I’m from west Limerick, but I live in Co Fermanagh now and work there as a vet. I’ve been a huge animal lover ever since I was a child.

In primary school I was really, really shy. So animals were always a safe place. I had rabbits, dogs, goldfish, everything. We have cattle on the farm at home too.

One of my earliest memories is when I went missing and they couldn’t find me. I’d let myself out the back and I went down to the kennels. Abbey, one of the dogs, was having pups. Obviously, a dog having pups is not an ideal situation for a four year old, but I was sitting there as she was giving birth.

In school, after the Junior Cert, I had veterinary in my head. I love languages too. It did cross my mind, doing law and German. Ultimately, I said, “What would I be happiest doing?” And veterinary was it.

That’s all I had on my CAO. It was very risky. I only told my mother afterwards, because she would have had a canary if she knew! I remember getting the Leaving Cert results. I went into school, got the envelope and left. I went down to my nana’s and I opened it. It was the only time I’ve ever seen her cry.

I went on to study veterinary in University College Dublin (UCD) for five years. I was only 16 when I did the Leaving Cert. I had just turned 17 after it.

Moving to Dublin was a major change. If I had been in Dublin twice before, ever, that was it. But it was great. I was the youngest in my class by well over a year. It was an experience definitely at the start.

During college I saw a lot of practice, mostly with Long and Fitzell in Limerick. They really inspired me. They’re two excellent mixed practice vets.


The summer after I finished college I went to America for a month and worked in a large animal practice in California. I came back then and started working in Lakeland Veterinary Services here in Fermanagh, and I’m still here. We’ve practices in Belleek and Derrygonnelly.

I love being a mixed practice vet. I went through college basically saying, “No, I’m going to be a large animal only vet. I’m not going to do small animals. I’m not going to be stuck inside.” Then it just happened, because the small animal vet who had been in my practice for 11 years, she ended up leaving. So I said I’d just give it a go. I like the variety.

When I first moved to Fermanagh, I was living in a rented house up in Derrygonnelly with another vet. There was no phone signal. We had a house phone, so every time I was on-call, she’d wake up too. It did get progressively better. They put a phone mast in then and we had signal. We had WiFi by the end of living there too.

Now I’m living with my partner Adrian, he’s from Fermanagh. We’ve pedigree shorthorns and sheep. You see both sides of it when you’re farming, you see the farmers’ side and the vets’ side. That makes you a bit more approachable as well for farmers, definitely.

Aoife Ferris with her partner Adrian Carson on the farm in Garrison, Co Fermanagh. \ James Connolly

Large animal challenges

There’s a lot of talk about people not going into large animal veterinary. They have introduced a mandatory 60 hours work experience with vets before applying to study veterinary. That’s definitely a good starting point. People dropout because it’s not what people expect it to be.

I do think some sort of interview process, or some sort of assessment, like they do in the UK, would be good.

Yes, you do have to be intelligent and committed, but there are some people that are just not suited to it. I think an interview process would definitely help with that and help with retention of vets, because you’re choosing people who maybe aren’t as academically strong but would make excellent vets.

I think ultimately though, it’s not a very attractive career in some ways. Call a spade, a spade, it’s not. Not unless you’re from a farming background and you’re used to working with cattle and sheep and getting up in the middle of the night.


Recently I won Young Vet of the Year 2022, awarded by the Association of Veterinary Surgeons Practicing in Northern Ireland (AVSPNI). It was a client-based nomination. It was really nice to be recognised, especially when you work so hard and you dedicate your whole life to it. It’s not just a job. It’s a vocation.

Since leaving college I did a cert in dairy herd health in UCD and I’m also just finishing up a specialisation in ultra-sonography.

It definitely takes a couple of years to build up a bit of reputation. But once farmers see you can do a good caesarean, you can calve a cow, the sick animal gets better and maybe you were right about a diagnosis, then they definitely start to respect you.

What I realised, as I got more experience, is how much you mean to people as a vet, because you go out to farms and you only meet people when there’s a problem.

It’s about being able to support people as well, because as a vet you go out to a lot of people who are on their own. They’re happy to see you coming, going in for a cup of tea and chatting to them when you can. They appreciate it and that’s really rewarding.”

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