My Mountain to Become a Great Doctor

They say life doesn’t stop because you are in vet school. This semester, it really didn’t stop.

For whatever reason, the spring semester of our second year has been a trial for many people in our class, me included.

Over Christmas break, I had a migraine and right-sided persistent numbness. I spent four days in the hospital undergoing MRI’s, CT scans, and a spinal tap until my diligent doctors concluded that I
have an aggressive form of relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis.

While I would have preferred to spend my break planning my wedding and skiing with friends, I spent much of my time reflecting on not only what it means to live with a chronic illness, but also to manage that chronic illness as a medical professional myself.

In school we spend so much time talking about the art and practice of medicine. We are here because we are problem solvers and because we like a good challenge. But what happens when you are the problem but can’t provide your own solution? That vulnerability is not something we are accustomed to as veterinary students.

I am not the only one who has learned a thing or two about putting your life in other peoples’ hands. As you read in a previous blog, one of my classmates is currently battling cancer, others have had car accidents or supported family through illness.

In school, our days are consumed with understanding radiology, identifying pathology, and honing our anatomical understanding, but suddenly this knowledge couldn’t help ourselves or those closest to us.

In the months following my diagnosis, I perhaps leaned what my professors had been trying to teach me all along. Great doctors not only possess precise yet broad knowledge in their field of specialty, but they also sit by your bedside and explain the complexity of an MRI as many times as it takes for you to understand. Great doctors follow up, take extra time, make sure
you understand each piece of a complex diagnosis.

They also don’t quit until they have an answer. Great doctors persevere.

And while I have previously persevered through five-hour anatomy practices, late night study sessions, bad grades, and emotional breakdowns, I see this as the most important mountain I will climb both in vet school and my career. Like so many of my classmates who have faced unfathomable challenges during their veterinary training, I now know how those challenges will turn us in to better veterinarians.

Summer in the Panhandle

Ashlee “on the job” during her summer externship through the Veterinary Education Research Outreach (VERO) at West Texas A&M University.

This summer I had the opportunity to do an externship close to home and apply the knowledge from my first year of veterinary school.

I joined in on the Veterinary Education Research Outreach (VERO) externship program at West Texas A&M University that is offered for second- and third-year veterinary students. During this time I worked closely with Dr. Dan Posey, clinical professor of veterinary science and the academic coordinator of the VERO program, who provided more opportunities than I could experience in one summer.

Though I am from the area, this was a new experience for me because it was more focused on the veterinary side of the industries available there. 

Ashlee is teaching a 4-H student how to do a physical exam on a dog.

Every new experience I have makes me more excited for my future as a veterinarian, and this one was no exception.
Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in school, but these opportunities outside of class put everything into perspective.

Even with only one year under my belt, I was able to talk through diagnostics, surgery approaches, and treatment plans without feeling like I was listening to a foreign language. I had the privilege of teaching 4-H veterinary science students how to perform a physical exam on a dog, horse, and cow.

Now, beginning my second year, I have already applied the things I learned this summer, and I know I can expand on the areas I didn’t fully understand.

Ashlee is doing physical exam on a cow.

Every day was different, just like it will be in a mixed animal practice, and if I enjoy each day and challenge as much as I did this summer, I don’t think I will work a day in my life.

A Well-Deserved Summer

Ashlee A.As I write this entry, I am learning how it feels to make my own schedule after finishing my first year of veterinary school!

This year I have learned so much about veterinary medicine and, especially, myself.

This summer I plan to enjoy time with family, visit different veterinary practices, and help with a few research projects while applying all of the knowledge that I’ve gained this year.

In first year, we have taken almost 50 exams over many hours of lectures and labs, so it’s very easy to feel lost, defeated, and exhausted.

However, we have learned much more than we ever thought we could, and we know how to apply it.

Looking back on this quick year I am so proud of myself and my classmates for the things we have accomplished.

We’ve learned how important it is to learn and retain base veterinary information, we are a network of support for each other, and we are one-fourth of the way to being doctors!

I am excited to return as a 2VM and build on this foundation, but I’m thankful for a well-deserved summer.

Study Buddy

Ashlee A.We are approaching the end of our 12th week of school, and it is crazy to think I’ve almost completed my first semester of veterinary school!

As first-year veterinary students, we have felt many emotions already and finals are still approaching. I’ve always heard these would be the most difficult but best times of my life, and I couldn’t agree more—I’ve learned so much about myself and can’t wait to see what the rest of this experience brings.

One of the things I have have learned is the value of studying in groups. I have always studied independently, but I quickly realized that what we’re learning isn’t the kind of information that is easily grasped alone.

Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses and we all have a unique way to study, so I’m continually learning what this looks like for me. It is key to find a group that meets your needs, so that you also benefit.

The way I studied at the beginning of the semester looks completely different than it does now because I had to learn what works best for me and for the good of the group. After all, we really are all in this together.

For veterinary students starting next year, my advice is to take it a day at a time, and sometimes an hour at a time. Everyone feels the same emotions, even if it doesn’t seem like it, so you’re never alone.

Sometimes, your first friends may not fit your study needs, and that is completely fine. If you’re a people pleaser (like me), don’t deplete yourself in order to help others; you should be your No. 1 priority.

Most importantly, don’t forget why you’re here and how amazing this opportunity is.

I’m so thankful for all of the opportunities I’ve gotten so far. My journey is far from over, but as I write this blog, I’ve enjoyed stepping back to admire how far we have come, and I look forward to the great things we will accomplish in this profession.