Finding the Joy

Michelle M.Vet school is a dream come true for all of the students currently enrolled in Texas A&M’s College of Veterinary Medicine!

Despite this, it can be easy to become bogged down in exams, personal struggles, and commitments, at times, especially at the end of the semester as finals approach. This is why since starting school, many of us have taken to heart a concept explained to us during our first-year orientation.

“Find the Joy” is a mantra that has been repeated more times than I can count. Whenever my class has been overwhelmed with a particularly challenging exam or week, someone has always reminded us to find the joy; it is a reminder to look at the little things in life that make you happy to bring you back to perspective that your struggles will pass and are not as insurmountable as you currently think they are. And that no matter what, there is joy in your life, if only you seek to find it.

Each semester, right before finals week, the Texas A&M chapter of the Student American Veterinary Association (SAVMA) hosts something called “Find the Joy” week. It is a series of events spanning over the course of a week specifically for the vet students. All of these events are free or discounted for the students as a way for them to relax and take a little bit of time being active, creative, or just away from their books.

I am currently the secretary of SAVMA and we just finished planning the events for this year’s “Find the Joy” week. The events this year range from a class at You Paint It, yoga, bingo, an escape room, ice skating, and more. I’m organizing the You Paint It class and am looking forward to relaxing with my classmates and showing just how horrible my artistic skills are. But it is in the name of “Find the Joy” and a good cause.

Tracking Food Animal

Michelle M.Now that Christmas break has come and gone and we are now back at school this week for spring semester, I am finally in the homestretch of my path of becoming a veterinarian. After my spring semester finals, I will be going straight into my clinical year this May. During our clinical year, each student takes a core set of rotations in both the small and large animal hospitals, since as veterinarians we are licensed to work on all species.

But for the remaining rotations, we get to pick a track that most closely follows what we are interested in doing once we graduate. I want to work primarily with dairy cattle, so before break I chose the food animal track. I will spend several rotations in the Food Animal Department, where they treat food and fiber animals such as cattle, sheep, goats, llamas, alpacas, pigs, and even the occasional camel. I then have the opportunity to conduct externships that will give me more experience in my chosen field.

Because I am hoping to get a job as a dairy veterinarian when I graduate, last summer I spent time in the Texas Panhandle working with dairy veterinarians. There, I worked to develop skills in areas such as diagnosing a cow as pregnant, hoof care, drawing blood for testing, and surgical techniques. I also participated in an externship back near my home in Pennsylvania, where I got more dairy and small ruminant experience.

My externships this next year will be across the country so that I hopefully will gain a better idea of how dairy medicine is done throughout the United States.  I will be going to California, Oregon, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and the Panhandle again to get more experience under different veterinarians.  I’m looking forward to what the next year and a half will hold for me. It’s hard to believe how soon I will be making medical decisions and helping patients, and I can’t wait to see what I will learn!

Learning through Labs

Michelle M.After the gauntlet of the first two years of veterinary school, it really is nice to experience some of the perks of third year. We get to put a lot of what we learned our first two years of school into use, especially during our lab periods. Just this past week, our Small Animal Medicine class had us practicing a procedure called a pericardiocentesis, a procedure that involves inserting a needle through the body wall and into the pericardium, the sac that surrounds the heart, so that the fluid can be drained. This may be necessary in certain patients to remove excess fluid to make them feel better and also so that the fluid can be tested to determine what may be causing the patient’s problem. My class was able to practice this on some pretty cool models that simulate how it will feel to perform the procedure in a live patient one day.

We previously had several large-animal labs. My favorite was the ophthalmology lab, which gave us practice in procedures with the equine eye. We were able to use live horses and do a full ophthalmic exam. We also practiced performing auriculopalpebral nerve blocks; these blocks involve injecting a small amount of lidocaine near the auriculopalpebral nerve, which will temporarily prevent the horse from blinking. Since we can’t ask the horse to hold his eye open for us like human doctors can, this nerve block is a very useful technique to learn, as it makes the exam more pleasant for the horse and also much quicker for everyone. We were then able to use an ophthalmoscope to perform a fundic exam to determine if the eye is healthy or if there are any problems.

