Ask Brian: My daughter wants to be a vet but her school doesn’t offer chemistry

Lack of subject choice is a deep unfairness of the secondary system

Veterinary medicine in UCD is the only provider of veterinary education on the island of Ireland. Photo: iStock

Veterinary medicine in UCD is the only provider of veterinary education on the island of Ireland. Photo: iStock


Question: My daughter is in 5th year and wants to become a vet. She has done two work placements with a local practice and enjoyed it. She is studying biology and agricultural science, but her school doesn’t offer chemistry as a subject. Have you any advice?

Answer: The dilemma facing highly-motivated students who want to pursue careers in areas which require specific grades in subjects which are not available in many small schools is a deep unfairness embedded in our education system.

The three subjects involved are usually chemistry, physics and higher-level maths.

Chemistry is a minimum entry requirement for four UCC courses: medicine, medical and health sciences, dentistry, and pharmacy. It is also required for human nutrition and dietetics in DIT, pharmacy in Trinity and RCSI, and veterinary medicine in UCD, the only provider of veterinary education on the island of Ireland.

Physics is only required by one course, theoretical physics, in Trinity. It is therefore not a major problem to the vast majority of students if it is not offered in schools.

Higher-level maths is required for 51 CAO programmes in areas such as actuarial, mathematical and engineering studies. With the major increase in the numbers taking higher-level maths at Leaving Cert level since the introduction of the project maths curriculum, and the addition of 25 bonus points for those securing 40 per cent in the subject, almost all schools now have sufficient students interested in taking the subject at higher level to enable principals to offer it to students.

This leaves chemistry as the one subject not offered in many small schools which has a detrimental effect on students’ college choice options in relation to the eight programmes outlined above.

The Department of Education could solve this problem in the morning by creating an online programme covering model lessons in higher-level chemistry, covering the entire course, which students could study with the support of a science teacher in their school.

It is not ideal, but it would solve the problem for a significant cohort of students in the short term.

In your daughter’s case, she has a number of options. She can complete her Leaving Cert and if she secures the 575-580 CAO points which would almost certainly secure her a place, (564 was the requirement in 2017), she could take chemistry as a single subject in a grind school in 2019-20 and apply to the CAO in that year.

In that time she could also ensure she did the mandatory 60 hours practical experience relevant to animal handling. Cumulatively, this would take her six years to qualify as a vet.

Finally, she could explore the range of veterinary medical degree programmes, offered through English over five to six years, in Eastern European universities, several of which do not require you to have chemistry. One word of warning: fees of €7,600-€8,000 apply. For more information, visit