28 Year old Mary Keane, a native of Achill Island graduated in June 2011 with a degree in Veterinary Medicine from UCD. She commenced working with George O’ Malley in September of 2012 where she currently works as a large animal veterinary practitioner, covering Castlebar and the surrounding areas of Newport, Westport, Achill, Louisburgh and the entire Erris area. Coming from a small suckler cow and hill sheep farm in West Mayo, farming has always been a core part of her life, with her earliest memories being that of farming at home.
‘I remember being asked to turn cattle when I was far too small for the task, but I knew I must not let them go at all costs! I was gone outside the minute Dad pulled back his chair much to my mum’s frustration. I had no interest in housework when there was farming to be done!’ An exciting prospect for her as a young girl, was to hear that the ‘vet was coming’, the vet of which happens to be her current boss, George O’ Malley.
I was the youngest of four siblings and so every calf that was born was gifted to me much to my delight! Farming is a bug, a way of life and when it’s in your blood it’s there to stay; but I wouldn’t have it any other way! I always planned my future with farming in mind and I thought well maybe becoming a vet/farmer, wouldn’t that just be the ideal combination!’
‘I am a vet because of my Father’ she explained, contrary to belief he actually cautioned her about the profession. ‘You do know that it’s a very demanding lifestyle, up at night, on call, you won’t be able to be out with your friends etc, is that what you really want to sign up for?’
Mary believes that her career as a Vet has been shaped by her upbringing and background and she has chosen a career that defines her as a person in many ways. ‘I could not live without it and in that way you are pretty much married to the job! Dad (RIP) was definitely my inspiration and continues to be in my daily life as I do my calls.’ ‘I agree fully that veterinary is a vocation and obviously not something you do for the money or prestige!
Once my parents knew my mind was made up they supported me 100% and believed in my ability to achieve my dream. They were supportive of me in every way and that was hugely important. I never would have achieved my goal without the support of family and friends.’ She continued ‘To become a vet was my main ambition in life and I’m glad he lived to see me achieve my dream. I think every child only ever wants to make their parents proud.’
Mary completed UCD’s full time five year Veterinary Medicine course, which according to her was ‘extremely challenging with very long hours and an intense workload as there was so much material to cover, dealing with several different species! 8am lectures and long days were a common feature.’ She continued ‘With the points being high, it was a very competitive place to be where all your peers are highly academic and driven. The case is very much ‘If you can’t take the heat, get out of the fire’.
Looking back on the whole experience now, she believes that completing the course is quite a difficult aspect. ‘Although you learn all theory based information at university it is only when you leave with your MVB, when the real challenge begins. You truly become a vet during your six months of work and learn everything the hard way.
When you are all alone driving to your first calving in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere, to name one experience is one such thought’. She continued ‘I would advise anyone hoping to pursue a veterinary career to get lots of exposure to all areas of veterinary but particularly the area they ultimately see themselves working in.
Speak to lots of vets and get their insight into the life of a vet, young and old, male and female. Remember you are signing yourself up for a very tough, competitive and demanding lifestyle and unfortunately not everyone is cut out for that. And I think that’s why there is such a high level of vets changing careers when they are a few years out.’
After graduating, she took up a position in Limerick for one year as a poultry vet, however it was always her ambition to return home to Mayo to settle and work. Sooner than she would have planned, Mary decided to move home to her native county, as she wanted to be as near as possible to home due to her Father’s sickness.
In September 2012, she took up the position as large animal veterinary practitioner with George and this is where she currently works. ‘Starting off as a new graduate is terrifying! There’s no point saying otherwise; for the first while you’re driving out at night to a cow calving with your heart hammering in your chest.
The fear of the unknown, the fear of getting lost with the maybe wayward directions you have received if you haven’t been to the farm before! Working in my home practice so soon after qualifying was both a daunting and exciting prospect.’