In addition to our medicine labs, I also had a large-animal skills lab this semester, during which we were able to help improve our large animal-handling skills with cattle, pigs, goats, and horses and perform some of the routine procedures we will do as vets one day, such as trimming feet and drawing blood for testing. It was always the highlight of my week to work with these animals, as I plan on becoming a large-animal vet after I graduate. I even got to learn how to shoe a horse using a horse leg model that was more realistic than I ever could have anticipated. While farriers are often the ones who put shoes on horses, it was fascinating to learn how the process is done and important to understand so that we can properly care for horses who injure their hooves. Next semester I will have small-animal skills labs and I am looking forward to seeing what I will learn there. It’s really encouraging learning some of the skills I will be using on a daily basis when I am on clinics full-time next year. I can’t wait to see what I will learn next!

Learning and Helping at TVMA

I recently had the opportunity to attend the TVMA Annual Conference & Expo, here at the new Veterinary & Biomedical Education Complex, which included lectures, workshops, a tradeshow, and committee meetings. As a veterinary student, I was privileged enough to benefit from this experience and was even able to help with the event.

On Friday, I was lucky enough to serve as one of the student representatives on the Bovine Practitioner Committee. A group of bovine practitioners meet at least twice every year to discuss issues important to their industry and make recommendations to the TVMA on issues that affect them. It was an eye-opening experience to see how these veterinarians interacted with each other, and I learned about emergent issues in the bovine health field that I was not previously aware of, such as an outbreak of fever ticks, the upcoming sunset review, and the new Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD).

On Saturday, I assisted as a moderator in two Continuing Education (CE) programs. Veterinarians are required to earn a certain amount of CE credit hours each year to retain their licenses. This requirement ensures that regardless of how long a veterinarian has been out of school, he or she is still up-to-date on the current advancements in veterinary medicine. Medicine is a constantly evolving field, and clinicians want to make sure they are giving the highest standard of care based on what is currently known. Veterinarians never stop learning. I was able to benefit by listening to some of these CE talks and learn something, as well.

My first CE talk was on backyard poultry. I’m not really the biggest fan of most avian species. I had a pet cockatiel as a child that wasn’t exactly the nicest, and I think it turned me off birds a bit. Consequently, I have more of a gap in my avian knowledge than for other species and thought it’d be a good experience to learn more about them. I couldn’t have asked for a better speaker, as Dr. Patricia Wakenell, from Purdue University, put on not only a very informative lecture, but an extremely entertaining one, as well. She was a wonderful speaker and touched on a multitude of common infections found in backyard poultry. Between the factual information and her anecdotes, I greatly expanded my knowledge on avian health. During lunch, as a member of the Veterinary Business Management Association, I was able to network with some veterinarians who are looking for new associates for their practices in the near future. Afterward, I moderated a CE talk over oxygen therapy and fluid administration for veterinary technicians. This was useful for me, as I currently am taking anesthesia and will soon take surgery, and these are two topics that are critical to the success of many cases.

I’m so happy I took the time off from studying for my usual exams to attend this conference. I’m already looking forward to next year’s. There is a conference in September—the Southwest Veterinary Symposium (SWVS), which is a partnership between Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas—provides CE for veterinary professionals in the southwest region, and I am planning on attending that, as well. I’m so thankful for the many opportunities to learn both in the classroom and outside of it, and I can’t wait for my next one!


Wetlab Weekends

My favorite weekends as a veterinary student are wetlab weekends. There is a club in the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences to fit nearly every student’s interest and many of these organizations take the time to seek out resources and clinicians willing to teach us different veterinary procedures we will be performing on our patients one day. This past Saturday was the Food Animal Wetlab, hosted by the Bovine Practitioners, Small Ruminant Practitioners, and Swine Vets organizations. As a club member of all three, I was excited to get the opportunity to improve my skills and gain some new knowledge about food animal medical procedures.

