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HomeBeef‘Getting the correct grades is the hardest part’ – soon-to-be vet graduate
Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane
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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‘Getting the correct grades is the hardest part’ – soon-to-be vet graduate

University of Surrey: Veterinary Medicine Student

That’s Farming editor, Catherina Cunnane, in conversation with Tom Philpot (24), from Kent, in this week’s Student Focus series. He discusses his lifelong desire to become a vet and his current veterinary medicine studies at the University of Surrey.

“I have always had an interest in wildlife and farming; growing up, I used to go with my dad to the local vets.

I was fascinated by the fact they could work out what was wrong with our dog despite the fact dogs cannot talk.

As a child, I enjoyed fixing things, and science was my favourite subject at school, so I guess veterinary medicine was the culmination of all this.

My grandad worked at a dairy farm but was quickly let go as he spilt an entire day’s milk on his first week of work, so other than that, I am the only family member working with animals.

At the age of 5, I remember writing V-E-T on a piece of paper at primary school when were asked what we wanted to be when we grew up.

At the time, I wrote it down purely because I liked animals, and it was the shortest word I could think of, but eventually, the prospect of studying vet medicine at university became real.

University of Surrey

I am set to graduate from the University of Surrey, Guildford in 2023 with a degree in veterinary medicine and science.

I enrolled in the programme in 2018, which at the time of application, it was the newest vet school.

During the open day, I thought the facilities were brilliant, and all the staff were really nice.

It was not too far from my hometown either, and it also had the lowest grade requirements.

I did not get the required A-Level grades to begin with, so I re-applied the following year and re-took chemistry and biology during the same year.

Fortunately, I received an offer on my second application and was accepted onto the course in 2018.

Most of my holiday work placements have been completed at practices in Kent.

Although during final year, I have spent time in Somerset with a farm vet practice, Portsmouth and Winchester.

Diagnosing 30-day pregnancies for the first time in some Holsteins on rectal palpation was brilliant, as the technique of manual palpation suddenly clicked in my mind. Lambing for the first time in 2019 was also a highlight.

Why Surrey?

I am really enjoying the course; the programme layout at Surrey is great.

All the teaching has been brilliant, and the facilities at Surrey have allowed me to improve my practical skills.

Currently, I am halfway through final year; unlike other universities, Surrey sends final year students out to practices across the UK for our final year.

This means we get to work with lots of different veterinary teams and see how different practices function.

Surrey was my first choice and was the only university I received an offer from, and I am so glad it was because I have had an amazing five years and met some great friends for life.

The first year is based on anatomy and physiology, learning the basics of animal handling across all the different species.

We have to complete a few months of animal handling rotations in the first two years in our holiday period, ranging from dairy farm work to working in a dog groomer.

In second year, we learned about all the diseases and pathology of animals, and in this year, we also undertook more work placements in the holiday.

In year 3 and 4, we learned the fundamentals of clinical practice, learning surgery techniques and how to perform certain surgeries.

We also learned clinical reasoning, diagnostics and treatment for certain conditions.

In year five, we put this all to practice on work placements throughout the year.

My rotations are split into seven: general small animal practice, emergency small animal practice, farm animal practice, equine practice, referral practice, public health and pathology and a special interest elective (mine is in zoo medicine).


If you are considering studying vet med, Go for it! It may seem daunting at first, especially the grades required at school and the work experience you need to undertake for university applications.

It is absolutely worth it. Vet school has been challenging but also great fun.

I have learnt so much and met some great friends. Vet medicine is a hard course, but the huge, diverse range of careers available after graduating is immense.

If you do not in first time around, retake your A levels, or explore other gateways to veterinary medicine, such as foundation courses.

Getting the correct grades is the hardest part, but retaking my A-levels was the best decision I have ever made.

If I could turn back the clock, I would have told myself not to doubt myself so much and have more confidence in my ability.

A low was not obtaining the grades required for vet school, and highs have been passing my first vet school exam, receiving my first job offer, pulling out a lamb for the first time, undertaking my first operation and meeting my partner.

Future plans

I want to become a vet as I desire to improve the welfare of animals, increase efficiency across farms and constantly learn new things every day.

Upon graduation, my plan it to join a mixed practice in Kent/East Sussex.

Maybe in a few years, I will further my education in the veterinary area, but I definitely will need a break from exams. Working towards a certificate would be the next step.

I am very optimistic about the future of the veterinary industry. More needs to be done to make veterinary medicine more accessible to those from disadvantaged backgrounds and to make it easier for European vets to practice in the UK.

I believe sustainability is becoming more important in the veterinary profession, and it will be interesting/ exciting to see future developments in this field.


Life as a vet student is brilliant; every day, I learn something new. As it gets closer to graduation, everything I have learnt in the past four years has started to slot together.

Vet school is challenging, and at times, I have asked myself, ‘Am I really good enough for this career?’.

But, with the support of family, friends and the university, I can safely say I am now ready to graduate.

Vet school is incredible; the career options are vast, and the UK is in need of vets now more than ever, so I would encourage any students thinking about becoming a vet to go for it.”

To share your story, email – [email protected]

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