Ready for a Good Day (Lessons Learned from Bubba)

Mary W.Veterinary school is hard.

If you’ve been talking to vet students or graduated veterinarians, you’ll hear this phrase pretty often. People will first congratulate you on the path you’ve chosen, and then try to warn you of its steepness. You won’t believe them, even when you’re filling out the extensive application, or prepping for the nerve-wracking interview, or just trying to get your hands on as many sick or broken animals as you can and realizing its impossible to help them all.

Well, maybe you’ll believe them a little, and steel yourself against the stress, but it won’t really sink in until that first week of vet school bowls you over and leaves you buried in the dirt. And then the next week does the same. And the next. Over and over again for four years.

As you can imagine, this takes a bit of a toll on a person. To keep our heads above the rising tide of stress, we vet students learn a couple of coping mechanisms. Maybe it’s exercise or hobbies that have nothing to do with school. Perhaps it’s something small, like setting aside all study materials at meals. Many students lean heavily on their families, friends, and partners.

But one coping strategy we all seem to pick up in the first month of school is complaining. We vent our frustrations to our classmates almost constantly. Maybe it’s a poorly written test, or a difficult skill to master, or we don’t agree with an administrative decision; the subject doesn’t really matter—we will find fault with something in this stressful experience  and will kvetch about it until we have run out of words. This strategy is so pervasive throughout school and the profession that it’s one of the strange things that draws our community closer together.

This is why Bubba stands out.

I first met Bubba working the morning shift at the ambassador desk. After a series of halfhearted “good mornings” that were responded to with a grimace and a mumbled greeting, here comes a man who looks like the sun grew legs and started walking. Big smile on his face, a spring in his step, eyes so cheerful they’ve almost disappeared, Bubba radiates joy. He greets everyone he sees with a smile, a “how’re you doing today?” and a few questions about their lives.

He seems to know something about everyone and delights in getting to know a little more every time he sees them. Just this morning he asked me about the exams I was getting ready for, and he was more than confident that I would ace them all. But what really stuck with me from talking with Bubba this morning is when he asked me if I was ready for a good day, as if the good days are all around us, just waiting to be found.

What a different perspective to have! In vet school, we condition ourselves to expect little more than stress and frustration from everyday life, that we aren’t ever truly “ready” for good days. We don’t expect to find joy in school, and, so, we don’t.

I want to say thank you to Bubba for reminding me at least once a week that there are good days to be found in vet school, if only we are ready for them to happen.