In this week’s Student Focus segment, That’s Farming, speaks to Caoimhe Ferry about farming, motherhood, and carving a career in veterinary nursing after becoming a receptionist in a small animal practice in 2018.
25-year-old Caoimhe Ferry juggles life as a mother-of-one, veterinary nursing student, a part-time employee at Spires Vets and a farmer.
The Omagh, County Tyrone native’s journey in the veterinary industry began back in 2018 when she joined the practice as a receptionist.
Although she expressed an interest in veterinary nursing in her earlier years, initially, she did not think it was possible to turn her passion for animals into a career.
“When I was in school, I went down the financial services route for further education. At the time, I thought this what I wanted as I knew no different,” she told That’s Farming.
“There were never any career talks around veterinary nursing or any advertisement of the career. So I really did not know it was a possibility for me.”
“I have always loved animals big and small, but it was not until I met my partner, Lee, that I got to be hands-on with farming. He runs a 40-cow suckler herd, 90-ewe flock and some goats, with his father, Michael O’Neill.”
“He got me some pet lambs, and from that, the flock has grown to where it is today. I knew from helping on the farm that a career in the veterinary industry would suit me well.”
“From being on-farm and getting hands-on with the livestock, I knew I had a real passion for working with animals. I love lambing and everything that comes with it and have learnt so much over the past few years.”
“I get quite emotionally attached when I am lambing so if there is a bad outcome it would upset me. Honestly, I think having an emotional attachment makes me do my best when lambing season is in full swing. There is no better feeling than watching lively lambs bounce about a few hours after birth.”
Getting her feet on the career ladder
An ample opportunity arose when the 25-year-old stumbled across a job advertisement seeking a receptionist for Spires Vets.
James, the practice’s founder, contacted her days after her interview to offer her the position. “When I went for my interview and got to see the clinic, I knew this was where I was meant to be.”
“I cannot even describe how happy I was when James offered me the job. After working in the practice for only a few weeks, he gave me the go-ahead to get a step closer to becoming a veterinary nurse.”
As a result, Caoimhe applied to Greenmount Agricultural College to study its one-year animal nursing assistant course before starting her level 3 diploma.
“I am so grateful to the Spires team for giving me the opportunity to follow my heart and work towards my dream career.”
“To be honest, it was not for years after I finished school that I was even aware there was such a job. It seemed like something so far from what my reality should be that I had never even considered going into the veterinary field.”
“My studies started when I joined Spires. Each day I was learning more and more, and it has been so helpful. I officially enrolled on the course in CAFRE Greenmount in September 2020.”
She began the programme 11 months after welcomed her first child, Emily, into the world and will graduate in 2022. She now works part-time in the Greenmount-approved practice whilst attending college.
“The course is quite challenging if I am honest. This is the first year that the awarding body, Vetkills, is offering this course through Greenmount. However, with the support of my amazing clinical coach, Lauren, I hope that I will get through it all.”
“It was the only course I was aware of that enabled you to work alongside studying. Having a one-year-old daughter, I needed something that I could have a steady income with at the same time.”
“The course involves every aspect of veterinary nursing. We are examined with majority MCQ exams, assignments and a final OSCE in England. In addition, there is a progress log called nursing skills portfolio.”
“This is where Lauren will set me up tasks and assess my skills and knowledge relevant to certain aspects of nursing. I got very lucky with my clinical coach, which is half the battle.”
Starting veterinary nursing during a pandemic
Meanwhile, her responsibilities within the practice include, but are not limited to, assisting with admitting and discharging patients pre-and post-op, monitoring anaesthetics with other nurses and practical learning such as dental work, Catheter placement, x-raying, administering medication, nutritional advice and dealing with the public. “There is no one job that we, as nurses, do. We tend to do it all,” she pointed out.
“Spires is a small animal clinic only. I am so lucky to be part of such an amazing team. It is a home away from home for me, and I could not imagine myself anywhere else.”
“We have clients both locally and further afield. We are part of a joint out of hours with other local clinics which offer emergency care to a larger client base.”
“Starting veterinary nursing during a pandemic has not been easy. There has been a lot of online learning that is not the same as face-to-face for a course as practical as this. However, I have my clinical coach’s support, which has been a massive help to me through these uncertain times.”
“My dog, Mollie, has also been a great help, whilst learning online. She is very patient and has been letting me do examinations etc., on her to try to get my head around some anatomy,” she laughed.
Based on the journey she has undertaken, Ferry’s advice is simple: Do your research and make sure you know all options you can avail of.
“I had no idea there were so many different options when it comes to studying veterinary nursing. We are very limited here in Ireland, but there are plenty more overseas.”
Caoimhe stated she would have undertaken more independent research when selecting her career path in school. Had she been aware of veterinary nursing, she “definitely would have pursued this career sooner”.
“I feel that schools do not advertise careers in veterinary enough. To be honest, I would have gone straight from my A-Levels to university to study veterinary nursing.”
“I am still trying to find the right balance between everything, but I am getting there. My daughter, Emily, loves the outdoors and being on the farm. I always get some time to study when she is out with Lee.”
“Emily is 12-months-old and is truly the light of my life. I have no idea what I would ever do without her. Mollie and Emily are two peas in a pod.”
“They have such an amazing relationship; I have never seen the likes of it. Mollie is very patient and very caring towards Emily.”
“It has been quite easy the whole process of getting back to work and back to studying away from home. However, finding the time in the evenings to study is proving to be a challenge, but I blame myself.”
“I want to be doing as much as I can with Emily and would hate to miss out. I always try to fit some study time each evening to keep on top of what we are learning,” added Ferry, who still continues to farm, with her primary responsibilities being lambing.
“Everything I now do in life is not just for myself but for my family. I want to be the best role model possible for Emily and encourage her always to chase her dreams and make them a reality.”
“I have a great support system with family; they are a massive help. So, it is important to take time out of everything work and study-related and enjoy the simple things in life when I can.”
‘Whatever is for you, will not pass you’
“Follow your heart, and the sky is the limit. It will, of course, come with its challenges, but you are better to give it a shot than look back with regrets.”
“Whatever is for you in life will not pass you, and I know veterinary nursing is meant for me. So, I will give it my all, and hopefully, one day, I will be in a position to help guide someone else in their studies,” the veterinary nursing student concluded.