That’s Farming editor, Catherina Cunnane, in conversation with vet student, Megan Berger (26), from Johannesburg, South Africa, who is currently residing outside of Brisbane, Australia, in the first part of her interview as part of this week’s Student Focus segment.
“I was born and raised in the city of Johannesburg. My dad, however, grew up on a farm in Sylvania, Georgia, USA, where he farmed pigs, cattle, and horses and had lots of dogs and cats.
He spent his entire childhood there before eventually coming to South Africa, where he met my mom.
My background is not traditional farming per se, but growing up in South Africa, I was exposed to the African wilderness from a very young age.
Our parents made a huge effort to take my brother, and I to the African bush, where we would often go when I was growing up.
My dad’s exploration field sites were actually located on a game reserve just an hour from Johannesburg, so we would spend many weekends wandering around these reserves exploring these areas.
This is where I got to grow up running barefoot around the African Savannah, surrounded by wild animals and beautiful African bush.
However, I was also exposed to traditional farms and livestock from a young age. So animals have always been a significant part of my life.
My childhood was awesome, to say the least. My mom is a radiologist medical doctor, and my dad is a paleoanthropologist and an explorer in residence at National Geographic, so I grew up in a very cool household.
From a young age, even though I grew up in the city, you could say our house was a little farm in itself – we had dogs, a cat, chickens, bunnies, Guinea pigs, fish, hamsters and even a pet rat and snake at one point.
So I grew up surrounded by animals which definitely instilled my love for animals.
I was also really lucky as we travelled a lot when I was growing up. We spent a lot of our time in the African wilderness camping and going on safari.
Also, we have the privilege of travelling to some incredibly unique places around the world, where I met a diversity of people and got to explore different cultures and see different wildlife around the world.
These experiences have instilled a passion for wildlife, and inspired me to make a difference in the world.
A desire to become a vet
Being a veterinarian was one of my career options while growing up.
However, when I was younger, I decided that I would not be able to handle the euthanasia aspect of the job, and I decided I did not like the idea of that.
Honestly, back then, I did not really know what I wanted to do. I had the opportunity to go and study for a general undergraduate degree in America, where I did my Bachelor of Science in Marine Science and Biology.
I knew I loved science and animals, so I thought doing these general undergrad science degrees would give me a chance to explore research and keep some doors open.
While in my second year of university, I realised my true passion for veterinary medicine.
I shadowed a veterinarian, which confirmed my desire to pursue a career in vet medicine.
From that moment on, I was determined to become a veterinarian and have been actively working towards my goal ever since.
My family have been my biggest supporters since day one, encouraging me to follow my passions and do what I love.
I believe that the lifestyle and travel experiences they provided during my childhood played a significant role in fuelling my passion and desire to help animals and use my voice to make positive changes in the world.
I actually have two degrees and am currently working on my third.
Firstly, I did my undergraduate degree at the University of Miami in Marine Science and Biology before completing my Master’s of Science in Science Communication and Public Engagement at the University of Edinburgh and then applied to vet school at the University of Queensland.
I started my university journey in 2015 and am currently a third-year veterinary student who will graduate in 2025.
Vet schools are extremely competitive to get into; some say harder than medical school.
Australia, though, was always one of my top choices for veterinary school. I had heard that Australia was quite similar to South Africa in many ways.
The veterinary programme at the University of Queensland is also world-class and accredited worldwide, which was a huge positive for me as it has opened many doors.
I also appreciated the diversity of animal species the program focuses on, which includes small animals, large animals and wildlife and exotics species.
Overall, I felt that the university offered a well-rounded education in veterinary science.
As a requirement before completing my third year of studies, I am required to complete a certain number of hours of placement at various farms with different livestock species.
So far, I have completed my sheep placement in Tasmania, my horse placement and dairy placement here in Queensland, and my beef placement at a wonderful property down in New South Whales.
In addition to these mandatory placements for my university course, I have also gained plenty of experience and completed work placement before starting my vet degree.
I qualified as a field guide in South Africa during my gap year, and I have shadowed at numerous veterinary clinics along with numerous other incredible experiences, which have all helped me with work placements for vet school.
Living in a new country and exploring a new place has definitely been a highlight of my experience so far, but also pursuing my passion for vet medicine is what motivates me daily.
I particularly enjoy our practicals, and I have had the pleasure of meeting some incredible people here in Australia who have welcomed me like family.
Through this journey, I have made amazing friends, and it has been so fun going through this degree together. We share experiences and achievements; vet school is, after all, hard.
But we struggle through the hard parts together and support each other along the way. The course has been incredible so far, challenging but rewarding.
This veterinary science programme is a five-year degree where we gain hands-on practical experience and theoretical knowledge to become veterinarians.
I also started my own vet student Instagram page – @vetstudentmeg – when I got accepted into vet school, where I document my journey through vet school.
As I love communication and using my voice to make a difference, this little Instagram account has been so fun, as I have met so many people from across the world in the veterinary industry just through social media, which is wild.
It is also just really nice to have to look back at my journey so far and be reminded of just how awesome studying this degree has been so far.”
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