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HomeBeefTaking ‘the long way around’: 24-year-old’s pathway to dream vet med career
Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnanehttps://www.thatsfarming.com/
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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Taking ‘the long way around’: 24-year-old’s pathway to dream vet med career

That’s Farming editor, Catherina Cunnane, in conversation with Kate Rogers (24) in this week’s Student Focus series, in a two-part series. She discusses her pathway to veterinary medicine at Harper & Keele Veterinary School, after toying with the idea of becoming a veterinary nurse, studying politics, anxiety and imposter syndrome.

“Currently, I live between Newport, Shropshire (where university is), Northumberland (where my family home is), and Magherafelt, Northern Ireland (with my boyfriend).

I do not come from a farming family, but the closest I have come to owning a farm is when I had a dog and a hamster at the same time.

I live in the countryside surrounded by farms and farmland and had never taken much interest in it before, other than going to petting zoos to feed cows and goats.

Previously, I did a lot of my work experience with a farm vet and found that I really liked the lifestyle of it.

I was 21 when I realised that I wanted to become a vet. I think I had been influenced to try other career paths, like politics, but it was not until I went to New Zealand and got away from everyone that I realised what I wanted to do.

Honestly, I do not think I have one specific reason why I want to be a vet, just a few different ones. I like to be able to work outside, as I have never liked the idea of being stuck indoors for my job.

Also, I like talking and meeting new people, especially farmers, as you can always have a bit of craic.

What is more, I also love the idea of being able to work with my hands as well as my head, and, of course, I enjoy being around and working with animals.

Veterinary medicine

I have been studying veterinary medicine and surgery at Harper & Keele Vet School since 2021 and will graduate in 2027.

HK Vet School seemed a lot more hands-on than a lot of vet schools. There is a huge emphasis on practical skills and animal handling and management, whereas I found that a lot of the other universities I interviewed for were maybe more into theory.

I kind of took a long way around to get into uni. So, I studied English Literature, Philosophy and Physics at A-level and left school without any idea what I wanted to do.

I also could not complete my final A-level exams, so I did a foundation year of politics at Canterbury Christ Church University before deciding that I did not want to go to university.

Then, I went to live in New Zealand for a year while I tried to figure out what I wanted to do.

I had thought about veterinary nursing a little before I left, so I went to volunteer in a couple of practices whilst I was out there to see if I enjoyed it.

I found that I preferred the role of the veterinary surgeon, so I began to look about what I would need to do to get on to a vet med degree.

From there, I went back to England in August and enrolled on an Access to Veterinary Sciences course at Capel Manor College in London, which then involved (almost) a year of commuting to London weekly from Northumberland for the two days that I was in college.

The course was great, but we had to finish early due to Covid emerging that March, which thankfully meant no more driving to London, and we received our predicted grades instead.

Anxiety

I started at Harper in September 2020, thinking that that would be me finally settling and doing what I wanted to do, but I struggled a lot with anxiety during that first term.

I think it was the combination of Covid anxiety mixed with imposter syndrome that, together, resulted in me dropping out of the course in February 2021. Thankfully, I was able to defer my place until September 2022, and after a lot of work on myself and how I cope with anxiety, I have been able to resume the course.

I am having a much better time now that Covid is not so prevalent, and I am no longer in the first cohort of a new vet school.

Placement

I have done a lot of farm veterinary placement with a vet in Northumberland, as well as seeing practice at a couple of places in Northern Ireland. For my first year EMS, I also volunteer at Wolverhampton Greyhound Trust, which counts towards my placement.

The highlight for me has definitely been getting my head in a place to be able to begin university again last September.

I worried that I was not cut out for vet school (and I still do sometimes), but I am gradually learning how to better manage stressful situations, which I think was a really important thing to learn.

I love the course and find the anatomy and physiology aspects really interesting, although it is challenging at times.

There is also a big emphasis on production animal management which, by not coming from a farming background, takes a while to get your head around, but the weeks when we learn about that are always a nice change from dissections and physiology lectures.

Why Harper & Keele?

Since I came to Harper & Keele for my interview, I decided that it was where I wanted to study. I found that the staff were more friendly here than at the other universities I interviewed for, and I really liked the course structure.

But, I was a little reluctant to apply here as it is so new, but I have since found that with it being new, they are very open to hearing suggestions and ways to improve the course.

In first year, the course is divided into 2-week blocks, where we alternate between learning the anatomy and physiology of each body system, followed by two weeks of learning about animal management for health and production. We also do lectures on professional skills and well-being relating to the veterinary industry.

It is a five-day-a-week course; however, we always get Wednesday afternoons off, meaning it can be quite intense, but we do get flexible study weeks and days throughout the year. We also get longer holidays to do placement as you have to complete a certain amount of extramural studies (EMS) each year to add to your portfolio.”

Part two to follow.

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