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Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnanehttps://www.thatsfarming.com/
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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‘Being able to work with animals for a living has been my life-long dream’ – vet student (26)

Vet Med in Poland

That’s Farming editor, Catherina Cunnane, in conversation with Ine Eggja (26), in this week’s Student Focus, about studying vet med in Poland. 

“I am from Bryne, a small town in the southwestern part of Norway. I spent most of my childhood there, but I also lived in Canada for five years and completed high school there.

Currently, I live and study in Wrocław, the third largest city in Poland, with a population of approximately 675,000 people.

I do not come from a family of farmers, but I was lucky enough to grow up in a town surrounded by farms.

The first memories that come to mind are field trips to nearby farms and public educational farms with my kindergarten.

I remember watching chickens hatch, playing with lambs in the hay, and having calves suckle on my hands until they were sore.

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When I was very little, my idea of farming was just ‘really lucky people who get to have all the animals they want’.

Now that I am older, my interests are more focused on how to improve animal welfare, as well as how farming and animal health is connected to human health.

Family 

There has never been a time in my life when I did not know what I wanted to be. I wanted to be a vet before I even knew what it meant to be a vet.

My parents definitely played a massive role in my career choice.

I would not say they tried to influence me, and they never made me feel like I had to choose veterinary medicine, but they saw my love for animals and did anything they could to allow me to further explore my interests.

Growing up, I had a hamster, and two bunnies, I rode horses every weekend, and when I was seven, I finally got my own dog.

His name was Max, and he was my best friend for thirteen years.

However, the person with the greatest impact on my career path was, without a doubt, my grandfather.

He went out of his way to let me be with animals and would find out who in the neighbourhood had dogs, and then he would come with me to walk them all, and I mean every single dog.

He would also take me to different farms so I could look at the cows, borrow his friends’ dogs when I was coming over, take me ‘fishing’ in a pond he knew had no fish, and we would feed the ducks on weekends.

Becoming a vet

I am based at the University of Environmental and Life Sciences, Wrocław, Poland, where I have been studying for a uniform masters degree in veterinary medicine since 2020.

Currently, I am in fourth year and will graduate in February 2025. I did not enrol in this course immediately after high school because I did not feel ready or mature enough to take on such an extensive education.

Instead, I took a year off and volunteered at different animal sanctuaries in North and South America.

My first six months were spent in Bolivia, followed by a couple of weeks in Costa Rica, two months in Belize, and one month in Canada.

Once my gap year was finished, I studied veterinary nursing for two years in Denmark before finally enrolling in veterinary medicine in 2018.

I had originally started my veterinary studies in Budapest, Hungary, in 2018. However, I did not feel like I was in the right place.

After speaking to students who were studying in Wrocław, as well as speaking to the student secretariat, it sounded like both the university- and the city would be a better fit for me.

Another thing that played a role in me going to Wrocław is that the university has the European Association of Establishments for Veterinary Education (EAEVE) accreditation, which makes it much easier for me to have my degree recognised in Norway once I graduate.

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Placement

Throughout my studies, I have completed placements with both farm/production animals and small animals.

In the summer between second and third year, students of UPWr are required to complete a two-week (40 hours) internship at a farm.

The farm I interned at had 470 cattle: 400 Norwegian Red for milk production and 70 Charolais for meat production.

The rest of my holidays have been spent at a small animal clinic in Norway.

Highlights

There are so many highlights, but I would probably have to say that passing third year has been the best part thus far.

Third year is known for being the hardest year, and not only at UPWr, so opening my exam results to see that I had passed was an incredible feeling.

It just gave me this ‘I am going to make it’ feeling, which was amazing.

In all honesty, the course is very hard, and it is more challenging than I had anticipated. However, it is very doable if you put in the work. The first 2.5 years are very theoretically challenging, and you do not really see many animals, but it gets more and more practical once you are halfway through 3rd year.

Now that I am in fourth year, I love the course, and we are even allowed to join surgeries in our free time.

Course structure

Veterinary medicine was always my first choice. Being able to work with animals for a living has been my life-long dream, and I cannot imagine myself doing something else.

The course is divided into two parts; pre-clinical years and clinical years.

In the first few years, we are taught all the basics of biochemistry, anatomy, physiology, biology, histology, genetics, and so much more.

Once you are halfway through third year, it gets more practical. We have weekly pathology labs where the goal is to find the cause of death of the animal.

We perform clinical examinations of dogs, cows, horses and goats, and in fourth year, we have gotten to perform heart ultrasounds and rectal examinations of cows.

My life as a vet student is stressful and, at times, very hard, but mostly it is exactly what I hoped it would be.

It is fun, exciting, scary, and cool, and I feel very lucky that I get to experience it all with a great group of friends.

Advice

If this is what you want to do, and you are willing to put in the work, then go for it. It is hard, but it is far from impossible, and it is so worth it!

A lot of people don’t have sufficient grades or points to study in their home countries, but that does not mean you will not be able to become an excellent veterinarian.

There is an abundance of universities all over Europe that does not just look at the points.

Personally, I would never have been able to study veterinary medicine in Norway with the marks I had from secondary school.

My marks were never bad; they just were not excellent. Studying abroad was scary at first, but now that I have come this far, I am so incredibly happy that I did.

Looking back, I probably would have paid more attention in biochemistry class, but other than that, I am very content with where I have ended up.

My friends are wonderful; I love the city I live in and the university I go to, and in just a couple of years, I will hopefully have my dream job!

Reflection

My overall experience has been great. Some highs would be learning more than I could have ever imagined and getting to know people from all over the world.

Also, I have had lows where I have cried (more than a few times) and failed several tests.

However, in return, I have become more confident, and I have learned that if it does not work out on the first try, then it is not the end of the world.

The reason I want to be a vet is that, for me personally, there is no other option. I do not have a plan B, nor have I ever wanted to do anything else in my life.

I love people, animals, and helping others. Another thing about this profession is that I feel challenged, which I want to be, and I feel a great sense of belonging whenever I am working with animals.

Future

Once I graduate, I would love to work at the veterinary clinic I am currently working for. If that is not an option, then I am sure I will get a job at another great clinic.

All I know is that I want to work at a companion animal clinic, but I will figure out where when the time comes.

So far in my studies, I am leaning more and more towards surgery and diagnostic imaging, especially ultrasonography.

I have a surgical internship at a spay/neuter clinic in Spain coming up this summer, mainly to help decrease the number of future stray animals but also to see if surgery is something I want to pursue after I graduate.

Veterinary industry’s future

The veterinary industry has evolved immensely in very few years, especially when it comes to companion animals like dogs and cats.

I am very excited to see what the future holds in regards to new technology and medication, and the most important issue for me; is how we can better understand animals and improve their health!

There seems to be so many women studying veterinary medicine that this is not really something I have thought much about.

I think it is great to see so many women in veterinary medicine, but I commend anyone taking on this challenging degree, regardless of gender.

My ultimate goal is to be the best veterinarian I can be, and to be happy with the path I chose.”

To share your story, email – [email protected]

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