co. Mayo. She currently holds the positions of editor and general manager at That's Farming, having joined the firm during its start-up phase in 2015.
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‘Physiotherapy was not for me and veterinary was where my passion was’

That’s Farming editor, Catherina Cunnane, in conversation with Amy Cooper, a veterinary medicine student at Harper and Keele Vet School, in this week’s Student Focus series.

I am a 23-year-old from Castlederg, Co. Tyrone.

My father’s side of the family farm, so I would say I have had an insight into the agricultural industry from a young age, more specifically dairy.

From an early age, I have been involved in many of the daily activities on the farm, from covering the silage pit in summer to TB testing cattle, lambing/calving cases and calf rearing, which I must say is my favourite.

My passion for farming started from a young age and has stuck with me to this day and will forever.

I have worked on many farms throughout Shropshire/Staffordshire and have gained additional qualifications in bovine artificial insemination and foot trimming.

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As cliché as it may sound, I had an interest in working with animals from a very young age and I knew I had a passion for working within the agricultural/veterinary industry.

Having seen the work veterinary surgeons carry out on both domestic and livestock animals, from taking my own pets to the vets and seeing them on-farm, it gave me an insight into the profession.

I always hoped that I could one day follow this career path. Becoming a vet is a dream that started during primary school, that never went away.

At times, I was not sure whether a career in veterinary would be achievable, in terms of the academic requirements, as school was not something that I really enjoyed.

The thought of five years at university to study veterinary medicine was daunting, but I knew I had to go for it; otherwise, I would regret it.

Harper and Keele Veterinary School

I am part of the first cohort going through Harper and Keele Veterinary School, studying veterinary medicine.

I began studying in September 2020, and I am going into my fourth year of studies this September, soon to be graduating in June 2025.

Unfortunately, I did not apply to vet school straight away, as I did not fully believe that I was capable of meeting the academic requirements of vet school.

I applied to study physiotherapy with the idea of progressing to veterinary physiotherapy later on.

But after a few months of studying physiotherapy, I knew this course definitely was not for me and working with animals – veterinary – was truly where my passion was.

As difficult as it was to drop out of university, it was the best decision I have ever made, and I could not be happier with where I am today.

So far, I have completed placement both near home and across the waters in England, mostly undertaking placement within large animal practices.

Currently, I am completing a placement with Leahurst Equine Hospital in Liverpool and later this month, I will be flying to Costa Rica to volunteer at a wildlife sanctuary.


The biggest highlight to date has been progressing from observing ewe/cattle sections, to actually being involved and putting what I have learnt into practice and getting to perform some ewe sections during Easter.

I cannot put into words how amazing it feels to be able to help that animal take its first breath.

Another personal highlight for myself has been attending routine fertility checks on dairy farms and being able to detect a pregnancy with only the use of my hands/without a scanner, having developed these skills over the past few placements.

The course is definitely demanding and each year the content gets more demanding, but it is extremely interesting.

I feel since having finished third year, everything is starting to fall into place, especially having spent time on placement to use what I have learnt not just academically but practically.

Harper and Keele have definitely met my expeditions in terms of the course, ensuring that we, as vet students, are equipped with not just the knowledge required to be a vet, but the practical ability to carry out these tasks, which is one of the key reasons I applied to study there.

A juggling act

It sometimes is hard to get a healthy balance between vet school and actually having a life.

I do find that by studying such an intense course, time away from university work is so important.

I milk regularly before going to university in the mornings and then at weekends. Some would say I am mad getting up at 4 am before a full day of university, but it is something I really enjoy doing and I do not mind the early starts, plus it gives me a break from the academic side of veterinary.

For the placements that veterinary students complete, we do not get paid or get help towards the cost of placement, so the money from working also comes in very handy for that.

Why this course?

I really wanted to go to Harper and Keele Veterinary School, because they were adopting a new way of teaching veterinary, which was to incorporate more practical aspects into the course, which is so important in veterinary.

Harper Adams University is well renowned for the work they do within agriculture and has many industrial connections and facilities, to allow us to practice our skills and gain more knowledge on a working farm.

The combination of the two universities (Harper Adams and Keele), brings together the best combination of facilities and learning to produce vet students who are equipped with the day-one skills that they are expected to have upon graduation.

I would recommend this course to anyone who is interested in agriculture/ a career with animals, as there is a massive demand for veterinary surgeons within the UK and Ireland and not enough people are considering this route which is a shame.

I would definitely recommend studying veterinary at Harper and Keele, because Harper Adams is known well-known within the farming community and has gained many awards for their achievements within the industry.

Through the years, Harper has built up their knowledge in management of agricultural land and animal husbandry.

Now, they are completing the puzzle by introducing veterinary medicine, which complements and further enriches the knowledge and skills the university have to offer to students, alongside Keele university which supports on the medical side of the course, as they are well-known for their medicine course and highly regarded for its delivery.

The veterinary school has also adapted a modern way of teaching veterinary, allowing students to gain the practical skills needed from day one, which better equips vet students for the real world.

Home soil

I do try to get home as often as I can, although sometimes it is hard, due to the workload demands of the course and having work commitments (milking/calf rearing).

I personally did not find moving overseas difficult, I think it was due to the fact that I had my mind set on studying veterinary and nothing was going to stop me.

Harper Adams is similar to where I am from in terms of being in the countryside and plus, I am never too far away from cows.

Having previously experienced being at university for a short period before, I believe it prepared me better for this time around, which made me feel more settled once I arrived at vet school.

Parting words of advice

For those considering veterinary, I would say if it is something you see yourself doing, just go for it as otherwise you will regret it.

As long as you are willing to put in the hard work, you will get through it, and it will be worth it.

Do not let anyone change your mind or make you doubt your ability. If it is something you really want to do, you will get through it no matter how hard it is.


Looking back at the path I took, I do really wish I started studying veterinary after leaving school.

But in saying that, I would not change anything, as I could not be happier with the direction I am heading in now.

I am glad I realised before it was too late, that studying physiotherapy was not for me and had the courage to change courses. As they say, everything happens for a reason.

So far, the main aim is to pass the next two years of vet school and graduate in 2025, as I can imagine the final years are not going to be a breeze.

I would like to do some travelling before I start working as a vet, as it is not something that I have had time to do throughout the course, so I am keen to see Australia/New Zealand.

Moreover, I would like to specialise in large animals, alongside some equine work, as this is where my interests lie.

I do have an interest in bovine genetics, and I would like to further my skill set by learning how to transfer embryos whenever I am qualified.

The most intriguing aspect of veterinary is you never know what case you are going to be faced with.

No day is ever the same and every day your skills are tested and you are constantly learning new things, which I cannot wait to be doing.

My ultimate goal is to graduate and be the best vet I can be, ensuring that I provide the best care I possibly can to all my patients.


Life in agriculture is hard work, with long hours, high costs and low returns, and most of the time spent working by yourself, which can be very isolating.

Currently, the increasing occurrence of extreme weather events are making it more difficult to earn a living.

If you are able to face all the challenges of agriculture, it can be very rewarding, but I think more has to be done to help support young people in agriculture, as we do not want to be dependent on other countries for food.

Just remember: no farming, no food, no future.”

To share your story, email – [email protected]

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