Vet School from a Distance

The COVID-19 pandemic has, in a matter of days, changed just about everything in our daily lives, and our veterinary education is no exception. Near the end of our spring break, we received word that classes during the subsequent week would be cancelled to allow planning for a pivot to an online format.

What does an online veterinary education look like, you ask? Great question!

As I write this, our veterinary classes are set to resume in a few days, so I don’t have all the answers. What I can tell you is what life for me has looked like for the past week. Although no formal classes were held, our instructors continued to post class material so that we could continue our learning.

Back in College Station, our instructors have been working tirelessly to revise their courses to an online format. They posted new syllabi to reflect modifications to class formats, exam schedules, assignment due dates, and exam formats. Some classes will lecture by virtual video conferencing (such as Zoom), other classes will have content posted ahead of time for us to watch at our leisure, and other classes will ask us to review content ahead of time then meet virtually during our normal class time for a Q&A session. While it will be challenging to adapt to the various learning styles, I am extremely grateful that we may continue our education during this unprecedented time.

Day-to-day life as a student looks a little bit different for everyone. Many of my classmates, myself included, are in their hometowns to be close (albeit socially distanced!) to loved ones. I am currently living with my partner and his roommate in Oregon.

Because of the time difference, I am trying to wake up early each day so that when classes resume I can cope with taking tests and being functional at 6 a.m. Pacific Time. It’s a small price to pay for being able to stay home and close to my parents and loved ones. My classmates and I study and collaborate via Google Docs. When the weather is nice, I take a break from studying by exploring the nearby walking trails. I stay in touch with friends and family by phone, Facetime, and social media. When all else fails, there are always board games to stay entertained.

Although these are uncertain times, I take comfort in knowing that my classmates, my instructors, and I are all doing our best to adapt to the evolving situation and keep each other safe. Our resiliency has helped us get to where we are now, and it will help us get through whatever the next few months hold.

Building Foundations

One of the first things you receive as a first-year veterinary student is a “bone-box” for anatomy. This bone-box contains pieces of a dog skeleton that you will learn in its entirety over the course of the semester.

On the first day of class, I remember receiving my bone box and being instructed to inspect each bone for cracks, abnormalities, or blemishes.

I felt the tendrils of panic creep in as I looked at the checklist of bones—radius, ulna, femur, tibia, fibula, to name a few—and again at my box of bones, soon realizing that I had no idea what a canine (dog) radius looked like, let alone what any of the bony prominences should look like. Before I spiraled too far, a classmate who had prior experience with anatomy helped me identify and inspect my bones.

I am now in my 10th week of my first semester of veterinary school, and we have already learned most of the bones in our bone-box, as well as each bony prominence and its muscular attachments. In addition, we have learned of each bone’s relative position in the canine body and its relationships to all the surrounding musculature, nerves, and vessels.

Black dog with students sitting in grass
Practicing palpations on my classmate’s dog, Snoozy.

The learning curve to get from day one to week 10 was quite steep, and I am continuously adapting my study strategies.

Over the past 10 weeks, I have consistently found one of the most valuable strategies to involve some form of group-studying. My classmates and I are all coming to veterinary school with different strengths and weaknesses; together, we can fill in each other’s gaps in knowledge, test each other, and discuss connections across our curriculum.

One of our upcoming anatomy assessments will be in the form of a live dog (or cat, if you’re feeling brave) palpation, during which we will be assessed on our ability to find and locate certain bony prominences, musculature, blood vessels, and organs.

Being able to apply everything we have learned so far in anatomy will be utilized in building our personal knowledge of a normal physical exam. Even though each of us will eventually be conducting our physical exams independently, we are able to support each other through group-study in learning the process.

Although we are only 10 weeks into our formal veterinary education, we have already laid a foundation for a lifetime of collaboration and learning from each other.