Reared on a 200ac suckler and sheep enterprise in Firies, Co Kerry, John Foley’s passion for animals and agriculture began at a young age; he tells Irish Country Living: “It all started when I was working at the home farm with cattle and sheep. Agricultural science in secondary school also played a major role. Understanding the science behind agriculture is where my passion for veterinary really developed.”

Considering UCD

John attended school in St Brendan’s College, Killarney, where he completed his Junior and Leaving Certificate. John says: “I was considering University College Dublin (UCD), however, the points are extremely difficult to achieve – it was approximately 575 when I was completing my Leaving Cert.”

Studying in Budapest

Not achieving the points required to gain entry into the UCD veterinary medicine course, John began looking at other options.

John inspecting the health of a fluffy patient's teeth. \ Colum Lynch

“Our vet at home in Kerry studied and graduated with a doctorate in veterinary medicine out of Budapest and he explained that it is a great place to study and learn,” he explains.

John then began to consider studying veterinary at the Állatorvostudományi Egyetem – University of Veterinary Medicine Budapest (UVMB).

Application process

For the course in Budapest, you sit an entrance exam and are interviewed in order to be accepted onto the course. These are completed outside of school, in around April, approximately one month before the Leaving Cert examinations.

John was accepted onto the veterinary course in Budapest before completing his Leaving Cert exams.

“The UVMB disregards your Leaving Certificate results,” he explains. “Instead, entry onto the course is based on previous knowledge and experience in veterinary – working with vets at home, my farm experiences, and references.”

In relation to experience, John’s cousin Jeremiah O’Sullivan is an equine vet in Carlow running his own practice, Clinic na gCapall.

“I completed work experience during any spare time I had, Jeremiah provided me with a lot of guidance when I was younger. He was someone I looked up to and aspired to be.”

Tuition fees

It costs €10,800 per annum to study in UVMB, whereas, in Ireland, the first four years of college are paid for – a downside to studying in Budapest. That said, accommodation, living and utility expenses are a lot less expensive. John points out: “The costs probably balance themselves out.”

John Foley now works in Liam Strain’s veterinary practice in Clones, Co Monaghan. \ Colum Lynch

Course overview

The degree is five and a half years in total, including a six-month placement at home; whereas the veterinary course in UCD is only five years. The academic modules and teaching are very similar to UCD, with everything in Budapest taught in English.

Budapest also has a large Irish community, with around 200 Irish students studying veterinary every year.

“It was like a home from home,” John says. “The course is difficult, there is no doubt about that. But, you are surrounded by like-minded people. Everyone pulls together and helps each other.”

Pros and cons of studying in Budapest

Budapest is a vibrant, multicultural city with a great student life and a good standard of living. John says the course was very enjoyable, with interesting modules.

“Pathology and internal medicine – which investigates the study of diseases and treatment of animals – were of particular interest to me,” he says.

Budapest also has very nice weather, with much to do and see. “I really enjoyed my time there,” he adds.

On the flipside, Budapest is a three-and-a-half hour flight away from home, so returning every month or so is not feasible. You have to prepared to stay there long term. There is also a language barrier when speaking with people on the streets. However, with a lot of Irish people living in Budapest, John indicates this is an almost non-existent issue.


Once graduated from UVMB, students will have a similar qualification to UCD. John explains that he graduated out of UVMB with a doctorate of veterinary medicine, while UCD students graduate with a bachelors in veterinary medicine.

Newly qualified vet John Foley at work in Liam Strain's practice in Clones, Co Monaghan. \ Colum Lynch

Graduating in February 2021, John also adds: “My degree is very well recognised within Ireland and the UK – there is no difficulty obtaining a job at home.”

On completion of his degree, John registered with the Veterinary Council Ireland as well as the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons UK enabling him to work as a vet within Ireland and the UK.

Current job

John is now working with Liam Strain Veterinary Clinic situated in Clones, Co Monaghan.

“I got to know Liam as I was studying with his sons in Budapest,” he explains. “He offered me a job in August 2020 and I began working as a vet in March 2021, one month after qualifying. I love working with Liam,” he adds. “He has a wealth of knowledge which I am learning from daily.”

Career aspirations

Outlining his career plans, John wants to make the most of his experience with Liam and gain as much knowledge as possible, with the intention of owning his own veterinary practice in the future. John also has plans to work with a small animal surgery in the future.

“I’m keeping my options open,” he says with a smile.


What advice would you give to someone who has not achieved the points for veterinary in UCD?

The Leaving Cert results are not the be-all and end-all, there are other options there to study veterinary for people who are really passionate. Don’t be afraid to study abroad. There are other options available.

Would you advise students to study in Budapest?

Absolutely. You get to experience different cultures, be totally independent and stand on your own two feet which is invaluable once you enter the working world.

Memorable quote

UCD is the only university in Ireland that offer veterinary, with only 80 places available per year, which makes it really competitive – yet, there is a shortage of vets in Ireland, which doesn’t make sense. It would be great to see more universities in Ireland offering veterinary degrees.