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Aussie farmer’s sacrifices to study vet science

It was a big decision for John Spearpoint to leave Australia to study in New Zealand in his forties.

John Spearpoint laughingly calls his decision to study in his forties a “midlife crisis”.

“Some men buy a Harley Davidson motorcycle – I decided to go back to university,” he says. “It may seem weird, after spending a couple of decades working towards carefully-laid plans to suddenly change course but, for me, this was several years in the planning.”

Before enrolling to do his Bachelor of Veterinary Science at Massey, John and his wife were running a successful farm business in New South Wales, Australia. After several years in the medical science industry, they had moved back to the family farm because it felt like the ideal environment to raise a family – “happy days being surrounded by animals, being our own boss, having lots of fun”.

Always a keen learner with strong ambition, John and his wife established an Angus stud breeding operation to increase profits.  

“Our business grew through leasing arrangements. We were kicking goals. Demand for our livestock was exceeding our capability so we were faced with a challenge: ‘Should we invest in buying more farmland, or could I do something else as an adjunct to farming?’

“My thirst for knowledge continued to grow and I wanted to explore the possibility of studying veterinary science, something that had been simmering in the back of my mind since leaving school.”

The big call: Leaving the family

But this was a big decision for the Australian family. It meant that John would be living away from home to attend full-time university for several years. As he says, “It was not a spur of the moment decision.”

The farm business would need to be restructured to make it easier for his wife to continue running it alone and the couple had to be in the financial position to pay for university fees and the extra cost of living overseas. John also wanted to be able to support his sons through their final years of secondary schooling. 

But the timing was finally right and, after doing his research and speaking with many practicing veterinarians about the quality of graduates from differing programmes, John decided to enrol in Massey’s veterinary science degree. 

“Massey University has an excellent international reputation and graduates are rated highly by employers for their practical skills,” he says. “New Zealand is also a world leader in various farm production systems, so gaining exposure to different systems would be an invaluable learning experience too.”

Veterinary science is not an easy degree and it has high contact hours with many months of work placements during university holidays. Unsurprisingly, John says his hardest challenge has been the separation from his family, although this has been made easier with daily contact via FaceTime and reconnecting during university breaks, either in New Zealand or Australia. 

“I’ve structured my work placements across the country, allowing opportunities for travel and sharing my journey,” he says. “While it’s been tough being apart, it’s allowed me to strongly focus on study.”

You're never too old to study

Like all mature students, adjusting to the demands of university study and other life commitments has been a real balancing act. John says it’s important to be fully invested in the challenge ahead and have the support of your family. 

“At the start, I wasn’t sure if I could sit still long enough to study again, or whether I was too old, so there was a give-it-a-go moment and let’s see what happens,” he says.

But so far, the sacrifices have been worth it. He’s now in his fourth year of veterinary study and excited to start clinical rotations next year. 

“It’s certainly pushed me out of my comfort zone,” he says, “but it’s given me a real appreciation for what I currently have, as well as a brighter future. I feel very privileged to have this opportunity to study veterinary medicine at Massey University. I’m surrounded by some seriously talented people and that’s inspiring.”

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