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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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‘I took a long route to be here’ – vet student (26)

That’s Farming editor, Catherina Cunnane, in conversation with Jess Varney (26), from Essex, in part one of her interview, as part of this week’s Student Focus series. She studies veterinary medicine and surgery at Harper and Keele Veterinary School and holds a BSc (Hons) in Animal Science from Hartpury University.

“I do not hail from an agricultural background, but I have wanted to be a vet for as long as I can remember.

I would say that my parents played a large role in my career choice – we always had dogs growing up and even two ferrets.

My parents would often take me to the local petting farm, and my mum would always rescue injured birds and hedgehogs from the roadside.

Most importantly, they have always supported and encouraged me to follow my dream.


I began my studies in veterinary medicine and surgery at Harper and Keele Veterinary School, based at Harper Adams, in 2020 and will graduate in 2025.

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I chose HK because I was excited to be a part of the very first cohort, and they have the best of both worlds – a top medical school and a top agricultural university with well-established veterinary-related courses.

Also, I liked how hands-on it is from year one compared to some other vet schools.

Long route

I took a long route to be here. In my final year of college, I was told to “not bother” applying for vet school – that I was not smart enough.

Instead, I studied a BSc (Hons) in Animal Science at Hartpury University, graduating with a 2:1.

Being the first person in my family to attend university makes me even more proud of this achievement.

After Hartpury, I still wanted to be a vet, so I applied for vet school during my final year, which was unsuccessful.

I was heartbroken, but after some encouragement from family and friends, I decided to reapply.

I spent the year gaining more veterinary work experience and continued working a paid job to save money for my second degree and was then successful in securing my place.

Throughout my first degree, alongside my waitressing jobs, I completed a huge variety of veterinary experience to help me stand out on my application.

I did placements at multiple veterinary practices (small and mixed), lambing, dairy farm, broiler farm, pig farm, an equine hospital, a wildlife rescue centre, and my two obscure places – an animal research laboratory and I even had a job training oxen to follow vocal commands.

Vet school placements

The first two years of vet school are pre-clinical years, which means that the twelve weeks of placements you do in this time are aimed at more husbandry aspects.

As my pre-clinical years coincided with the coronavirus pandemic, it was difficult to secure all the placements I aimed.

I was lucky enough to complete lambing, a dairy placement, an equine yard, a poultry farm and kennel work. The remainder weeks were completed using online resources.

Years 3-5 are clinical years where you need to do 26 weeks of clinical placement. So far, I have completed five weeks of small animal work, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

I have found it difficult to find farm placements that have availability – so far, I have two farm placements booked in for 2024, and I had to book them in 2022 as they were so full.

This summer, I have more small animal practice booked in and a fortnight at an abattoir.

A big high is having a good connection with a local veterinary practice that lets me get involved with all cases and practice clinical skills.


One of my highlights is being a co-founder of HK Farm Animal Veterinary Society (HKFAVS).

As we are the very first cohort going through HK, there were no societies you see at other vet schools such as FAVS.

I wanted to set the society up in first year but waited for there to be more year groups to be able to be involved.

In February, myself and three other students got together to set up HK FAVS; our two events so far have been successful, and I am excited for what lies ahead.

I am really enjoying my time at university. I just cannot believe how quickly the time is going by.

Being a part of the first cohort is hard and I do wonder what other schools are doing.

I have enjoyed speaking to students at other vet schools and having confirmation that we are doing well.

From these conversations, I know that we at HK are very lucky in that we are so practical from day one.”

Part two of this interview to follow on

To share your story, email – [email protected]

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