That’s Farming editor, Catherina Cunnane, in conversation with vet student, Laura Courtney (21), Murroe, County Limerick, in this week’s Student Focus.
“Both sides of my family come from farming backgrounds, including horticulture, beef, dairy and equine – breeding for the national hunt.
Like any child that grew up in the countryside, I think jumping across bales while your grandfather protests on the sideline is a core memory.
I also have fond memories of filling buckets to the brim of British Queens every Friday evening before my grandad went off to sell them to the locals.
Horses were a huge part of my upbringing, and to this day, I enjoy hunting and going for hacks in the forestry.
When I was younger, visits from our local equine vet were a regular occurrence due to the fact that my family kept brood mares.
I think that that is where the link between keeping animals and attending to their veterinary needs all began.
Due to our family background, it was obvious that my brother and I would have an instinct and love towards farm life.
I was always keen on being a vet as a child, and I loved the idea of being able to alleviate an animal that was in pain.
General Science in Galway
I did a year of general science at NUIG, studying maths, physics, biology and chemistry.
During that time, I had an opportunity to live the life of a college student, but the thought of working in a lab or teaching was just a big no for me.
It was time for a change of course, and veterinary medicine was screaming my name. My childhood dream was finally coming true, and this time, nothing was going to deter me.
No one really pushed me towards veterinary; it was more of a notion that I took of my own accord.
Once I had decided I was not completely fulfilled in Galway, I spoke to my mother and proposed studying abroad.
She has always motivated me to aim high and has been supportive throughout my life choices. Looking back now, it was definitely the right decision.
Irish native studying veterinary medicine in Poland
Currently, I am in my third year of my veterinary medicine degree at Wrocław University of Environmental and Life Sciences and will, all going to plan, graduate in 2026.
I had heard of many Irish students travelling to Poland to study veterinary, so naturally, I went straight to Google: veterinary medicine through English, Poland.
I stumbled across Medical Poland, an agency that could guide me on which college to apply to, how to prepare for an interview and what requirements and documents I would need.
To begin the process, I did my research on the city and the quality of the qualification, and its recognition in Ireland.
I came to the conclusion that it was the best place for me.
Also, I liked the fact that I was going to be moving to a place away from home where I could meet new people and explore a country that I had never been to before.
The first few years of our course are mainly theory. Topics include; anatomy, physiology, immunology, microbiology etc.
From third year onwards, the clinical aspect becomes more apparent; we currently have classes such as clinical and lab diagnostics, pathomorphology and pharmacology.
Other summer practices include two clinical placements, and abattoir placement and a food processing plant placement.
During my second-year farm practice module, I was determined to pick up a new skill that I had no previous knowledge about.
Having only really dealt with horses before then, I decided I wanted to explore the dairy sector.
Dairy farming & hoof-pairing
I contacted Glenstal Farm, and they were more than accommodating.
I learned about grass rotation, animal husbandry, feed value and all the new technology that dairy farmers use to maximise the quality of the animals they are breeding and the milk they are producing.
Also, I took the opportunity to shadow a local hoof trimmer and see how his work is a major part of maintaining the health and comfort of dairy cows.
Once my farm practice was over, I was hooked! I started milking for local farmers and doing a few odd jobs around different farms. The knowledge that I gained is not something that you can read in a book or learn in college.
At first, I was nervous, but I soon learned the ropes. Everyone that I have worked for has been so welcoming and more than willing to do everything they can to guide me.
Second-year summer holidays are when you get your first opportunity to get involved in some practical work outside of the college.
This involves two weeks of ‘farm practice’ where you go to a farm of your choice (dairy, beef, brood mares, sheep, swine, poultry etc.).
During these two weeks, you fill out a diary of all your daily tasks and any useful information that you may have picked up along the way.
Most of us carried out this practice in our home countries. Others stayed in Poland and went to the university farm.
Some of my peers and I shadow vets during our free time, and others may already come from a veterinary background, so for those that do not have previous knowledge of farming, this module was the perfect opportunity.
We are currently on our semester break, and I am doing some independent practice working for a number of local farmers in County Limerick. I am gaining an insight into the specifics of calving and enjoying every second of it!
I think the best thing to do for anyone that is unsure about studying veterinary is to shadow their local vet.
I think if you are going to commit to a course that is five-and-a-half years long, it is worth taking a bit of time to be certain it is what you want to do.
If studying abroad is an option that you are open to, a visit to your city of choice is always a good idea.
I would also suggest getting in contact with anyone that is already living and studying there, as most people are more than happy to share their experience with others.
After all, the students already studying have all been in the same situation as those that are exploring their options.
Advice for aspiring vet students
If you want to become a vet, do not give up. The points system in Ireland, in my opinion, is quite narrow-sighted.
I do not believe that you need to be fluent in a foreign language or exceptional in European geography to be an accomplished vet.
If you are willing to work hard and love the idea of working in a ‘hands-on’ environment, then go for it.
When sitting an interview for my course in Poland, I was given an opportunity to assure them why I deserved a place in this course.
The Dean and Vice Dean took my personality into account and asked me science-based questions that are related to the course.
There are many people in my university that have completed degrees in Ireland, such as equine science, veterinary nursing and biomedical sciences, before making the decision to enrol, while others took a gap year after the Leaving Cert to work.
There are veterinary courses abroad in England, Spain, Bulgaria, Hungary, Lithuania, Croatia and Poland. The opportunity is endless. UNICAS is also a useful route for anyone willing to study abroad.
For me personally, in terms of my own journey, I would change nothing. I think what is for you will come to you and that you just need to take everything one day at a time.
I do not like to plan anything meticulously, and I tend to go with what my gut is saying at the time, and so far, it has worked.
Personally, I did not find moving to a different country that difficult. I boarded in secondary school, so I was pretty used to being away from home. I think the biggest advantage of not studying in Ireland is the cost.
We are able to live comfortably in Poland, and we do not struggle to find liveable and affordable accommodation.
For those that love to travel, living in central Europe is ideal. You are only a few hours of a train ride away from major European cities.
The main disadvantage for me is the fact that we finish a lot later than those studying in Ireland, with exams often running into July. However, that is soon forgotten when you are basking in forty-degree heat next to a lake.
Once I graduate, I plan to come home and work in Ireland for a few years.
Once I have gained valuable practical experience at home, I hope to travel and work in New Zealand or the US to further develop my skill set, but for now, my plan is to work with large animals.
I will gain experience in a veterinary practice that values progressive practice based on scientific evaluation and plans for the future-proofing of agricultural farming.
To reach my end goal of owning my own practice, I would like to be involved in a business partnership with individuals that have mutual best practice principles.
Ireland is renowned worldwide for its high-quality beef and dairy products, and I believe that the only way to retain this reputation is to work alongside a multiplicity of farming styles and outputs.
In my opinion, our education, as vets, is never going to come to an end. I think that some traditional approaches to veterinary care are valuable, but with the ever-changing field of study I am in, it is important to be willing to constantly learn new responses, including modern medicines and new innovative procedures.
You need to be the best version of yourself in order to provide the best care you can, so work hard, study harder, believe in your capabilities and take care of yourself.”
To share your story, email – [email protected]