That’s Farming editor, Catherina Cunnane, in conversation with Tara Martyn, in this week’s Student Focus. The UL equine science graduate discusses her journey to studying at University of Veterinary Medicine in Kosice, Slovakia.
“I am a 25-year-old veterinary student studying in Kosice, Slovakia, originally from Galway, Ireland.
Although I live in a rural locality, I am not from a farming background. My love for animals first began when I started horse riding at the age of 11.
From this point on, horses became part of my life and any opportunity I got; I would spend with them.
My journey so far has been far from direct. I strongly believe that if I changed any part of it, I would not be studying veterinary now.
I did my undergraduate degree in equine science at University of Limerick, and it was through this course I got the opportunity in third year to complete cooperative education in any sector of the horse industry.
I chose to move to Lexington, Kentucky and worked at Hagyard Equine Medical Institute as a veterinary technician.
After graduation, I worked for a year in Kildangan Stud – the headquarters of Godolphin, Ireland – and from here, I travelled to Kosice in Slovakia and started studying veterinary medicine.
Studying veterinary medicine in Slovakia
I am currently in my third year of a four-year postgraduate degree at University of Veterinary Medicine in Kosice, Slovakia, and it is my hope to graduate as a qualified vet in July 2024.
As University College Dublin (UCD) was not an option for me, I had to decide between all the other European vet schools.
It was a difficult decision as the course in Dublin sounded quite attractive, and going anywhere else felt like second best.
I asked around, and a vet advised me that no matter where you study, you do the majority of your learning ‘on the job’.
Even if you are at different levels in your knowledge after graduation, you can achieve and strive for any level once you graduate.
At the end of the day, heading abroad to study was the only way for my dream to become a vet a reality.
This seems to be the case for many, with nearly more vets at home having studied abroad than in Ireland.
I chose Slovakia as it had the post-graduate course mapped out for me in a four-year period.
I also knew people that had taken the same path as me from my undergraduate degree that recommended the college. Kosice is a beautiful little city in Slovakia.
The Slovak people are friendly, and most people can speak English. I am also surrounded by so many other nationalities as well as my group of fellow Irish comrades that certainly help adjust to the culture shock.
St Patrick’s Day is still one of the biggest parties of the year, and there are plenty of Lyons and Barry’s teabags to be found amongst the group.
The course itself is full-on, considering it is condensed into four years. We are commencing semester two after just completing the modules of pathological anatomy, obstetrics, exotic animals and epizootiology, to name a few.
UVMP has several clinics on-site. We have a college farm, a bus journey away which allows us to get more experience with large ruminants.
Also, we must complete hours of clinical practice in each of the clinics before graduation.
To complete our degree, we need to pass six state exams. We must present our knowledge to a panel of professors in each area.
They start this summer with contagious diseases and food hygiene. In our final year, there are four state exams based on small animals, pigs, ruminants and horses.
The most difficult thing for me so far was adjusting to the form of oral exams. It is not something I did in my undergraduate degree.
It is one thing writing down your knowledge, but to then present it to your lecturers with confidence and to be questioned on it is quite difficult. However, it ensures the knowledge goes beyond rote learning.
Midwifery or working with horses
I cannot say veterinary was a childhood dream of mine. Throughout high school/secondary school, I wanted to work with a horse, and even midwifery was on the agenda for a while.
The dream developed in Lexington, Kentucky.
I got to work in one of the world’s largest and most developed equine hospitals, observing procedures and working with top-class horses – such a fantastic experience to have.
I met amazing people, such as newly graduated vets, veterinary technicians, and amazing surgeons. These people changed my view on veterinary completely.
Growing up in Ireland, I understood that veterinary was a profession for honours students. I am not the only one to believe that.
To this day, people still say to me, “Oh wow, you must be smart!” as soon as I tell them about my studies.
At 17/18 years of age, I did not have the determination needed to sit and study endless hours to achieve the points for veterinary in the Leaving Certificate.
I thought, well, if it is that hard to get into the degree, what is it going to be like in year two or three of the course?
My main advice to anyone interested in veterinary is to not limit yourself to the fact that veterinary medicine is believed to be a difficult degree.
Yes, believing your capable is something that helps confidence. It makes the course mentally bearable to begin, but it is far from all you need to get to graduation.
I was never a studious person, and if it is something you want to do, your own perseverance and determination can get you through any difficult exam you face.
It requires passion and nothing more than the sheer desire to be a vet.
After graduation, my plan is to continue to specialise in horses. An internship is probably on the cards, maybe in Australia or America.
It is a daunting step, leaving the safe quarters of the student title and heading into the ‘real world’, saving animals.
Even now, imposter syndrome is something me and my colleagues really struggle with – the feeling of not being ready, receiving the veterinary title, and not having had the skills and knowledge needed for the job.
It is hard to prepare for the responsibility we will have when we graduate.
I know I will still need another year of support and guidance from experienced vets after graduation.
Some countries have options for temporary licenses, and I would love to see something like this being implemented in Ireland.
Vet students could gain some confidence on their holidays in clinics at home.
They get a taste of the responsibility of having their own patients within the safety of an experienced vet close by while earning some money for the upcoming semester.
It would be so beneficial to us as new graduates. It is quite difficult to find the time on our holidays to balance work placement and saving money for college.
If I could, I would rather spend the entire summer shadowing vets; it is just not an option for most people.
The ultimate goal for me is never to get to a point where my job becomes hard work.
It was one of the reasons I decided on veterinary in the first place. In America, I had to be forced to leave the hospital at the end of each working day.
I would work all the overtime possible and stay longer unpaid to see any procedure that was interesting.
Veterinary is one of the very few professions that has such variety day-to-day.
It is overwhelming at the beginning, I imagine, but 30 years into my career, I will still be seeing things I have never seen before. I never want that excitement to disappear.”
To share your story, email – [email protected]