Life Lessons in Veterinary School
The veterinary school curriculum is designed to teach you many things. Yes, you will learn plenty of anatomy, physiology, and pathology, but there are some things that aren’t part of the curriculum that vet school teaches you, as well.
I feel like each semester I have learned at least one very important lesson that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.
In my first semester, that lesson was that failures are a part of life and everything will be OK afterwards. My second semester, I learned that hard work pays off, and my third semester, I learned that it is OK to take the time to take care of yourself.
This semester—which is my sixth, and final, semester of coursework before starting clinical rotations—has already taught me so much in such a short period of time.
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about the fragility of life and the most important things in it, and there is really only one answer that I keep coming back to—people. I can honestly say that if it weren’t for the incredible people in my life, I would not be counting down the months until graduation (15, in case you were wondering).
My classmates and friends have been a huge driving force in my life these past three years. They provide support and encouragement. They share in my struggles. And, in the end, we all earn our victory together.
There have been many times that I have felt defeated and one of my friends reminds me that it might be one failing exam grade but it does not define me as a person.
There’s also my dad, who calls at least once a week to ask me how my week is going and to make sure I get a healthy dose of “dad jokes” and my mom, who always keeps me in the loop about what’s going on at home and reminds me that there is a world outside of vet school.
My two sisters are a constant source of love and always bring a smile to my face. My nieces look up to me so much—one even says she wants to be a veterinarian when she grows up—and that is enough motivation to keep anyone going.
Last, but certainly not least, my husband goes above and beyond to take care of me and support my dreams. He deserves a gold medal for all that he does on a daily basis.
These people have all done their part to make me successful, and I hope I do a good enough job of returning that love to them. I hope that I never take any of them for granted.
All of this to say, whether you are focused on trying to get into veterinary school, struggling through vet school, or trying to advance your career, never forget to take the time to nourish and appreciate your relationships. At the end of the day, the people in your life are what matters most, so make sure that they know that.
The Jigsaw Puzzle
Nine years ago, I informed my boss that I was leaving the company where I had been working for 12 years to pursue a career in veterinary medicine. The only thing I had at that point was a serious commitment to start this journey.
But now my long journey to become a veterinarian has come to the last 15 months of veterinary school. In three months, I will start my clinical rotations, during which fourth-year veterinary students spend a whole year working in the Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital as a real “baby” doctor.
I feel both panicked and excited to realize that my dream of becoming a veterinarian is about to come true.
I still remember the end of my first day as a veterinary student. I went home and cried. Why? I thought “Physiology” and “Anatomy” were so hard. I had thousands of pieces of jigsaw puzzles in my head. I asked myself, “How am I going to pass these classes?”
Now, I am a third-year veterinary student. And I have the answer for that question.
For the first two years, I learned the different aspects of veterinary medicine: physiology, anatomy, immunology, histology, neuroanatomy, infectious diseases, parasitology, microbiology, pathology, surgery, anesthesia, public health, pharmacology, toxicology, radiology, and many more. Each class is the part of the jigsaw board and has its own space to fill up.
The curriculum is designed to lay the foundation of medical knowledge, and by my third year, all of those jigsaw pieces start coming together and I could see the picture clearer.
I love small animal medicine, through which I can apply the foundational knowledge by analyzing, diagnosing, planning for testing, and offering treatments. Even though I choose to focus on companion animals, I also have learned about large animal medicine.
Additionally, I have selected electives to study particular topics of interest to me in small animals, equine, food animal, swine, avian, and exotics medicine. Some of my highlights were “Oncology,” “Cardiology,” “Clinical Pathology,” “Emergency Medicine,” and “Dermatology.”
Before the end of my third year, I will also have “Avian Medicine,” “Dentistry,” “Feline Medicine” and “Gastroenterology” classes. These are all bits of knowledge I will retain for my career.
It has been a long wait, but the fourth year is just around the corner. My last section of the jigsaw puzzle is about to be complete.
This beautiful picture from my White Coat Ceremony (held at the end of your second year) keeps me encouraged until I walk across the stage to become “Dr. Du, DVM.
My Last Semester in a Classroom
I’ve just started my last semester in the traditional veterinary classroom curriculum. It’s honestly a little weird to think that by this time next year I will have been in a hospital setting for more than half a year and will be just months away from being able to call myself “doctor.”
Over the winter break, I worked at a clinic that I have been at for years. These doctors and technicians have known me since I was a young, wide-eyed pre-vet student in undergrad, and I joke that they basically raised me in this medical aspect of my life.
During this break, I found that the doctors included me more in discussing patient treatment plans and case rounds and technicians would ask my opinion on diagnostics in comparison to the things that I have learned thus far in veterinary school. It’s an interesting situation to find myself agreeing or questioning medical decisions that I am asked to fulfill because I now actually have some limited understanding of the application of medicine.
While that’s super exciting and I’m so relieved that I’m relatively competent in the field that I have pursued for most of my life, I’m also realizing the amount of responsibility that I’m going to be handling in the near future.
I’m gearing up to start applying for big-kid jobs, refining my resume and making connections with future employers; I’m coming to terms with my financial situation once I graduate: salary negotiations, budgeting, and payment plans for my student loan debt.
But I also feel more appreciation for the dedication this school has to its students. It’s more than just making us DVMs; I appreciate that we have started an entire course dedicated to these “adult responsibilities,” in which we meet with financial advisers and veterinarians who want to help us overcome these life hurdles. I was so worried that I would be thrown into the real world and told to figure out all of these incredibly important things, but, instead, I am going to at least get some explanation of what is needed and expected of me.
