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This is what I’m Studying: Meet the Stradbally girl studying Veterinary in UCD

This week on our Student Series we catch up with a final year Veterinary student in UCD.
Vivienne Phelan from Stradbally took the time to talk to LaoisToday all about what life as Vet student is like.


Why did you choose to study your chosen course?
People seem to decide on a veterinary career from a young age; it’s definitely a vocation. I have wanted to be a vet since I was in junior infants.

I’m not sure what put the idea in my head at first but it could have been something to do with our school tour to Dublin Zoo that year. I remember as a child putting plasters on my teddy bears and applying eye drops too!

I have always loved animals – big and small, and in secondary school I really enjoyed the science subjects. I was lucky in that I liked studying so veterinary medicine was an option for me.

I did LCVP as part of my Leaving Certificate, and completed a week of work experience with a vet. That experience really cemented my decision. 

If you weren’t studying this course, what would you have done?
That’s a difficult question for me to answer because Veterinary Medicine at UCD was the only course I had written on my CAO form!

I probably would have gone for another health related course, maybe medicine. Psychiatry appeals to me as a profession.

Psychiatrists work across a person’s lifespan from children to old age, in a range of settings. Mental health is so broad, there are a whole host of mental health disorders and every patient presents with their unique set of circumstances.

The job involves building a relationship with patients to help them through some of the toughest moments of their lives. While challenging, the work is also very rewarding, particularly to see people come out the other side and stay well.

Like veterinary, it can be extremely tough work, but there is the potential there to make a huge, lasting, positive impact on people’s lives.

What are your plans when you finish college?

I’m looking forward to taking the summer off – previous years would have been spent doing work experience for college so it will be a nice novelty to have time to catch up with friends and family. We have our class trip coming up in May to Corfu.

I have applied for a few residential volunteering opportunities with charities in June and July, I’d like to give something back as over the years so many people have been good to me. I plan to start working in September. I’d like to start off in mixed practice, which involves small and large animals.

Generally there are jobs available in Ireland for veterinary surgeons so hopefully I will be able to find something to suit. In the future I might consider further study or specialisation but for now I’d be very happy to start out in general practice.

Do you think you would like to stay local, or perhaps move away?

I would like to stay local – my heart is in rural Ireland, especially with the sense of community that comes with living in the country.

While I really enjoy traveling for holidays and short breaks, ultimately I love Laois and I would like to work close to home in Stradbally. That said, I am lucky in that my degree is very highly regarded across the world and it would be easy for me to work in America, Canada, Hong Kong, Australia or New Zealand if I would ever like a change of scene!

Would you like to move home after college?

Yes I would! I would like to get on my feet properly with a job, a car, a new routine and maybe some further study before even thinking about moving out of home.

Do you feel the pressure of final year?

I would imagine final year of veterinary is the most pressurised of any undergraduate course; it’s very intense. We don’t have any lectures this year, our final year is based in UCD Veterinary Hospital completing a variety of rotations including Small Animal Medicine, Anaesthesia, Diagnostic Imaging, ICU, First Opinion, Equine, Surgery and Farm Animal Clinical Studies.

Some days are more stressful than others, but there is a great community spirit in the veterinary building, and if you’re having a bad day, there is always someone to chat to, sit down and have a cup of tea with.

There is also great support offered by staff, who understand how tough it can be as they too have been through it. We have a brilliant Student Advisor, who organises coffee mornings, mindfulness classes, study and rest rooms – we even have board games and colouring books to encourage us to take a few minutes for ourselves!

What’s the hardest thing about your course?

Long hours and lack of sleep! I have no problem working long hours on my feet but it’s very tough when you also have paperwork and study and maybe projects to get done in the evening too.

It’s almost impossible to have a social life in final year, particularly with the weekend checks we often have to do also. Due to the nature of the work, we never know for sure what time we will be finished in the evenings, so plans often have to be cancelled at the last minute.

I’m very fortunate to have a good bunch of friends outside of veterinary that are very understanding, but it can still be difficult. That said, I’m sure it will be worth all the effort! I also have been finding it very hard to eat healthily and exercise as I would have done in previous years, so I am looking forward to getting fit again during the summer!

Are you looking forward to leaving the student life?

I have mixed feelings about leaving the student life! There is a tendency for veterinary students to immerse themselves in their course, study hard, and maybe not get as involved in the many societies and sports clubs on offer in UCD, as other students on campus.

In my opinion, student life in UCD is unrivalled by any other third-level institution in Ireland. From day 1, I wanted to make the most of my university experience.

I traveled all over Ireland with international students and as a result, I have friends from all over the world. I went on society trips to Amsterdam, Lisbon and Rome and was fortunate to visit Toronto for an animal welfare judging competition.

I got involved in Young Fine Gael and was elected to the National Executive of Fine Gael. I travelled to Haiti with UCD Volunteers Overseas and volunteered with UCD Access Centre tutoring a Leaving Certificate student from a disadvantaged background and acted as a mentor to help promote progression to university courses, along with lots more.

Overall, I feel that I can look back and say I made the most of my time on campus and was very fortunate to have such great opportunities. With that in mind, I will shortly be starting a new chapter in my life. I am looking forward to a new job and being more independent.

In future I would like to get more involved in my local community if possible. I am also a keen Macra member which means I will have plenty of social events, meetings and competitions to keep me busy.

I am already looking forward to representing Laois Macra at The Queen Of The Land Festival in Tullamore in November.

What’s your typical college routine?
We have different weekly schedules depending on which rotation we are on, but generally I get up at 6am. Have a shower and a light breakfast and walk to UCD.
I like to have a cup of tea before getting started morning checks. We generally have morning rounds where all the students give updates on their patients with the senior clinicians, interns and residents there too.
Each patient will have a plan for the day so you need to organise yourself around that. You might have consultations with owners and patients, which I really enjoy. We grab lunch when we can and staff are very good for giving breaks during occasional quite periods!
All patients have checks throughout the day too. Some rotations have student rounds in the afternoon where you might present a certain topic to the group, these are a good learning experience.
Throughout the day you are watching procedures, or maybe interpreting blood results or similar. We tend to finish up in the late afternoon or evening. Plenty of work to do for the evening too if you’re not on call for the night!
What’s your favourite part of the course?

We are required to complete 24 weeks of Extra-Mural Studies at various veterinary practices around the country. It’s nice to have the opportunity to travel around, meet a variety of people and see how different clinics operate.

Even during hospital rotations there are some opportunities to go out on the road – this afternoon, for example, I will be heading out to a farm visit in County Meath. Next week I’ll be heading over to Scotland for an insight into emergency and critical care work and in April I will be in Galway for a week with a fish vet. Veterinary medicine is never boring!

What advice would you give to any student thinking of studying in this industry?

I would say do your research well in advance. For example, you need to choose certain subjects for your Leaving Certificate and of course need high points to gain entry to UCD.

Many students are looking at options abroad in the UK, Hungary and Poland where entry is not as competitive or other factors aside from academics are taken into account.

Be sure to know what is involved early on, because some colleges have additional entry requirements such as work experience completed prior to admission or entry exams. Be prepared to work very hard also!