Fourth-year UCD veterinary medicine student, Alix Cunneen, is chasing her childhood dream.
Although the 22-year-old did not grow up on a farm, she has been an equine enthusiast from a tender age. She described herself as the type of child who “would wander around trying to find more animals to play with”.
The Blarney, Co. Cork native told That’s Farming: “My parents and grandparents had horses, so I have grown up with those at home my whole life.”
“I have grown up in the countryside and would be very used to visiting family or friends’ farms. Competing with ponies from a young age and having some of my own earlier memories. Winning the Royal Dublin Horse Show was a highlight for me.”
‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ is possibly the most asked question to young children in primary school. And for Alix, the answer could not have been more straightforward.
“While others had big dreams of being soccer players and the likes, I would always answer that I wanted to be a vet. I have always been animal obsessed and as a child, spent lots of time with my grandparents.”
Her grandad studied veterinary for three years before eventually deciding to pursue a career in another field. Alix believes this inspired her to follow through his dream, adding “I don’t think I could see myself doing any other job in the future”.
She enrolled in University College Dublin’s veterinary medicine degree programme in 2016/2017 and will graduate in 2022. She placed the course first on her CAO application, but pharmacy was ‘Plan B’.
“I just knew veterinary was the only thing I wanted to do, and no matter what I had to do; I was prepared to do it.”
“UCD is the only place which offers veterinary medicine in Ireland. Although I was certainly not opposed to the idea of studying abroad, I was determined to try my hardest to secure a place in Ireland.”
“This may have been influenced by the fact I still had my horses competing and wanted to keep that up during my studies.”
Due to COVID-19, most student placements had to be postponed or cancelled this summer, resulting in UCD reducing overall requirements. They still must attain a number of weeks placement in small, large, mixed, equine practices and meat factories.
“I undertook two weeks of small animal placement in Thailand last summer, which was a fantastic experience. I worked with a total of 3 vets for a fortnight and mainly carried out spays and castrates on dogs and cats.”
“The experience was invaluable as this is deemed a day one competency for new graduates and gaining as much experience as possible in these surgeries is essential.” added the UCD Women’s Rugby club member.
Alix had a large animal placement booked for New York after her exams last May, but again, due to the circumstances, it was cancelled.
She hopes to get some placement done over Christmas time and then this coming summer. The vet student is aiming to secure placements in Qatar, Hagyard in the USA and then locally in Fethard Equine Hospital along with others.
The course is not without its challenges, she added – there is a considerable volume of material to cover and the hours are long.
“I have had to learn how to manage my time and adapt my learning style as the years progress. This was a challenge initially a challenge, but now as we are entering the clinical years, the jigsaw pieces are fitting together, and it’s much more rewarding.”
“The pre-clinical years are theory and science-based, along with anatomy and some animal handling. In third year, the course focuses on microbiology, pharmacology, parasitology and pathology along with some system-based work.”
“Fourth year is much more clinical and areas include neurology, reproduction and anaesthesia are covered along with other essential modules. They are completed before entering the final year of rotations in the UCD Vet hospital.”
“There have been many highlights, but looking at it as a whole, I’m delighted to have moved to Dublin. Experiencing the vast life lessons which come with moving away from the luxury of being at home are invaluable.”
“I think it forces you to mature and become confident quickly, and this has stood to me. Making new friends from all over the country and experiencing this with them has been great.”
“I decided to move up to Dublin full-time for this year as I have one or two days a week in college and with the intensity of the 8 am-5 pm lectures, I have a nice routine now studying from home.”
“After Christmas, I plan to bring my horses up to Dublin and get them fit for next year’s competitions. I think even though the pandemic altered plans, it’s still so important to set goals and strive for things.”
“It’s a big shock to the system going from being active all summer to studying all day every day at home. At times, it can be challenging, but I think making time to stay active and eat well makes all the difference.”
Set to graduate in 2022, Alix has a desire to keep her options open to an internship to further her knowledge and experience.
Her goal is to be “good as I can be in my field of work and strive to achieve as much as she can during my career”.
“I am very driven, and I like to take opportunities as they come. Hopefully, with a bit of luck, I will be successful. I’m enjoying being part of the agricultural community, which is a very welcoming and supportive one. I find it so rewarding and love meeting new people.”
“To aspiring vet med students, don’t be afraid to say explore many different options too. Studying abroad is something I was nervous or scared about when I was in secondary school. I always thought that I had to secure a place in Dublin, but I think if you want to do the course, it will all work out.” she concluded.
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