This week, our vet has travelled from the other side of the world to live in Limerick and work as a veterinary practitioner in Mulcair Veterinary Clinic.
Steph Downer grew up on a sheep and beef hill country farm in the rural, west-central north island of New Zealand.
The family were immersed in farm life and Steph would pay particular attention to what her father George was doing on the farm, often following him around as a child, helping out.
Steph always knew that she wanted to work with animals. At age four it was to be a farmer, and a few years later she decided to turn to veterinary.
“My farming background is really what interested me and influenced my choice to pick veterinary as a career,” explained Steph.
Her brother William also chose to work in the sector and completed his diploma in farm management and agriculture and has spent several seasons working as a contractor in Australia.
The siblings loved the lifestyle that living on a farm brought, however, being reared in such a rural area in New Zealand meant that the pair had to attend a boarding school after they completed primary school, which took them away from the farm during the week.
The 27-year-old attended Massey University in Palmerston North, which is the only veterinary university in the country, so the entrance competition was stiff.
Candidates must have completed a 10-day work experience placement with a professional practitioner before applying to the course.
The young vet explained that you don’t get accepted into the program with just your secondary school grades, first, you must complete an entrance semester. After six months, the candidate is selected for the course after examination of their university results.
Although the university may have slightly different placement acceptance criteria now, Steph managed to succeed in securing her place.
“It was a purely academic selection when I went through, only the top students got a place regardless of their practical experiences on a farm,” she said.
After graduation, the vet worked in New Zealand until her now-fiancé Rhys got accepted to play professional rugby here in Ireland and Steph made the decision to join him.
“I followed my heart, I wouldn’t be here without him, I wasn’t really ready to leave practice in New Zealand,” she admitted.
Prior to leaving her home country, Steph was warned that her qualifications might not be recognised in Ireland, but thankfully, that was not the case.
“Fortunately for me, I was able to register as a vet over here and continue on practicing,” she said.
Mulcair Vets are a mixed practice where a high percentage of the work is with dairy cows, given that the location of the practice is in Cappamore – a large dairy community.
There is a full-time clinic for small animals both in Cappamore and Mulcair’s second practice in Newport, Co. Tipperary.
The New Zealander finds that she works the majority of her time with large animals but will spend a couple of shifts covering the small animal clinics in the Newport practice.
“I’ve done a lot of work at home with large animals such as sheep, beef and dairy so that is what I’m used to doing and like doing, but it is nice to stay a bit cleaner and do the smaller animals too,” she laughed.
Steph said that she is happy with the variety of her career because there are so many different avenues that can be taken with the qualification.
“If you ever find yourself stuck doing one thing, there are so many opportunities that you can take to keep things interesting and varied, there’s always something new to inspire you”.
There are seven vets at the practice who take it in turns to take the call-out duties.
“It was one of the things that I was careful about, the after-hour services of smaller practices would be a lot more time consuming,” explained Steph, who also said that after-hours service of Irish vets would be quite different to what she has experienced in New Zealand.
“You do two – three times more after-hours work than you do back home”.
Throughout her childhood, Steph never really gave a second thought as to where her career path may lead her, “At one point, I thought that I might pursue my sport more seriously, but that was just fleeting, it was always going to be veterinary”.
The Limerick resident has seen a lot of things that might make the rest of us quiver, but one stand-out moment for Steph was a recent post-mortem diagnosis on a cow who died suddenly after treatment.
The cow had a large abscess at the base of her liver, about the size of two fists that was impinging on major blood vessels.
“It was a spectacular sight, given the animal was not that sick, it’s nice to get an answer after being presented with such a vague clinical picture,” she said.
Steph has also delivered multi-headed and Siamese calves back in New Zealand, needless to say, veterinary may not be for everybody.
For now, Steph is happy in Ireland with her fiancé and will continue to make our sick animals better for the foreseeable future.
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