It’s farming Editor-in-Chief, Catherina Cunnane, in conversation with Muireann O’Connell (22) from Thomastown in County Kilkenny in this week’s Student Focus series, veterinary student at UCD.
“Until the age of twelve, I lived in estates and small villages. Upon relocating to the countryside, my father started putting sheep and chickens on the land, which eventually became an interest for me.
Since then we have established a small but very active local organic free-range egg business while raising ewes and lambs for most of the year.
Our farm is in Baunskeha, Thomastown, Co.Kilkenny and my father, Cormac O’Connell, oversees the management.
Over the years I have enjoyed talking to my grandfather about his time as a small dairy farmer in rural Ireland.
We are in our second year of organic conversion in our sheep herd. Currently we are developing our breeding stock using pedigree registered Zwartbles rams with a mix of horned and crossbred ewes.
The plan here is to overwinter with late lambing. Eventually, the best of the lamb ewes will race later with a terminal sire of Beltex or Chartex.
Our small egg production business is run from home using both an onsite ‘honesty box’ and a weekly supply from the local market. We have a flock of approximately 45 Lohman Brown layers.
student in veterinary medicine
I hate being the stereotypical vet student, but I’ve always loved animals. From an early age, my siblings were getting lego sets and I was getting big books full of animal facts.
I spent evenings watching Blue Planet and petting farms. I was about four years old when I started talking about becoming a veterinarian. Then, I fully decided at the end of primary school that I couldn’t imagine being in any other profession.
I was so lucky to have a supportive family around me alongside teachers, both primary and secondary.
Also, I remember one particular elementary school teacher always taking us on nature walks and really reinforcing that grá for nature that I already had.
I have been studying MVB – Veterinary Medicine at UCD since 2018 and will graduate in 2023.
This is the only course available for veterinary medicine in Ireland. I hadn’t considered going abroad at any time during my Leaving Cert year, so it was a no-brainer.
I was very happy when the CAO offers came out, as you can imagine. Everything worked out for me and I was lucky enough to receive an offer from UCD in August after my graduation certificate (2018).
I did a pre-clinical internship (years 1 and 2) at local farms (around Kilkenny area and EMS clinic (years 3-5) which included the following:
- Placement of small animals – DSPCA Rathfarnham and Village Vets Kilkenny;
- Large Animal – Highfield Large Animal Practice in Naas;
- Equine – UCD Equine Hospital.
An undergraduate degree lasts five years. The first two years are very biology and anatomy based and the emphasis is on learning what is ‘normal’.
Some modules focus on farming systems, which I found useful as I lacked the solid agricultural foundation that many students had upon arriving.
The third and fourth years are much more clinical and the teaching is divided into body systems and how pathogens affect those systems.
There are higher expectations placed on your knowledge and ability to work on clinical cases.
The final year is based on rotations, meaning you are at UCD Veterinary Hospital for the year. You travel to different departments throughout the year and make presentations, while dealing with clinical cases in real time.
Presentation of class delegates and white coats
I have been a class delegate for three years and a member of numerous committees (Summer school 2022, Curriculum Review Committee, student contributor to EAEVE accreditation, VetPal committee).
We had our white coat ceremony last March, which for me was one of the best graduation days so far.
My friends will know what I’m talking about when I say I was a little emotional. For those unaware, the White Coat Ceremony is a transitional event that marks progression into your final year of clinical studies (year five). Seeing all my friends and their families celebrate this achievement was a real highlight.
It’s so easy to forget that in addition to the workload of veterinary medicine, personal issues can have a huge impact on students, and it was so nice to see us all reach this milestone in the degree. .
I love the course. Obviously every course has its challenges, but I had the best time in the last four years. The course is quite small compared to many other degrees and as a result you get familiar with staff and students quite early.
I was the eldest in the family and was nervous about starting college and leaving home. However, having this tight-knit community in veterinary medicine has made this transition so much easier.
In my experience, the further you progress through the degree, the better. It’s so exciting for me to watch my friends grow into capable professionals and build on all the knowledge we’ve gained over the past four years.
My main advice for anyone currently progressing through their placement in their veterinary degree is to choose your practice and stick with them if possible.
I’ve been incredibly lucky with the support I’ve received from all of my internships, and I’ve returned many times.
It takes more than a week for a firm to get to know its students. Returning will enhance your experience there and, in turn, practitioners will be more willing to teach you if they get to know your professional abilities.
You don’t have to be the smartest person in the world to be a veterinarian – I’m not. Try to see some practice during your transition year work experience.
You won’t do much, but even putting yourself in this environment can discourage or confirm your interest in veterinary medicine. Choose your Leaving Cert subjects wisely (and make sure you have the chemistry).
Also get support and feedback from your teachers on areas you can improve.
If your heart is really in it, do what you can to get into it, whether that’s going overseas or rehearsing.
In my year, so many people repeated their Leaving Cert to enter veterinary medicine. You are not disadvantaged. If anything, you’ve taken that extra year to mature and realize that’s what your heart is set on.
Entering the final year only reinforced my desire to practice this profession. Your experience – ups, downs, pros, cons, and yes, veterinary medicine is tough.
There will be long hours spent, both in the amphitheater and in the library. You will ask yourself questions so often. You’ll fail exams, and realizing that it’s not the end of the world is vital.
However, it is worth it. I can’t be more grateful to the group of like-minded people who support me than I have the privilege of calling friends and future colleagues.
I will stay in Ireland after I graduate. I think the support from your family and friends is huge as a new graduate. Leaving this country would be too big a change for me so early in my career.
The initial plan after graduation is to start in a mixed practice in Ireland, which has an equal mix of large and small animal work.
Although I am an animal veterinarian, I love working with people and every animal has a person attached to it. I like the raw, ready look of large animal veterinary medicine (although the novelty of the 3am section will eventually wear off, I guess).
I love learning and am so grateful to be entering a profession that is constantly updating and fostering continuous development.
Where there are animals, there will be a veterinarian. When it comes to farming, sustainability is the way to go, and I don’t think you can achieve that without the help of vets.
We have also seen, throughout the pandemic, the complement that veterinarians bring to human medicine.
Mapping the spread of the coronavirus and comparing it to epidemics in veterinary medicine was essential in the fight against the COVID pandemic.
women in veterinarians
I think the feminization of the profession is a fantastic thing. We see it everywhere in the work environment in every profession; women’s careers will generally take a back seat to supporting a family life, and I believe there can be a balance there, that women can do both.
As a teenager looking to pursue veterinary medicine, I was repeatedly warned that “life is hard for a woman” and “what if I want to have kids? How would it work then?’. I was seventeen. The biggest concern for me was the debs, not the kids!
Ultimately, I want to be able to improve the lives of animals. Whether it’s the pet or the dairy cow. They both meet their individual needs and matter equally to society.
If you could go back, would you do things differently? Have more confidence in my abilities. Just because you don’t come from a huge, years-old farm doesn’t mean you can’t be a great large animal vet.
My life as a vet student is chaotic in the best possible way, expensive (love you, Dublin) and rewarding,” the vet student concluded.
Read more Student Focus profiles. To share your story like this vet student, email – [email protected]