Eating the Elephant

Katelyn K.The moment I have been working toward for, seemingly, forever has finally arrived—I started vet school!

At first, the thought of everything required of you is completely overwhelming, and all at once the analogy that is often associated with vet school (“drinking water out of a fire hose”) is all too accurate, but the thing that has been said to me many times and has helped me ease into it is,  “The only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time.” That’s exactly what vet school is—an elephant of an education.

The first two weeks have consisted of getting into a routine and figuring out what is the best way to study for each course, since there is no universal method for every single one, and above all else, figuring out what actually works for me. Eating the elephant one bite at a time was the best advice because, for me, writing down my daily tasks and achieving the majority of those small pieces of the puzzle is much less intimidating and much more doable than striving for the biggest goal or goals all at once—like studying material every day, rather than studying only when the exams come up.

Things that I’ve never had to navigate before, like spending a considerable amount of time studying in groups and going into the anatomy lab almost every day to prepare for an upcoming exam, are now part of my daily routine.

Another thing that I’ve found extremely helpful during these first weeks is whenever our professors say everything is taught for a reason, they truly mean it! This makes the daily ins and outs much more exciting, since I know that I’ll be using my newly learned communication and catheter placement skills throughout my entire professional life!

In going forward for the next few years, I know there will be ups and downs and a huge variety of experiences on this marathon of an education, but I can’t wait to encounter them, one step at a time.

One Down, Three to Go

Caitlin with her friends
Caitlin (far right) and her friends celebrate the milestone of completing their first year of veterinary school.

I cannot believe that I am writing this, but I just finished my first year of veterinary school! I have spent so much of my life anticipating vet school that it was really weird to be done with the first year and considered a “second-year” because I had not spent any time thinking about how that would feel.

It was a year full of adjustment and learning a lot, but my first year of vet school was a blast. Something that is really neat is that A&M revamped their curriculum, so we had so many hands-on experiences this year. My first semester, I learned how to do physical exams on dogs, horses, and cattle, and then we got to practice them again that semester. I liked it so much because working with the animals kept reminding me of the reasons I wanted to be a vet amidst all of the difficult classes.

This semester, we learned how to perform physical exams on tortoises, rabbits, and pigeons, exams I never thought that I would do or learn. One of the most useful skills that we learned (in my opinion) is how to work an ultrasound machine. I have probably put my hands on an ultrasound probe and worked with the machine at least four times; this is a skill that I know that I will need in practice, so it is great to start learning it now. I also have had time to become acquainted with the orientation of the patient when they receive an ultrasound, and the models that they let us practice on were really helpful in being able to figure out how to hold the probe and the types of hand motions needed to move it.

With the new curriculum, our first year in the classroom also looked a little different. Our first semester, we took the typical classes like anatomy and physiology and immunology, but we also had a class called “Integrated Animal Care” in which we learned from the A&M clinicians how best to treat a normal animal. We learned about animal behavior, vaccine schedules, and how best to care for neonates (a newborn animal), things that I know I will need and use when I graduate in three years.

My favorite part about my first year of vet school has been all of the communication practice that we have received. We have worked with actors who simulate a veterinarian-patient interaction, and it has been so helpful to start these encounters early. We learn from professors who know a lot about communicating well, and it is cool to see how it can even affect my day to day life as I listen and try to communicate well with people.

My first year was one of growth and adjustment, but it makes me all the more excited to continue with the program and learn how to be the best vet that I can be. I truly believe that I will learn about being a great vet who practices good medicine, and I cannot wait to continue with that as a second year in the fall.

Celebrating the Small Things

Caitlin O.Veterinary school is tough, but it is so worth it. The best part of school is getting to finally learn about what you have wanted to learn about for so long—veterinary medicine. When you can look at what you are learning and then apply it to something you have seen when you have shadowed or worked previously, it makes class so much fun.

After so many days of class and lab, though, vet school also can be exhausting. It is hard to maintain that same excitement you had during orientation; you forget to look at the things you are learning and see a clinical application. Instead, you see another topic to study before your first test.

