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Catherina Cunnanehttps://www.thatsfarming.com/
Catherina Cunnane hails from a fifth-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 company in 2015.
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‘I was afraid that I would be at a disadvantage with no farming background’ – vet student

In this week’s Student Focus, That’s Farming, speaks to Lucy Holden, who studied Zoology at NUIG before venturing to Warsaw University of Life Sciences (SGGW), Warsaw, Poland.

Veterinary medicine has a place for everyone – even those from non-farming backgrounds.

That was the advice Lucy Holden received from two vets she completed work placement with during transition year.

“One was a veterinary inspector for the Department of Agriculture, Mr Christopher O’Brien-Lynch, who took his time to show me as many parts of his job as he could in the few weeks that I worked alongside him,” she told That’s Farming.

“I saw veterinary in a whole different way than I ever imagined, from farm welfare checks to seeing cases played out in court. The variety was a big draw factor for me.”

“Equally, the other vet I did experience with at that time and work with at the moment is Ann Marie Horgan. She was the person that made me realise that whilst veterinary has a place for everyone, I think (hope) that my place will be within the small animal field. I would consider her to be one of my biggest inspirations.”

Zoology 

The Mornington, County Meath native, who does not hail from a farming background, set her sights on veterinary medicine at a tender age.

The 25-year-old moved to Galway to study science in NUI Galway after her Leaving Certificate and completed a degree in zoology in 2019.

However, veterinary has always been something that she “could not shake off”. In college in Galway, there were many opportunities for continuing her education in the zoological field. “But, I just could not let it go, not without at least trying,” she revealed.

“I was set on doing veterinary anyway, but as a graduate, it is even more difficult to get a place in Ireland.”

SGGW, veterinary medicine, vet student, studying veterinary,

A ‘chance’ meeting

With this in mind, she began researching possibilities overseas and forging connections with veterinary medicine students.

She contacted a student at Warsaw University of Life Sciences (SGGW), Warsaw, Poland, who really “sold the idea to me – the city, the country and the college”.

“It was a chance meeting with a now-fourth year student that brought Poland up as an option. After weighing up the cost of living, with the course details online, I applied to SGGW in my final year of college in Galway and was accepted.”

SGGW

After completing her Zoology degree, she began her veterinary medicine studies immediately at SGGW and will qualify in 2025.

“I did not get the CAO points that I needed in my year. However, I am so glad that I chose this path because despite it adding four years to my education, I had time to enjoy Irish college life, to grow up, and to become that bit more independent, which made my move to Poland a lot easier.”

“It is a balanced and popular course that has the added advantage of being set in a campus just 20 minutes outside of Warsaw city.”

“I am financing the course myself, with the help of a student loan, so this was another reason that I decided to look at other courses in Europe.”

“Before I started the course in Poland, I was afraid that I would be at a disadvantage, with no farming background.”

“The course is comprehensive so far, and we will all play to our strengths for the next few years. I am already learning a lot about agriculture and farming from my classmates.”

“I did not get the CAO points that I needed in my year. However, I am so glad that I chose this path because despite it adding four years to my education, I had time to enjoy Irish college life, to grow up, and to become that bit more independent, which made my move to Poland a lot easier.”

“I am enjoying the course’s practical side, although COVID has impacted that,” added Lucy, who secured a job working in a small animal veterinary hospital in her town a year ago and has gained experience at Clontail Farm.

Advice

Her advice to aspiring vets is this: “If you want to be a vet, do not let a thing like the Leaving Certificate take that away from you.”

“We have all seen in the past year that the country can manage without it. The world did not end because the Leaving Cert did not happen.

She encourages aspiring vets to research opportunities abroad as the number of Irish students venturing to countries such as Poland and Hungary to complete veterinary degrees continues to rise.

“Also, I know that finance was a significant factor for me and many others considering going abroad. The cost of living is very low in Poland, and it was not as expensive as I imagined it would be.”

“I managed to get a student loan that made it possible, so proper research is worth it if you are seriously considering coming over.”

SGGW, veterinary medicine, vet student, studying veterinary,

Moving away from her home soil

Having resided in Galway before this, it was a seamless transition for the Meath native to adjust to moving abroad and living independently.

“This was 100% an advantage. You get used to the language difference fairly quickly, and with weekly fairly informal Polish classes, learn enough basic Polish to get by.”

“Warsaw is only 3 hours away from Dublin, and the flights can be fairly cheap. Therefore, weekends and breaks home are very manageable.”

“Also, when the world opens again, Poland is a central European country. We will have an opportunity to see a lot of Europe during our studies,” she added.

“It would be great to not have to spend nearly a decade in third-level education. But honestly, if I had to redo it, I would not change a thing. Galway was an amazing experience.”

“I know how lucky I am to have been able to have that time and still end up doing what I have always wanted to do. I am happy, which I think the importance of can sometimes be lost in the moment.”

SGGW, veterinary medicine, vet student, studying veterinary,

Pathway after graduation

Once she completes the five-and-a-half-year course, she plans to return to Ireland to “get stuck into work straight away”.

She relishes the idea of working in a small animal hospital when she graduates but would not rule out starting in a mixed animal practice.

“I would keep my options open. We will have to see how the next couple of years go. Throughout my zoology degree, I had the opportunity to learn and teach others about a huge array of different exotic animals, including many reptiles. So, this could be another possible area for me in the future.”

SGGW, veterinary medicine, vet student, studying veterinary,

A mentor for vets and vet nurses

The vet student also has a striking passion for mentoring, which she developed in NUI Galway as a coordinator of its student mentoring programme.

In the future, she would like to bring this interest to the veterinary field, mentoring new vets and vet students.

“I see and appreciate every minute that the vets, vet nurses and support staff take to teach me every day, and that is inspiring to me.”

“My sister, Jilly, is a wonderful veterinary nurse. To work alongside her in the future would have to be up there in my goals.”

“I feel somewhat of an imposter in the world of agriculture at this moment in time; it is almost overwhelming when it is not part of your life growing up.”

“But, between this course and the people in it, I am learning a lot and feeling a little less of an outsider every day. Agriculture is such a big part of our Irish identity and something I believe more people should learn about,” the SGGW student concluded.

To share your story, email – catherina@thatsfrming.com

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