The first lab I participated in involved simulating an enucleation, which is often performed on cattle that develop squamous cell carcinoma of the eye. This condition is especially common in the Hereford breed, due to their white face and light pigmentation making them particularly susceptible to cell damage during sun exposure. I probably enjoyed this lab the most, as it incorporated some of the new pharmacology knowledge that I have learned this semester and gave me a taste of what’s to come in my upcoming surgery class. I also was able to refresh my suturing skills, which have gotten a little rusty. My next lab was small ruminant dehorning. The procedure for small ruminants is very different than that in cattle, so it was interesting to be able to learn about and compare the two. Afterwards I was able to learn how a claw amputation is performed in the field and how to properly bandage the area.  This procedure is used to prolong and improve the quality of life of cattle with injuries to one side of their hoof.

I’m so grateful for the opportunities available to me, such as this wetlab, through the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. Whether it’s learning a new procedure in a wetlab, or listening to a speaker about new medical advances or learning from a clinician who is willing to take the time to explain one of the many things I still don’t yet understand, I’m extremely fortunate for the people who sacrifice their time to make myself and my classmates the best veterinarians we can be.  I’m looking forward to all the opportunities ahead and expanding my knowledge.

Learning in Second Year

Beginning the second year of veterinary school is something every first year looks forward to. You’re no longer the bottom of the barrel socially or academically. You still feel like you don’t know nearly enough, a feeling that will probably never go away entirely, but sometimes when a professor asks a question in class you might even know the answer without looking it up—not to mention the better schedule.

I am much more aware of the weather patterns so far this year, especially with the nice big windows in the new school, and even get to see the sun on a regular basis. The work is still hard, but the classes are very rewarding and have been leaving me feeling much more fulfilled than the core classes I took my first year. We now know enough to apply our knowledge to case study examples and the thrill of solving a medical puzzle is something that will never get old.

While learning the science behind veterinary medicine is critical, as our classes in parasitology, pathology, pharmacology, and nutrition show us every day, there are other skills that are just as important, or even more so. Our clinical correlates class attempts to expose us to these skills, and so far this semester we have already learned some invaluable lessons.

The first part of the class was devoted to learning medical Spanish. I found this experience invaluable, as it took the skills we had already learned about communication with clients in our first year and made it even more challenging and pertinent to becoming a veterinary practitioner in Texas. Language barriers can be a real problem, as our patients can’t usually tell us what is wrong and we rely on their human other halves to communicate on their behalf. Our Spanish class broke us up according to our skill level and helped everyone to learn something about how to handle a non-English speaking client. Even the fluent Spanish speakers in our class benefited immensely by getting to run through case studies in Spanish and learning medical terminology they otherwise would be unfamiliar with. For intermediates, such as myself, we focused more on basic vocabulary and communication, as well as resources for making sure you can adequately meet the needs of your client even with a language barrier.

I’m looking forward to the rest of my clinical correlates class, as this week I have the opportunity to practice ultrasounding techniques and in coming weeks will be able to rotate through clinical rotations on the handling and care of different species of animals. Even though the classes this year are exciting due to their pertinence to what I will be doing in clinics for the rest of my career, it is still easy to become stressed and lose your perspective on that light at the end of the tunnel. Correlates is a class that really helps ground me and reminds me of why I want to practice veterinary medicine, guaranteeing I don’t lose the drive I need to push through my more challenging work.

CVM Open House

Open House at the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences was last weekend. Admittedly, everyone who helped out with the event, myself included, is pretty tired today. But, it was a great day that displayed all that veterinary medicine has to offer. Visitors were able to tour the facilities; perform “Teddy Bear Surgery;” meet some dogs, reptiles, and maybe even a unicorn; and watch demonstrations by a few animal groups that were kind enough to come. It was a great day that helped reveal the diversity present in the field of veterinary medicine.

