Getting an offer from UCD for the first time

This is Farming editor, Catherina Cunnane, in conversation with Muireann O’Connell (22) from Thomastown in Co Kilkenny in this week’s Student Focus series, a veterinary medicine student at UCD.

“I lived in estates and small villages until I was twelve years old. After moving to the village, my father started raising sheep and chickens on the land, which eventually became very interesting for me.

Since then, we have built a small but busy local organic, free-range egg business, while also keeping ewes and lambs for most of the year.

Our farm is at Baunskeha, Thomastown, Co.Kilkenny and my father Cormac O’Connell oversees it.

Over the years I have enjoyed talking with my grandfather about his time as a small dairy farmer in rural Ireland.

We are in the second year of organic conversion in our sheep flock. We currently build our breeding stock using registered Zwartbles rams with a mix of horned and crossbred ewes.

The plan here is to winter with late lambing. Finally, the best of the ewe lambs will then run with the last mother of the Beltex or Chartex breed.

Our small egg production business is run from home using both a local ‘honesty box’ and a weekly supply to the local country market. We have a herd of about 45 Lohman Brown layers.

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Veterinary medicine student

I hate to be the stereotypical vet student, but I’ve always loved animals. From a young age, my sisters would buy Lego sets and I would buy big books full of animal facts.

I spent the evenings watching Blue Planet and looking at the farms. I was about four years old when I started talking about becoming a vet. Then, when I graduated from elementary school, I completely decided that I could not imagine being in any other profession.

I was very fortunate to have a supportive family around me, along with teachers from both elementary and high school.

Also, I remember a certain elementary teacher who would always take us on nature walks and it really reinforced the nature I had.

I have been studying MVB – Veterinary Science at UCD since 2018 and will graduate in 2023.

This is the only course available for veterinary medicine in Ireland. At no stage in my Leaving Cert year had I considered going abroad, so it was a no-brainer.

As you can imagine, I was overjoyed when the CAO offers arrived. Everything worked out for me and I was lucky enough to get an offer from UCD in August after my Leaving Cert (2018).


I undertook pre-clinical placements (first and second year) on local farms (around the Kilkenny area and clinical EMS (3rd to 5th year)) which included:

  • Small animal placement – ​​DSPCA Rathfarnham and Village Vets Kilkenny;
  • Large animal – Highfield Large Animal Practice in Naas;
  • Horse – UCD Equine Hospital.

A bachelor’s degree is five years. The first two years focus heavily on biology and anatomy, with special emphasis on learning what is “normal”.

Some of the modules focus on farming systems which I found useful as many students didn’t have a solid farming background going into it.

The third and fourth years are more clinical and teaching is divided into body systems and how pathogens affect those systems.

There are higher expectations for your knowledge and ability to work with clinical cases.

The final year is rotation based, meaning you are at UCD Veterinary Hospital for the year. You move around different departments throughout the year and make presentations while dealing with real-time clinical events.

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Class representative and white coat ceremony

I have been class representative for the past three years and have been a member of many committees (Summer School 2022, Curriculum Review Committee, EAEVE accreditation student, VetPal committee).

We had our white coat ceremony last March, which for me was one of the best days of the degree so far.

My friends will know what I’m talking about when I say I’m a little emotional. For anyone who doesn’t know, the white coat ceremony is a transition event that marks the progression to the final year of clinical training (the fifth year). It was a real highlight to see all my friends and their families celebrate this achievement.

Along with the workload of veterinary medicine, it is very easy to forget that personal issues can have a huge impact on students and it was great to see that we all reached this important milestone.

I love the course. Obviously, every course has its challenges, but I’ve had the best time over the last four years. The course is quite small compared to many other degrees, so you get to meet both staff and students very early on.

I was the oldest child in the family and was nervous about starting college and moving out of my family home. However, having a tight-knit community in veterinary medicine made this transition much easier.

In my experience, the further you go in the degree, the better. It’s exciting for me to see my friends develop into competent professionals and build on all the knowledge we’ve been taught over the past four years.

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My top advice for anyone currently progressing through a veterinary degree placement is to choose your practice and stick with them if possible.

I have been incredibly lucky with the support I have received from all my placements and have returned to them time and time again.

It takes more than a week for the experiment to familiarize itself with its students. Going back will increase your experience there and in turn practitioners will be more inclined to teach you if they know your professional skills.

You don’t have to be the smartest person in the world to be a vet – I’m not. Check out some experiences during your gap year work experience.

You won’t do a huge amount of work, but even putting yourself in this environment can make or break your interest in veterinary medicine. Choose your Leaving Cert subjects wisely (and make sure you have chemistry).

Also, get support and feedback from your teachers on areas where you can improve.

If your heart is really in it, try your best to go abroad or come in to repeat.

In my year, many people repeated their leaving certificate to enter veterinary medicine. You are not at a disadvantage. If anything, it took you an extra year to mature and realize you had your heart set on it.

Entering my final year made me want to be in this profession even more. Your experience – highs, lows, pros, cons, and admittedly, veterinary medicine is tough.

There will be long hours in both the lecture hall and the library. You will often ask yourself. You will fail exams and it is very important to understand that it is not the end of the world.

However, it is more than worth it. I couldn’t be more grateful for the like-minded, supportive group of people I have the privilege of calling friends and future colleagues.

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The future

I will stay in Ireland after graduation. I think having the support of your family and friends is huge as a new graduate. It would be a huge change for me to leave this country so early in my career.

After graduation, the initial plan is to start a mixed practice in Ireland with an equal mix of large and small animals.

Although I am an animal vet, I enjoy working with people and every animal has a human attached to it. I love the rough and ready side of large animal vetting (although the novelty of the 3 am unit will wear off eventually, I suppose).

I love to learn and I am very grateful to enter a profession that is constantly updated and promotes continuous development.

Where there are animals, there will be a veterinarian. When it comes to agriculture, sustainability is the way forward and I think you can achieve that without the help of vets.

Throughout the pandemic, we’ve also seen veterinarians supplement human medicine.

Mapping the spread of the coronavirus and comparing it to outbreaks in veterinary medicine has been vital in the fight against the COVID pandemic.

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Women in veterinary medicine

I think the feminization of the profession is a fantastic thing. We see this in the work environment in every profession; women’s careers will usually take a backseat to family life and I believe there can be a balance, women can do both.

As a teenager aspiring to become a veterinarian, I was repeatedly warned, “It’s a tough life for a woman” and “What if I want to have children? How would it work then?’. I was seventeen years old. The biggest concern for me was not the children, but the debts!

Ultimately, I want to improve the lives of animals. Be it a family pet or a cash cow. Both fulfill their individual needs and are equally important to society.

If you could turn back the clock, would you do anything differently? Have more confidence in my abilities. You’re not going to be a big animal vet because you don’t come from a large, year-round farm.

My life as a vet student is chaotic, expensive (love you, Dublin) and rewarding in the best possible way,” concluded the veterinary medical student.

Read more Student Focus profiles. Email to share your story as this veterinary medicine student – [email protected]

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