Nearing the end of her Veterinary Medicine Degree Stephanie Fitzgerald takes a look back over her time here in UCD 

With the back broken on the final year slog my focus as of late has been centred on; where to next? It is the first time in my life since I received my offer to do Veterinary Medicine in UCD that I do not have a plan. I am an exceptionally organised person; I enjoy lists, and plans and having every week of the month planned out 18 months in advance; so not knowing where I’ll will be or what I will be doing in 5 months’ time is an ongoing source of anxiety for me. I have looked at jobs in America, Australia, New Zealand, Dubai, and the UK and of course at home here in Ireland. The one thing that all of these jobs have in common is- they’re all equine jobs. I may not know where in the world I am going to be or what I am going to be doing but one thing for certain is that I want to be working with horses.

student vets in scrubs

Throughout my degree I have focused in on horses as a primary area of interest; as my knowledge of veterinary increased and my appreciation for different aspects of the course broadened, my interest in pursuing equine veterinary only increased. Previous to starting veterinary I did horse riding for 10 years and loved being around horses but I had never really pursued anything past riding lessons. I thank god every day that UCD has the flexibility which allows students to focus on what interests us through our preclinical and clinical years a flexibility which has allowed me to follow an equine driven path for the last four and a half years.

It all started in first year; I made the decision to travel to Germany for ten days work experience on a flat racing stud farm. I hadn’t seen thoroughbreds up close since I was very young; they are stunning. There are no other words to describe the grace and power of a thoroughbred. In that ten days I slowly developed my approach to working with horses that were a little more highly strung than the riding school ponies I had been used to. That same summer I was lucky enough to get two weeks work experience in an equine hospital in Kildare; here I was exposed to the massive reaches of equine veterinary; everything from orthopaedics to reproductive examination and emergency surgeries to foal intensive care. Where what we do as vets can have such an impact on these huge, powerful creatures was and still is, utterly fascinating. The variety of the work and the capacity of the treatment carried out in equine hospitals is incredible.

Baby Foal Veterinary

In third year I continued to pursue any opportunity I could to gain experience in equine veterinary as I possibly could; cementing my interest and embellishing the knowledge laid down in lectures. I was also very lucky to have been afforded the opportunity to carry out a research project over the summer of third year. I took this on under the guidance of one of my lecturers and with help from World Horse Welfare Trust; the title of the project was “investigating the relationship between monetary value and welfare status of equines in Ireland”. Through this project I got to visit loads of different equine yards throughout the country. It forced me to delve deeper into the behaviour and welfare of horses and allowed me to develop a much more rounded and comprehensive picture of the industry I was interested in getting in to.

Fourth year was the point that solidified my determination to pursue equine veterinary- I was lucky enough to secure practise in the same equine practise in Kildare for two weeks in March. For those of you who might not be familiar the thoroughbred breeding season runs from January to June every year- March is mid-season. There were foals everywhere. I love foals. They’re absolutely incredible to work with. They are so satisfying to watch them respond to treatment- you can actually see improvements in them hour by hour. The vets that I was working with were amazing- they completely loved what they were doing and they loved teaching and explaining everything that was going on. As a student seeing practise meeting vets like that is one of the most encouraging and motivating experiences in the world. There is nothing more disheartening than meeting someone who says they hate their job; contrastingly there is nothing more inspiring than watching someone who genuinely loves what they’re doing and getting to work with them. It was at this point in time that I began to become very interested in focusing in on equine medicine (basically mainly foals).


Following in to final year now I am gaining as much experience with foals as I possibly can. Luckily for me my course allows me to organise my year in a way that facilitates this quite nicely. We have 24 weeks of rotations that we are required to do in the UCD veterinary hospital between June and April of final year. I completely 19 of these weeks before Christmas which has allowed me to organise my life around foals for the next two months.

Currently I am back in Kildare in the same lovely equine hospital working with their amazing team for four weeks. Here I am able to see a huge variety of cases as well as spending a lot of time with foals and learning how to evaluate new born foals and develop a tailored and comprehensive treatment plan for them.

After this I will be going to Dubai for a week as a winner of the Godolphin Student Initiative where I will get to visit some of the top racing and training yards there. We will get a tour of the Dubai Equine Hospital. And the highlight of the trip will be the day out to the Gold Cup in Meydan.

Following on from that I am travelling to another equine hospital in Ireland to get as much experience as possible in Ireland of different hospitals and procedures in those hospitals. This hospital is renowned for orthopaedics; an area I am admittedly weak in. So from my point of view as a student this will be an amazing opportunity to try and fill in some of the gaps in my knowledge and to learn from some of the top vets in the country at the same time.


After that I am flying to America to Kentucky to do an internal medicine externship; possibly because I could be called a little insane. The idea of an externship is to give you a really focused learning experience and allow you to feel what it would be like being an intern in the place. I will be in Kentucky in the middle of March; it will nearly be the height of the foaling season and I am hoping it will be packed. Of all the experience I have planned I am most excited about this. I couldn’t imagine a better way to learn than from some of the nest vets in the world at one of the busiest times of year when there is so much to see and do.

Throughout the veterinary I have had to do weeks of mixed/large animal practise and weeks of small animal practise as well as the rotations through these. While I never disliked any of it, I actually enjoyed the vast majority of it. The difference is when I am working with horses I don’t want to leave- I will happily stay longer and come in earlier. Being around horses, working with them makes me incomparably happy. And no matter where I end up after graduation all I am really set on is that happy.