A Glimpse into the Vet School Curriculum
As the new curriculum is implemented
here at Texas A&M's College of Veterinary Medicine, more and
more courses are designed to be fully clinically relevant. For the
students, this means we get to play doctor from day one, as
overwhelming as that may be. Here are some examples of what my
fellow second-year veterinary students and I have seen among some
of our classes this semester.
“Charlie is a 6-year-old MC Boston Terrier who presented to your
clinic with a one-month history of seizures that have been
increasing in frequency and duration. After reviewing the following
complete history and introductory blood work, write a prescription
for an appropriate drug for Charlie.”
Thus begins another pharmacology lab.
My classmates are split into groups of five or so, each with a
different case profile. For this lab, the groups are paired, with
one acting as the emergency service and the other as the
While every case is different, they all have seizures, as we are
focusing on anti-convulsants in lecture. We will spend about half
an hour combing resources and notes trying to come up with an
appropriate treatment plan before going over all of the cases with
the clinician who is presiding over the lab.
We discuss why certain drugs must not be given to certain
patients and why one option may be marginally better than another.
The clinicians also try to emphasize that sometimes there is no one
correct choice; sometimes they are all bad and you may just have to
choose the one that is least offensive.
Every pharmacology lab unrolls in much the same way, covering
most of the cases we are likely to see in practice and emphasizing
those where the decision-making process is not easy.
Parasitology is fairly similar to pharmacology lab.
The beginning of the semester felt like we were studying an
entomologist’s encyclopedia: “Here are a dozen ticks (or mites, or
lice, or fleas, or nematodes); figure out the best way to tell them
apart under a microscope.”
Fortunately, after deciding we had successfully jammed all of
that information into our brains, we were able to move on to
clinically relevant discussions. Different professors discussed the
parasites we were likely to find on the most commonly treated
species, emphasizing those that are very common or very detrimental
to the animal or the producer’s wallet.
Most of the time, this meant working through a case: “A
commercial dairy-goat producer has been having issues with her
goats not keeping weight on, and a few have died. She deworms the
whole herd with Ivermectin every two months and didn’t have any
problems until the rains started a few weeks ago, etc.” Your job as
the student is to correctly determine the parasite, treat the
parasite, and then educate the client on the best method of
prevention for her herd (hint—it’s not “deworm every two months
Throughout this exercise, common parasites of the affected
animal are available on slides or in specimen jars, and clinicians
are there to answer any questions that may come up. We were also
able to do several important clinical diagnostic tests, things vets
do every day, like fecal flotation and heartworm tests.
Pathology lab is for those who like getting your hands dirty and
staring at gross things; it’s the study of how disease affects
tissue, so there’s nothing normal in pathology lab. You’ll see
abscesses and cancer, pneumonia and partially healed wounds, nasal
cavities that have lost all structure and mineralized vessels.
The best part about path lab is that all of the pathologists
love making lesions “relatable” and easy to remember. So, it’s not
a lymph node filled with caseous exudate; it’s a ball of your
favorite cheese. It’s not chronic passive hypertension of the
liver; it’s a “nutmeg liver.” This is made extra fun when they
schedule pathology lab right after lunch.
You may get to put your hands on some necrotic intestines and
pull fibrin off of a cow heart (wearing gloves, of course), but you
will be learning while its happening. Pathology lab is designed as
a hands-on, practical workthrough of the disease discussed in
class, and we are expected to identify lesions that are placed in
front of us.
That can be a lot to ask of a stressed out second-year, but it
closely resembles what we will see in practice one day, so we
persevere. I appreciate having these labs so that we can hear cases
that are actually seen in the hospitals and work through them
ourselves with samples and specimens beside us, even if we get it
wrong; they're bringing us one step closer to the dream of doing it
all again one day as Doctors of Veterinary Medicine.