Fidelma Tonry’s practice in Carndonagh, situated in the scenic Inishowen Peninsula in Co. Donegal is proof of the powerful waves that females in the veterinary medicine sector are making.
Ms Tonry, a vet for twenty-five years, owns the most northerly practice in Ireland, with three female vets employed. Hailing from a farming background, with a suckler herd and Irish sports horses at home in Boyle, Co Roscommon, Fidelma always had her eyes securely fixed on Veterinary Medicine, right from her early days in primary school.”
“I loved being out on the farm and dealing with animals. The large animal work more so than the small animal side attracted me to veterinary.” Fidelma told Catherina of That’s Farming.
25 years of Veterinary Medicine
Fidelma graduated from Ireland’s only Veterinary Medicine degree programme in University College Dublin (UCD) in 1992 and she has worked in several practices down through the years. Following her college graduation, Fidelma secured her first position in Barry Lynch’s practice in Boyle, where she had seen a lot of her practice during college.
“I loved the work and learned a lot from Barry but decided that if I didn’t move away from home then, I would never move away! So I came up to Inishowen to work for Jim Mc Carroll .” Fidelma explained.
Keen to explore all aspects of Veterinary Medicine, Fidelma briefly went down to Limerick city and worked there for a number of months. However, the strong lure of Inishowen’s landscape and people drew her back. Taking a leap of faith, Fidelma decided to return and establish a single-person practice, which she operated independently for nine years.
“Being on call 24 / 7 in a one-vet practice for nine years was very intense at times,” Fidelma admitted.
When the opportunity arose for Fidelma to partner with Jim once again, they joined forces in 2002 up until 2 years ago, when Jim decided to hang up his boots, following a strong and respectable devotion to the veterinary medicine discipline for decades.
Running the Show
Fidelma is now the sole owner of the mixed practice and juggles her full-time position with family life. Counting well over two decades later, Fidelma continues to explore the wonders of the Veterinary profession.
“I enjoy treating the animals and the reward of a good outcome, whether it be a difficult calving or caesarean section or the challenge of an out of the ordinary clinical case where you end up putting in a lot of time and effort,” Fidelma said.
While the positive elements always outweigh the negatives, Fidelma draws attention to the intensive workload of a veterinary practitioner and how she strives to implement improvements for the benefit of her staff.
“Veterinary practice must evolve to accommodate female vets who are fast becoming the mainstay of the profession. Gone are the days where women had to conform to be accepted in a male-dominated profession.”
“In this practice, especially with two female vets who have children, part-time and flexi-time hours allow for a better work-life balance while still providing a quality service to our clients. We have a pretty good rota, so for someone that was on-call all the time, I find that this is a major improvement !! ” Fidelma said.
A rare case
Fidelma has dealt with her fair share of cases down through the years and there is one that stands out in particular, which Fidelma attended to when she was just finding her feet in the sector.
“Over twenty years ago, I was called out to a heifer that had put out her calf bed. When I arrived on the farm, all that was left was a small piece of the uterus as the rest of the calf bed had fallen off.” Fidelma explained.
“I said that she wasn’t going to live. So I gave her an injection to put her down, until the next morning when I got a phone call from the farmer who informed me that the heifer was up and eating. I couldn’t believe that she was alive,” Fidelma added.
Fidelma prescribed a course of Pen-Strep for the animal in question and much to the surprise of many, she turned into a sizeable heifer, that was slaughtered six months later following the encounter.
“The only explanation that I could come up with was that by giving her the injection, her heart rate had slowed down so much that the internal bleeding had stopped,” Fidelma added.
When asked about challenges that are facing the Veterinary Medicine sector at the moment, Fidelma’s twenty-five years’ experience shines through, as someone who has had a strong involvement in the industry.
“The biggest challenge that I faced was when it came to running the practice and managing the business side of things. I think I’m better at dealing with animals than people!! “Fidelma explained.
“The big problem at the minute is just trying to get vets to work in Irish practices as there seems to be a big move away from large animal and mixed practice. I think new graduates are not giving it a chance and there are practices here that are prepared to work with and support them and make it enjoyable and easier for everybody involved.” Fidelma said.
The Power of Women
As someone who currently employs three female vets, two female vet nurses and four female office staff, Fidelma’s motto is very much “Girl power” !!
Although she is keen to emphasise that she is an equal opportunities employer and men are also welcome.
“We have good camaraderie in the clinic and we all enjoy the chat and banter with the farmers,” Fidelma said.
“I think it is the same for all young vets coming out of college. Regardless of being male or female, you have to prove yourself. You have to prove to each individual farmer that you are capable of doing the job.” Fidelma stressed.
“Determination and self-belief are more important than physical strength. It’s belief in yourself that you can do the task at hand, because if you don’t believe it, it won’t happen.” She added.
Advice – Wise Words of Wisdom
As someone who has followed her dream and has filled the shoes as both an employee and now an employer, running her own mixed practice, Fidelma proves herself as the ideal candidate to give advice to young aspiring vets.
“Go and see practice to find out what is involved and get experience, if you are really interested in becoming a vet. The points are extremely high in Ireland, but luckily now there is the option of both undergrad and post grad veterinary courses in colleges abroad.”
If you are determined enough to do veterinary, I certainly wouldn’t let the points put anyone off.” Fidelma said.
The Bright Future
Fidelma’s goal for the future is to maintain a commercially viable veterinary service for the farmers of Inishowen.
“I want to continue to offer a quality service to our dedicated and returning clientele. Also, it is in everyone’s best interests to ensure that the vets here have a reasonable work-life balance, so having adequate staff is paramount.” Fidelma explained.
“Too often vets suffer from mental and physical burnout due to overwork and the pressures of practice, “ Fidelma said.
She wants to build on the services that the clinic offers and has recently branched into bull & ram fertility testing in the last two years which has had a big uptake with farmers travelling from other parts of Donegal to avail of the service.
“I want to keep improving the facilities that we have here. I have just purchased a specialised squeeze chute which helps calm an anxious animal while it’s being restrained. It has side access for operations like displaced stomachs or caesareans and also a hoof paring attachment so farmers can bring individual animals to the clinic.” Fidelma said.
“The small animal work is also a growing side of the practice, but my main interest is in the farm animal side,” Fidelma said.
If you are a vet and you want to share your story, get in touch.