As a veterinary student, it’s very easy to get lost in the flood of information we are presented with every day. While we all know vet school is worth the hard work, and we would not be here if this wasn’t our passion, sometimes we can lose sight of the excitement and wonder that brought us here. An event like Open House is wonderful not just for the public, who is able to catch a glimpse of what we have to offer, but also for us vet students because it reminds us of why we are here. The best part is interacting with the children, who are so excited about anything and everything to do with animals. We can all see ourselves in these kids, who may very well one day be in the same spot we are now as veterinary students. I helped sell enough plastic stethoscopes that I think I met a few Aggie vets in the making. With finals coming up and the last few exams of the semester taking place, it was well worth the time to volunteer to help put this event on.

I hope that everyone who attended Open House had a fantastic time and learned something new! If you weren’t able to make it there’s always next year, which I’m sure will be even bigger and better.

First Year of Veterinary School–Take Two

At the end of a crazy first semester at veterinary school I promised myself I’d be more on top of things. I’d fill out my planner, look over all my notes the night after the lecture, and never have to panic before a major exam. Then the first day of second semester happened, and that all went out the window. It’s only been two weeks, but the sheer amount of information that we are learning is staggering. There just never seems to be enough hours in the day. But, even though I’ve had to come to terms with the fact I will never be on top of things, I do feel I have the skills to tackle this semester. And the fact that what I’m learning still manages to excite me is reassuring—even if it first takes a couple cups of coffee some days.

My favorite part of veterinary school is when we have the opportunity to get hands-on experience with animals or simulations. The Student Chapter of the American Association of Equine Practitioners (SCAAEP) had a wet lab the weekend after we started school. It was certainly a reminder of why I’m putting so much effort into studying and getting through the coursework. The wet lab was a fantastic resource, with veterinary students coming from across the country to attend it.

There were quite a few labs to pick from.  I participated
in an ultrasound lab, a farrier skills lab (some horses need shoes too!), a field necropsy lab, and a mare reproduction lab. There was a mix of using live animals and simulators in order to develop the skills associated with each lab. I was particularly excited after the ultrasound lab. Ultrasound images always have looked like a mass of black and gray fuzz to me. After having some time to play around with the machine and using some anatomy I’ve learned in class, I was actually able to start making some sense of what I was seeing on the screen. I honestly thought I’d never see the day. And, that feeling of having something click is why no matter how challenging veterinary school may be on a day-to-day basis, it is exactly where I want to be.

Veterinary Ethics

It’s hard to believe I am already halfway through my first semester of veterinary school.  Simultaneously, it is equally as hard to believe that I’ve only been in Texas for just over two months.  With all of the new information and tasks assigned to us on a daily basis, my class begins to lay the foundation for our veterinary career, and time seems to race while also standing still. While the classwork has been a bit of a struggle for me, I am continually reminded why it is I am seeking a veterinary degree. Whether it is the opportunity to practice administering a physical exam, one of the clinicians taking the time to bring students on patient rounds, or participating in herd work, there are many chances to get practical experience and remind yourself why you are studying hard every day.

For me, the reminder came in the form of an ethics session this past week. The 1VMs stayed late after classes to meet with practicing veterinarians, who came from all over the state of Texas to lead groups of us in a discussion about different ethical issues we may face as members of the veterinary profession. I found this to be an important conversation to have. On a day-to-day basis my classmates and I struggle with the knowledge we need in order to one day make the right decisions that will save an animal’s life. It is difficult to sometimes remember that in addition to being proficient at our jobs, we will also be professionals within a small community. As such, we may be faced with difficult decisions that are not strictly confined to the realms of science or as clear cut as we would like.

As one of the veterinarians who lead my group’s discussion reminded us, veterinary medicine is, at its heart, a people-focused profession. Vets not only need to take care of the patient, but also ensure that the owner comprehends the situation, their options, and the ramifications any potential decisions they make may have. Veterinarians have an obligation to serve their patient, their client, and their community as a whole in the most humane and ethical manner possible. The ethics session was a useful opportunity to discuss issues pressing to the profession that we will one day become members of. It also gave us the opportunity to hear the viewpoints of experienced practitioners who have dealt firsthand with many of the problems we will eventually face. It was a great learning experience and well worth the long day.