Ciara Sweeney is a small animal veterinarian and a recent graduate of University College Dublin School of Veterinary Medicine. While not from a farming background, Ciara does however hold the green cert, having graduated with a degree in animal science from UCD School of Agriculture in 2013.
Speaking with That’s Farming, Ciara tells us about her pathway into veterinary, her current job with the Irish Blue Cross and a few things she has learnt along the way.
Ciara got her love of all things medicine from her mother, who is now a retired A&E nurse from Temple Street Children’s Hospital. “Growing up I would always be quizzing her on different diseases and this really fed my interest in all things medical,” she said.
The Dublin native grew up surrounded by animals, spending time on family and friends’ farms and with her grandad’s dogs. Ciara has two pets now; Daisy, a 10-year-old Jack Russell Terrier and a cat, Mabel, who is nearly 2 years old and a bundle of mischief. Both of them are rescues.
“I got my first dog, Snowy, when I was three years old and she broke her leg within the early years of her life. I remember the dedication my mom had to her rehabilitation over weeks and weeks to get her back on all four paws. That really made an impression on me, I’ve wanted to be a vet as long as I can remember,” Ciara said.
Pathway into veterinary
Unfortunately, Ciara didn’t get enough points in the Leaving Cert to go straight into veterinary medicine from secondary school. Not letting this deter her, she set off looking at the graduate entry route.
“I graduated with a degree in animal science from UCD in 2013 and went straight into the graduate entry veterinary medicine programme that same year, graduating in 2017,” Ciara said.
While studying in UCD Ciara saw small practice in Dublin, as well as the PDSA in the UK and Happy Paws Clinic in Malta. “For large animal practice I headed off to beautiful Donegal and I also spent a few weeks in the Donkey Sanctuary which I absolutely loved,” she added.
Originally, Ciara had always planned on starting out in mixed practice but having been exposed to so many of the different facets of small animal practice that really sparked her interest, she ultimately decided to pursue a career in smalls from the get go.
Ciara currently works with the Irish Blue Cross in their Dublin-based small animal clinic. This is her first job out of college. The Irish Blue Cross is an animal welfare charity that provides veterinary services for people on a low income around Dublin.
“I had previously volunteered with them throughout my time in UCD as an assistant on their mobile clinics which attend different locations weekly in Dublin,” Ciara explained.
The small animal clinic sees a variety of cases and referrals from the mobile clinics so she’s always busy.
Ciara is particularly interested in medicine, especially dermatology and also soft tissue surgery. In her current role with the Irish Blue Cross, she is exposed to a lot of different cases from medical to surgical.
“I have the opportunity to do a lot of in-house cytology which I enjoy and I’m trying to become better at performing and interpreting ultrasounds, so the work is quite varied,” Ciara explained.
No two days are identical, and every patient brings a new problem or challenge to be solved, and this is what really fuels her love for the profession.
The highlights and challenges
The significance of companion animals in people’s lives has grown immensely over the past few decades, Ciara highlighted. “I feel it is a privilege to be part of the human-animal bond that people share with their pets,” the Dublin vet said.
Ciara enjoys working with the clients to get the best outcome for their pet. “You not only see the impact on the animals as their health or quality of life improves but you also see the delight in the owners faces when they get their companion back,” she said.
There are ups and downs in every job and veterinary is no different. Ciara mentioned when long-term clients have to say goodbye to their pets as one of the most challenging parts of her job. “Even though I’ve only been in my current practice for a year I’ve built up relationships with many clients and pets and it’s an equally sad time for me when it’s time for a loving owner to say goodbye to their pet,” she said.
Some cases pose a real challenge. “While veterinary medicine keeps advancing and referral and advanced diagnostics are becoming increasingly available, for some clients due to constraints of practicality or feasibility these may not be an option. Working with clients to solve the case within their limitations is challenging but also very rewarding,” Ciara explained.
As a new graduate herself, Ciara shared a few words of advice for young vet students coming out of college. She acknowledged how incredibly daunting it can be in the beginning, going from being a student to making decisions as a vet.
“I was very lucky to have the support of a wonderful team of vets, nurses and support staff here in the Irish Blue Cross that made the transition as smooth as possible for me.
“I think it is important to make sure you have appropriate back-up and support when you start out working as a new graduate, be it in Ireland or abroad.
“It also helps to see and do as much as you can in the first few months to gain the experience. My confidence as a vet has grown immensely over the past 12 months and that is down to the support and mentorship provided to me by our Head of Veterinary Services, Una O’Toole, and the other vets at the practice,” Ciara added.
For those thinking about a career in veterinary medicine, the Dublin vet mentioned a few things worth considering beforehand.
“You have to be able to work with the human clients as much as the animal patients and I often think this is an aspect of the job that people over look. A huge part of my job is communicating with the client to educate, manage expectations and advise them on the options for treating their pet.
“It’s a very demanding job but equally it is very rewarding. It is a career where you are constantly learning and developing your skills. I would advise any potential future vets to gain as much experience as they can in clinics, shelters or farms,” Ciara said.
Ciara sees herself staying in small animal practice into the future and would like to enrol in a certificate or further training to develop her skillset even more.The adorable Daisy and Mabel are regulars on Ciara’s Instagram account: @ciarahsweeney