As Catherine Shannon progressed through secondary school, the idea of being a primary school teacher faded quickly and the desire to become a vet grew stronger, writes Catherina Cunnane.
The 25-year-old – who is the youngest of four children – grew up on a family farm in Summerhill, Co. Meath. “From a young age, I had a huge interest in rearing calves and watching them thrive,” she told That’s Farming.
“I was drawn to livestock and I could look out to the bottom field from the kitchen window and recognise every cow by name and number.”
The third-generation farmer was always intrigued when a vet arrived on the farm. “I can remember sitting up on the hay-barn wall watching my dad and the local vet calve a cow.”
“I remember watching a vet set up an IV fluid drip for a sick calf that ran around the shed the very next day. It seemed like magic to 7/8-year-old me.”
With her sights set on veterinary medicine, Catherine looked into every possible pathway, devising a plan ‘A’, ‘B’, ‘C’ and ‘D’. “I told my career-guidance teacher that I wasn’t going to go to college unless I received a veterinary or agricultural science offer.”
Her path ‘A’ involved enrolling in UCD’s veterinary medicine course immediately after her Leaving Cert, while plan ‘B’ involved studying agricultural science at UCD before beginning its graduate entry programme.
Plan ‘C’ would see Catherine study agricultural science at W.I.T. in the hope of transferring to UCD to finish her degree, followed by the four-year graduate veterinary medicine degree at UCD, while path ‘D’ involved studying overseas.
After her Leaving Cert in 2012, Catherine failed to secure sufficient points to study veterinary medicine in Ireland. “I did not feel comfortable at all with the thoughts of leaving Ireland and so I decided I would repeat the Leaving Cert.”
“Having done better the second time around, but still not having achieved the necessary points for veterinary medicine in Ireland, I really considered doing the Leaving Cert for the third time.”
“But after considering the cost, the number of years it would take to study, and the fact that I would not be guaranteed a place as a graduate entry into UCD, I reluctantly decided to focus on other routes.”
She had been offered a place in the agricultural science course in UCD in 2013, but in May of that year, she completed the entrance exams and interviews required for veterinary medicine in Budapest.
Pending her repeat Leaving Cert results, the Meath native was offered a provisional place on the 5.5-year-long course in Budapest, Hungary.
“From that weekend onwards, I concentrated solely on the science subjects for the exams in June and got the results I needed.”
“Although I didn't want to go abroad, I had a very strong gut feeling that Budapest was the right route for me.”
Taking a leap of faith, Catherine left home, just after turning nineteen, to study in Budapest. “I was very homesick at the time, but luckily, there were many Irish students in Budapest and over thirty Irish students began the course the same year with me.”
“I missed my family, my friends, and the farm. 5 years seemed like an eternity away when viewing it from week 1.”
During her university holidays, she worked for FRS Network, providing relief milking, general farm labour, and night-time calving and lambing assistance on farms around Meath.
She also spent six-weeks in autumn 2018 in Cornwall and Shropshire where she gained practical experience with vets.
“The veterinary course in Budapest was difficult but once you kept your head down and kept on top of the material you would reap the rewards.”
“The experience of leaving home at a young age made me the stronger person I am today. The route I took to become a vet was obviously meant for me.”
Catherine graduated on February 22nd, 2019 from UVMB and started her first job as a vet in mid-March.
Now residing in Cashel, Co. Tipperary, she is employed by Folke Rohrssen of Cahir Veterinary Clinic (a mixed practice), which has a second branch, Clonmel Veterinary Hospital (a small animal practice).
“It is a steep learning curve but I am receiving great support from my colleagues,” she admitted.
“As a new-graduate vet, self-belief is most essential. Since I've started working in practice, I am realising that we did not get enough practical experience during college in Budapest.”
“That’s why I found it beneficial to see as much practice with vets and work for multiple farmers when I returned home,” she added.
When the 25-year-old has a weekend off, she returns to the family farm, which is home to a 55-cow dairy herd. “I love to throw on the milking apron and jump back into the pit!”
The vet has been a member of Macra na Feirme for the past number of years and is now part of Rathkeevin branch in south Tipperary.
She will be representing her club in the 55th annual Tullamore Credit Union Queen of the Land Festival next month. “I was nominated by the members of my club. I am looking forward to this experience - it should be great craic!”
“Macra gives you a chance to make some new friends and socialize while maintaining the strong spirit of the national rural community.”
Catherine is grateful to have grown up on a farm as this is what gave her the initial love and drive to pursue a career in farming and veterinary medicine.
“I have to thank my parents, siblings, friends, and colleagues for all their continued support and encouragement along the way.”
“I'm very happy to be settled back home in Ireland this year. Like most young women, I would like to eventually settle down, marry and have children. Somewhere in the mix, I would like some livestock of my own!”
“I love being a woman in agriculture and I hope to inspire more girls to consider a career in the sector now and in the future.”
“With hard work, dedication and self-belief, anything is achievable!” she concluded.
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