Catherina Cunnane, That’s Farming editor, in conversation with Jason Merron in this week’s Student Focus segment. The 21-year-old Belfast native discusses who influenced his desire to become a vet, his studies at University of Nottingham, and plans once he graduates.
“For as long as I can remember, possibly from the age of five, I have wanted to become a vet.
My dad is from a beef/sheep farm that is no longer active. My father used to work out in Saudi Arabia in a calving unit on a large-scale dairy enterprise.
Hearing stories of dad’s time on the farm and out in Saudi inspired me. One of my friends has a farm. He brought me along to a Young Farmers’ Club meeting, and it helped spark my interest. From there, I began to milk regularly at another friend’s dairy farm.
My earliest memories are of being around on the tractor and feeding calves. Also, I spent hours at Balmoral Show and could name every cow breed by the age of five.
Again, dad was a massive influence in terms of taking me to agricultural shows and explaining things to me.
I would say my best mate, Zac Elkin, had a big part to play. We never had a conversation that has not ended up being about dairy cows. Also, he will ring me the odd time if the vet has been out. This helps put teaching into perspective as sometimes I can explain further.
I have never considered any other careers. None of my family members are vets.
There is no other job like it; you are on the road, working with animals, outdoors and mentally challenged all the time.
Also, being a vet allows you to stay part of the farming community and help people with their livelihoods.
I have been a veterinary medicine and surgery student at the University of Nottingham, England, since 2018.
I am in my fourth year of the course and will graduate in 2023. It was the only course I got an offer for, and I enrolled after my A-Levels.
Being in my fourth year, we have just started Clinical Extra-Mural Studies (CEMS). Now we spend our time in actual vet practices and are beginning to try and learn the skills we need from day one after graduation.
My highlight so far has been assisting with colic surgery on a horse while I was on placement.
So far, the course has been great; I have met like-minded people. Also, it is great to learn about something that I want to do in the future.
In the first three years, you learn about the normal healthy body. Then in the last two years, you learn about common conditions, their presentations and how to treat them.
My advice to people considering studying veterinary medicine is to try and get as much varied placement as possible. It will stand you in good stead to work with all sorts of animals, instead of just being strong in one.
I met a few vets who studied in Budapest and Poland, who all loved it and had nothing but praise for the courses.
If it is a case that people do not get their desired course, I would advise against closing your options of; look elsewhere – at different providers – if you really want to do this course.
I only moved to England, so it was not too difficult. I moved over on my own and only took two suitcases.
In hindsight, it would have been so much easier to have my parents come over with me, so take all the help you can get!
Despite the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, we have been fairly lucky as we have practicals around three times a week, which was a good break from the computer screen.
A work-life balance was pretty difficult to achieve due to restrictions, but it has not been too bad overall. We were also still able to work with all our lectures being online.
I do not think I would do anything differently if I could turn back the clock. I have never achieved amazing grades.
However, I have always been pretty chill throughout the process, and I am where I am now. Therefore, I am happy with how I have got here.
I will hopefully find a position in a mixed veterinary practice in either England or Scotland for the first few years when I graduate.
Then, I may potentially do a stint in New Zealand and then consider specialising or return to Northern Ireland.
In terms of the future of veterinary, I would say that people will begin to specialise in one species within university.
Therefore, I think people will graduate as large, small, mixed, or equine vets instead of a traditional all-rounder vet.
In the future, I would love to potentially do a certificate in equine surgery. However, that is very far down the line.
Also, I would like to travel after working in the UK for a few years after graduation.
My ultimate goal is to eventually have my own practice/be in partnership, specialising in large and equine.
Agriculture has always been a small part of my life, but I am very keen to make it a bigger part when I graduate and start working.
There is just nothing like the banter you have when you rock up at farms; that is probably my favourite bit,” the vet student concluded.
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