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HomeFarming News‘Don’t let the Leaving Certificate define who you want to be’- vet...
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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‘Don’t let the Leaving Certificate define who you want to be’- vet med student

As part of this week’s Student Focus, That’s Farming, speaks to Lauren Heuston, who studies veterinary medicine at Warsaw University of Life Sciences- SGGW, Poland.

A childhood immersed in city life is a far cry from what lies ahead for Lauren Heuston, who will qualify as a vet in the coming years.

Born and raised in the US, the 20-year-old does not hail from a farming background, but set her sights on veterinary medicine as a potential career path at an early age. In 2006, she moved to Co. Tipperary, with her parents who emigrated to America in the early 1990s.

However, before moving to Ireland, she undertook regular trips to the Emerald Isle throughout her childhood, which cemented her passion for agriculture.

“I went to my cousins’ house when we came to Ireland for holidays. Looking at the cows in the fields was a strange sight for me as I was used to city living,” she told That’s Farming.

“I started horse riding at the age of six and continued until I was a teen. It is strange when I meet people I have not seen in a long time, and I tell them I am studying veterinary medicine; their response is usually along the lines of ‘Ah, you always wanted to do that’.”

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“During transition year, I went on work experience to a veterinary practice. I thoroughly enjoyed my week and the range of things I got to do and see. My parents have always encouraged me to do what I love, and I am grateful to have their support behind me.”

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Leaving home at eighteen

The 20-year-old is a third-year veterinary medicine student at Warsaw University of Life Sciences- SGGW, Poland, having enrolled in the course in 2018 after her Leaving Certificate.

She had planned to study at Ireland’s only veterinary medicine school but failed to secure a place due to insufficient CAO points, which led her to consider study opportunities overseas, as recommended by a friend.

“I was hesitant to go to Poland at first, but I decided in the end to give it a go and to say that I tried my best to achieve my goal. The day after I turned eighteen that September, I left for Poland. It was very daunting at that age to be out on my own, but I had a good pool of roommates who were all in the same boat, and we navigated it together.”

Studying veterinary medicine in Warsaw

The first two years of the course are mainly theory-based, covering the basics of anatomy and physiology, as well as biochemistry, histology, and Polish.

From third-year onwards, students undertake more practical work in the areas of diagnostics and surgery, as well as pharmacology and parasitology.

Furthermore, throughout the five-and-a-half-year degree programme, candidates also gain experience at the faculty’s equestrian centre, 200-acre farm and small animal clinic, and Warsaw Zoo. The 20-year-old completed animal husbandry placement on a dairy farm last summer, which piqued her interest in working with large animals.

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Since the global pandemic struck, Lauren has adapted to a new learning experience with a blend of remote and on-campus lectures.

“SGGW has split out a 15-week term into two. We are online for six weeks, which I do from my home in Ireland, and then we do our practical classes over seven weeks in Poland. I do quite like being at home for long periods of time, but I find it difficult to keep my focus in lectures, especially the early morning ones.

“I quite enjoy studying veterinary medicine in Warsaw. You get to meet people from around the world and are immersed in many different cultures. The main bonus about Poland is the fact that we are in mainland Europe and it is so cheap and easy to travel around.”

“Everyone has their low days, where they just want to be at home, especially when you see your friends at home out doing things without you. Those moments pass because you do so many cool new things with friends you make in college.

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Moving away from home, especially to another country, can be a thrilling or daunting experience, but one that is allowing Heuston to chase her life-long dream of becoming a veterinary practitioner.

Her motto is simple: “If you want something, you will get there, even if it means moving across Europe”.

“It may seem very daunting to pack up your life and move away, especially when you do not know anyone, but the community of students abroad is amazing.”

“Don’t let the Leaving Certificate define who you want to be. I had given thought about retaking my Leaving Cert, but I could not do it. I worked so hard for the points I got and did not want to face into another year with no security that I would even get in.”

“When studying veterinary medicine in Warsaw, you receive support advice, tips, tricks, and notes from the older years and form good friendships with students from first to sixth year. Guy from EUNiCAS is great to put you in touch with the other students in your year before you start. You feel like you know a few people before you even land in Poland.”


Chasing her passion thousands of kilometres from Irish soil, Lauren hopes to permanently return to Ireland when she graduates in 2024 to enter the working world.

“I may travel to the USA and work at some stage for a little while. I think I would prefer a mixed practice, as there is a large variety. Also, I think the profession is growing, and the demand for vets is getting higher.” Lauren concluded.

For more information about the course, click here.

To share your story, email – [email protected]

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