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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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‘Predicted grades did not work in my favour’ – Irish vet student (21) in Poland

Irish Vet Student in Poland

That’s Farming editor, Catherina Cunnane, in conversation with 21-year-old Zara Doyle Mathews, in this week’s Student Focus.

“I am from the Carlow/Laois border, and I am currently living in Crettyard, Co. Laois.

I do not actually come from a farming background and, in fact, not even from an equestrian background.

I started riding lessons as a birthday gift in a local riding school when I was quite young, and it all took off from there.

Currently, my horse, Moonchaser, and I compete in some endurance rides with Endurance Ireland when I am home.

Since I could talk, veterinary had always been the answer for me. It was not even a question or a choice.

I had never considered doing anything else, and regardless of how long it took or what routes I would have to take, I knew I would get there in the end.

When I was younger, I loved the James Herriot books – All Creatures Great & Small, a wonderful series set in Yorkshire following a farm vet and all of his adventures. All I knew was when I was older, I wanted to be just like that.

We have a few acres at home where I keep my horse when I am home for the summer, but in the future, the dream would be to expand and add in a few stables, and I would love to have a few foals around the place.


Currently, I am studying veterinary medicine at UPWR in Wroclaw, Poland. I began studying during Covid in 2020, and I will be graduating in January 2026.

I did not have the opportunity to sit my Leaving Cert in 2020 due to Covid-19, so I received predicted grades which did not work in my favour, receiving fewer points than my mocks.

My results were appealed and brought by our local councillor to the Dáil. By the time it took to appeal, I was already in studying in Poland.

I was actually set to repeat my Leaving Cert and had began restudying and went back to secondary school.

Veterinary was always the only choice for me – regardless of which way I got there.

A week after the school year started, I got a phone call at 4 pm on a Thursday evening from my mam saying that a vet school in Poland had one spot left for this year and that I had to submit a personal essay by 5 pm and my interview would be at 9 am Friday morning.

I sat my interview the day after and was accepted on the spot – but to begin classes 4 days later, on Tuesday.

I booked a last-minute flight and flew to Poland, relocating my life for the next five-and-a-half years.

Irish Vet Student in Poland

That’s Farming editor, Catherina Cunnane, in conversation with 21-year-old Zara Doyle Mathews, in this week’s Student Focus.


In my own time during the summer and during semester breaks, I have spent a good bit of time seeing practice with my local mixed practice, Barrowvale Veterinary Clinic in Bagenalstown, Co. Carlow.

All of the vets and staff in Barrowvale have been brilliant and allowed me to get really hands-on experience and try out everything we have been learning about.

Also, I have done some equine placement in GCS Veterinary in Gowan, Co. Kilkenny, mostly focused on equine reproduction and sports medicine.

When I was younger, I was always set on working with horses; however, after seeing more practice, my heart is set on mixed GP vet work.

Differences between Irish and Polish systems

I am counting down the days until I am back home in Ireland, tipping around to farm calls and back in the afternoon for small animal surgeries.

One difference that I have noticed from studying abroad is how different the farming practices are in Eastern Europe and how good we have it in Ireland.

Even from visiting our university farm, it is easy to see the differences.

For example, some older but not uncommon systems involve cows being tethered or tied up via a chain 24/7.

I think this would definitely raise some concerns here in Ireland. The cattle are also completely different – the suckler cows at home are gigantic in comparison.

Ireland is different due to its ethical considerations, farming culture and even all of our educational resources for farming that have improved our country’s standards and what makes me want to work in the industry as a soon-to-be vet.


I am currently in my third year, with two-and-a-half years left to go. So far, I have not found it incredibly difficult, but it can be challenging at times.

Studies-wise, it is a matter of having your head screwed on and dedicating the time to learning.

It is such an intensive programme that if you fall behind, it can be very difficult to catch up.

Along with the intensive classes and labs and long hours each day, you also have to deal with the fact that you are 1000s of miles away from your family, friends and animals.

It is definitely difficult at the start. For me, I fly home every single opportunity I get, even just for a few days over the weekend If I can.

It might seem a bit drastic, but in contrast, my flight could cost as little as €10, and the bus home from the airport is more expensive than the flight itself.

I think I am a regular through the airport now, but the security always have a laugh when they find the smuggled blocks of Kerrygold butter and Denny’s sausages.

Advice & reflection

In hindsight, I definitely had not thought through moving to Poland when I applied at the last minute in a whirlwind, but luckily it has all worked out in my favour, and I am over halfway there.

Sometimes I wish that I was studying in the capital, or if I had even sat my Leaving Certa year earlier, that I would have met them points.

You just have to remind yourself that in a few more semesters, I will be in the exact same place, even if I had gotten in, but with the added experience of living abroad.

For anybody considering this route, I would 100% encourage them to consider studying abroad but to research it thoroughly first.

There are a number of different colleges across Eastern Europe, but I would recommend Wroclaw.

Also, it is essential to actually go and see practice before deciding if this is right for you – TY is the perfect time for this.

Try to see as much of a vet’s work through your work experience and see how you feel at the end of it.

Future plan

Once I graduate, I cannot wait to come back home to Ireland, and my goal would be to work in a local practice as a mixed vet.

It will be nice to enjoy life back in Ireland after being away for so many years.

Further along the line, it would be nice to set up my own small practice at home, potentially just local calls and even just some equine reproduction work.

I do have plans to sit my NAVLE, the qualification that allows me to work as a vet in the USA, and I would like to see some other parts of the world, but Ireland is in my heart – I would always come back home.

Spending so much time away really makes you appreciate what you are leaving.”

To share your story, email – [email protected]

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