Our editor, Catherina Cunnane, in conversation with Deboragh Howard, a 29-year-old new grad mixed animal vet, in this week’s Ireland’s Vets series.
“I am from Quinagh, Co. Carlow, but I am currently living in Donegal, where I am practicing as a mixed vet.
We always had a dog and cat in our house, and I participated in horse riding for a period when I was younger. I do not hail from a farming background, but I would have had more animals at home if I had my way.
I was about four-years-old when I decided that I wanted to become a vet. We had ducks at the time, and one died, and I tried to save it, and I said when I was older, I wanted to save animals.
I completed a placement in a veterinary clinic in Transition Year and knew that working with animals was what I only wanted to do.
Studying agricultural science and veterinary medicine
However, due to the high CAO point requirements, I knew it might not happen for me, so I had nursing and agricultural science as an alternative.
If veterinary medicine did not work out for me, at least I was working in a sector dealing with animals.
I knew I would not get the points for veterinary at UCD, so I wanted to do a course that was animal/science-based and then try to get into veterinary.
Even if I did not get into veterinary, at least I had a qualification that was related to the area that I wanted to work in.
I got into the three-year agriculture course at Cork Institute of Technology (now MTU) and completed the add-on year, which enabled me to graduate with a BSc Hons in Agriculture in 2018.
Then, I began my Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Veterinary Medicine and Pharmacy, Košice, Slovakia, in 2018 and graduated in 2022.
They offer a four-year post-graduate course, compared to other colleges where it’s five and a half or six years
Life after graduation
I work in a mixed animal practice, Seaview Veterinary Clinic, Co. Donegal.
The three senior vets have been very patient, answering any questions I have, giving advice and a second pair of eyes, whether it be surgical, diagnostics, consultations or out on-call.
The nurses have also been fantastic, helping me with everything from consults to prescriptions, making a cup of tea and lending an ear.
There are six vets, including myself, and two on maternity leave. We cover West Donegal, West Fermanagh, North Sligo, and North Leitrim.
The rota is a four-day week with one-night on-call, one in four for a half weekend, and one in five for a full weekend.
I love large animals, but I would never have said that before I did ag science.
Taking the kicks and jumping gates out of it, I do enjoy them. I love getting out on the road and breaking up the day, that is, if it is not raining, where we all want to be dealing with small animals then.
New grad advice
As a new grad, my advice is this – make the most of your placements, ask questions, be it burning or ones you may think are stupid but really are not, as this is the last opportunity you will have; it will be expected that you know these things otherwise when you start working.
Be patient and persevere. I found it difficult at the start, wishing I was at the stage of having as much knowledge and experience as the senior vets.
Six months in, and it has gotten easier, and with time comes experience.
You might not get the area that you were hoping for, but once you are working in a practice with good support, that is all that matters.
In terms of support and resources for graduates, it really depends on what the individual practice is willing to offer.
When applying for jobs, you need to look at how many vets are currently working there, what the on-call rota is like, and if they are inviting new grads to apply.
Salary is not the be-all and end-all for your first job; getting experience and having a supportive practice are more important.
There is no point in taking a job with a high salary if there is no one to get advice from during the day and having no one to ring for backup for a calving in your first few months.
And to aspiring vet med students, you need to keep going, no matter what obstacles are put in your way. It may take you longer to get there than others, but it does not matter once you get there. You need to do it for the love of it, not the money.
It was a shock to the system coming from college into working life, more so due to it being mentally demanding rather than physical.
I find it hard to switch off as I am still new to the job and trying to keep on top of things and read up about things in my free time.
Things are not as clear-cut as to what they were when I was studying.
You have to piece things together like a jigsaw, sometimes, there is no definite answer for clients, and due to money restraints, they cannot afford to do further diagnostics.
I love that no two days are the same. I just love that I am finally doing what I have wanted to do since I was a child.
A capable vet is dedicated, compassionate, has strong attention to detail and has the ability to communicate well with clients.
Women in veterinary
During my school years, when I completed placement in veterinary clinics, it was mostly men working there.
I was always told to pick a different career path, as it comes to the stage in life where women would have to take time off work due to having children.
Also, I was told I was not physically strong enough. I have heard from a few vets in years gone by that farmers would only want a male vet.
The practice that I am currently working in, there are seven other vets, and only one is male.
Since working in Donegal, I have found that clients do not care whether you are male or female once the animal is cared for, and I am capable of doing everything I can for that animal.
Empathy and honesty go a long way, and people will respect you for it.
I am satisfied in Donegal, and travel is also on my bucket list. Honestly, I love it here, not only my job but also the beautiful countryside and the characters I meet.
I would like to move closer to home after I have some travelling done and always wanted to have my own practice or go into a partnership.
Moreover, I am a true believer in ‘what’s meant for you won’t pass you by’, and for that very reason, If I could turn back the clock, I would not do anything differently.
I was supposed to go the route I did, and I am glad I did.
On my journey to becoming a vet, I made great friends along the way, and also, with not having a farming background, it was great to have the undergraduate in agriculture as a stepping-stone. I would not be happier doing any other job.
No two days are the same and every day; I am learning and progressing. Some days are up, and some are down, but I will not change any of it.”
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