Although her father Tony, was well-known in the area, it made things a little easier but also added to the pressure for her. ‘I would consider myself as a bit of a perfectionist, so I wanted to be the best vet I could be especially for people locally!’ she explained.
A typical day for Ms. Keane involves TB testing and carrying out routine clinical calls or emergency calls such as calvings or ‘beds out’ (Uterine prolapses), starting and ending at any hour of the day, depending on time of year.
Taking great interest and pride in her chosen career, Mary likes working in an area where holdings are small and farmers spend a lot of time with their cattle, knowing them very well.
It comes to a stage whereby her excellent memory shines through when during an annual TB test either a year or two later, when she can recall either treating a certain animal for an illness, calving or carrying out a Caesarean section. ‘My favourite part of the job is the fact that no two days as the same and the work is not monotonous.
From time to time, you get presented with a difficult/unusual case and I love the challenge to figure it out and hopefully get a good outcome! And it must be said, there’s a great feeling of freedom to sitting into your jeep, turning the music up and travelling around the scenic countryside of west and north Mayo doing your calls.
It’s an idyllic lifestyle when the pressure isn’t on!’ Keeping the whole idea of ‘no two days are the same’ in mind, a case that stood out most for her in 2015 was the delivery of a ‘3 legged calf’ back in April, making the local and national news. Mary received a call from the herd-owner Joe Moylette from Derrycourane, Islandeady , when he realised the calves’ front legs were abnormal, immediately arriving to the farm in order to examine the cow, she confirmed that indeed one of the forelimbs was much smaller, almost like a vestigial structure.
Taking great care during the delivery of the Limousin Crossbred heifer calf, due to her tiny fore limb, Mary said she honestly didn’t know if she would live the day, as it was obvious that a lot of the shoulder musculature was missing and her heart was beating rapidly. Returning the next day to re-visit the new arrival, the owner informed her that the calf had sucked as normal.
Having given the calf a guarded prognosis, the calf is now the best runner of the herd, according to her owner Joe. Becoming a vet, allows Mary to work alongside her brother on their family farm, which results in her giving the best care and treatment possible to their animals. ‘For me personally, there is no better feeling that seeing a very sick animal improve because of something I have done or indeed usually a joint effort between myself and the farmer to the get the animal well again.’
Mary entered this profession with her ‘eyes wide open’ and ‘was under no illusions’, but believes that the most challenging aspect of the job, is the whole fact that you are tied down and ‘time off’ results in the general public having full access to your phone or turning up at the door with a sick animal. Being ‘married’ to the profession, means that Mary and every other person involved in the industry can never fully commit to social events, having a strain on personal lives.
Mary believes that ‘although Springtime is a tough, intense time and by May you are exhausted, vets are built with a thick skin and it is certainly needed at times. It is the adrenaline buzz that keeps you going, with tea being a saviour during busy nights on call’. For her these are only minor grievances and the benefits of the job definitely outweigh the downsides!
‘I think we have come a long way and in my experience female vets for the most part are treated no differently to male vets anymore, with my experience so far being nothing but positive. My belief is that female vets bring another dimension to the farm in that male vets may have the extra strength and ‘machoness’ but I can guarantee you what I lack in extra strength, I certainly gain in empathy and compassion and in my opinion that is imperative to be a good vet.
I think what’s interesting though is that when you attend a mart; you see more females than a few years ago but still very few overall and you tend to get a lot of looks as one of the few women at the mart. I would advise all females in this industry to not allow a minority of people to discourage them in any way. Set a goal and achieve it, male or female it makes no difference! The showing business now has a lot of females involved and that’s great to see.'
Happy in her current job and always having had a dream of working in her home practise, Mary plans to continue to work at George O’ Malley Veterinary and will continue to farm alongside her brother at home. ‘I might have a farm of my own as I own a few cattle, so once they start to multiply we’ll need more space! I might buy a few along the way too so more land will be needed!!’ I’m quite content and so as cliché as it may sound ‘Choose a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life’! ‘