One thing that I have learned from this year, my first in vet school, is to celebrate the small things. There are so many times when I wish that I had gotten a better grade on a test or that I had more time to sleep, but when I walk into school everyday and remind myself that I get to go to vet school, I have such a different outlook on the day; I remember that I want to be here and that this is getting me so much closer to getting into practice and seeing everything in person that I am currently learning.

When you look at your day, there are many small things to celebrate. Some of my favorite things are when we get out of class five minutes early or when it is a beautiful day outside and we get to sit in the courtyard for lunch. Another great day is when we don’t have to wear closed-toed shoes. Even getting the clicker questions right in class is something to celebrate.

I think my favorite thing to celebrate is when I get to the parking lot at the same time as my friends so we get to walk the eight minutes from our cars to the school together. It is so fun to see a friendly face before I even walk into the building, and it gives me time to hear about their lives or swap funny stories from the night before.

Celebrating the small things has helped me find vet school really enjoyable. There are late nights studying and difficult tests, but they are all worth it for the learning opportunities that I have. And that is the greatest thing of all to celebrate—I have wonderful learning opportunities because I am now in vet school, a place I have wanted to be my whole life.

Weather Days: A New Tradition?

Caitlin O.The best part of the bad weather days??? NO SCHOOL!! This semester, school was cancelled the Tuesday after our three-day, Martin Luther King Jr. weekend because of the ice. It was so nice to have two extra days of the weekend during which I could get to sleep in and study a little. I did not have much schoolwork to catch up on, because classes for veterinary students had just begun the week before, so I studied some, and then I also got to spend time with friends and just enjoy the extra day. After four weeks apart from people with whom I am use to spending all day, every day, I was so grateful that I was able to spend the day catching up not only on school but on friends’ lives and their breaks.

There is a catch with getting a random day off, though. Because the day was not planned, we did have to make up the labs that we missed, and on Tuesdays, first-year veterinary students have three different labs, so making up the classes was frustrating. I wanted to be back in grade school where some weather days were built into the schedule, but that is not the case here because everything that we are supposed to cover in vet school is important enough to make up.

Last semester, we had an unplanned weather day the second week of class, and there is a saying at A&M that once something happens twice it is a tradition. Maybe days off in the second week of school will become a tradition, but I almost hope that it doesn’t so that I don’t have to spend one of my few free Friday afternoons making up important labs. I guess we will just have to wait and see if the tradition continues.

Finding ‘Balance’ as a First-Year Vet Student

Caitlin with her mom at a football game
When Caitlin’s mom visited for the weekend, Caitlin and took her to an Aggie football game.

Going into a professional program, you hear that all you will be doing is studying and going to class. Say goodbye to sleep, friends, family, etc.

I heard all of these things coming into veterinary school, and, honestly, it was really discouraging. I didn’t want my outside life to be put on hold for four years while I pursued the education that would shape my career.

Vet school was preceded by three days of orientation in which my classmates and I received many reminders to have a school-life balance. That was the first realization that school might not be as daunting as I thought.

While I had thought that I would go in and four years from now I would see my friends, what I was hearing day after day was that I would still have friends as long as I made the choice to see them outside of school. Sometimes studying would have to be put on hold and I would have to make the conscious effort to see the people who matter to me.


Caitlin and her friends
Caitlin with the friends who have helped her make it through her first semester of veterinary school

This doesn’t mean that I have time every day to sit at a coffee shop and hang out with everyone. I am in class from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, and I still want to learn the information and make sure that I understand what I am supposed to know so that four years down the road, I can be the best veterinarian I want to be. I also was reminded day after day that my school could not be my entire life, so I’ve taken opportunities this semester to have some fun by celebrating with one of my roommates on the day she received her Aggie Ring, spending an entire weekend with my mom and going with her to an Aggie football game (which was so much fun!), and taking study breaks by spending time with the friends who have helped me make it through my first semester.

I just also have to remember that on those days that are tough to get through that I don’t have to go at it alone; I can take a break and have a meal with friends because they are important, too.