Part of me still feels like a child being dragged kicking and screaming into the adult world. Yet another part of me feels a little less lost knowing that, so far, my education has, for the most part, stuck well enough for me to understand most medical practices. That side of me is excited to start the last leg of my education and to reach my childhood goal of becoming a vet.
As I am driving along State Highway 21 from College Station back to Dallas for winter break, I am feeling both joy and anxiety.
My friend’s words are stuck in my head: “We are 5/8 doctor!” as we just finished our fifth semester in veterinary school. The joyful part is that I’m more than half way through my veterinary education; the anxiety-laden part is that there are only three semesters left before I become a doctor and go out into the real world.
It feels like it was just yesterday when I drove along this highway from Dallas to College Station for my vet school interview. Five semesters have gone by very fast.
However, it has laid a very strong foundation. The highlight of this semester was the surgery class. It was stressful, but I gained more confidence after each surgery laboratory, which includes a surgery group of three students rotating weekly through the roles of surgeon, assistant surgeon, and anesthetist.
The surgeon needs to be certain in surgical procedures and the anatomy of the patient. Once the procedure starts and the patient is under anesthesia, we are on the clock.
The anesthetist must monitor how deep the patient is under the anesthetic gas and that adequate oxygen flow is delivered to the patient. The blood pressure, heart rate, respiratory rate, and body temperature must be within normal range. The assistant surgeon needs to be sure that the proper surgical equipment and aseptically (protected against infections) technique be prepared for surgery.
During this learning process, besides the surgical knowledge, I also learned to communicate effectively with my surgical team. Upon completing this course, I feel I’ve gained the confidence to continue my journey as a doctor.
I can see that next time I drive back home on this state highway, I will be driving as a “6/8 doctor,” and, finally, in May 2020, I will become “a doctor.”
I have recently been tasked with submitting my fourth-year rotation preferences for our next, and last, year. I cannot believe how quickly the time has passed. I was so overwhelmed when the administration first introduced this process to us.
The way our fourth year of veterinary school works is we enter into the Small and Large Animal Teaching Hospitals from May 2019 to May 2020. During this timeframe, we spend two weeks’ time on each of a series of rotations to gain experience in a clinical setting, making our own decisions, and taking care of patients.
It is our last step to becoming a doctor, other than passing the NAVLE (North American Veterinary Licensing Examination), of course.
The first decision we must make for our fourth year of veterinary school is choosing a track. These tracks include small animal, large animal, mixed, or alternative track. I settled on doing mixed animal, which is a combination of small and large animal track.
Although most of my experiences outside of school are small animal related, I have found a passion and interest in ruminants and chickens that I would like to continue to pursue through my education here at Texas A&M.
Then, we are given a choice of our rotations; some are elective and others are required. Of some of the required rotations, we have a month of anesthesia, two weeks of surgery, and two weeks at the Houston SPCA. In my chosen rotation selections, I chose community equine practice and the exotics rotation.
We also select a month to do externships at other hospitals and clinics. This was my most stressful decision. It’s so difficult to decide a timeframe to commit to going to another clinic when it’s so far away.
All in all, I believe I chose the right rotations, externships, and track to make the most of my remaining time here at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine.
One of the most highly anticipated days for a veterinary student is the day you do your first spay or neuter in third year. That day is almost here for me!
We have put in so much time and effort to get to this point, and I’ll have to admit, there are some times that I feel out of my depth facing clinics next year. Despite all of the information I’ve crammed into my head over the past two years, I realize that just knowing all the medicine doesn’t fully prepare you to practice medicine. Surgery, especially, is one of the most daunting hurdles to reach and is a rite of passage for students.
The really cool thing about third-year surgeries is that not only are we forwarding our experience in school, but we’re also giving back to the community. All of the animals are from local animal shelters; the school provides the surgeries free of charge for shelters and future owners to encourage adoption, because spays and neuters are one of the most costly parts of adopting an animal. Spaying and neutering also will prevent aggressive behavior and will remove the risk of infection (most commonly talked about is pyometra).
Every animal is assigned to a surgical group and looked after for a week, getting loved on and spoiled during their stays. We spend this time bonding with our soon-to-be patients and applying our learned knowledge to a real-life animal. The surgeries are overseen by board certified surgeons.
And then once the surgery is done and the patients have been observed for post-op recovery, they are all put up for adoption. What I think is funny is that it’s not uncommon for some of the students to inquire about their patient’s adoption status and may even adopt the animals themselves.
Ultimately, I love this feature of this profession and this school, in particular—that we actively work to the benefit of the animals in our community while also educating students to continue this service in their future careers. It’s just a part of being one step closer to becoming a full-fledged baby dog-tor!
OK…I can do This
My experience in veterinary school so far has been an exhilarating, eye-opening, challenging journey. While I’ve had its extreme highs and lows, I can honestly say that I have enjoyed the ride.
At the end of my second year this past spring—the halfway point in the veterinary program—however, I had a mounting fear growing in the back of my mind. I was afraid that I had spent so long in the classroom that I wouldn’t actually know what to do in a real clinical setting in which people are looking to me for answers.
To some, this may seem like an irrational fear, but to me and other veterinary students, it is a very realistic fear that we frequently struggle with. I remember thinking, “I’ve literally been in school my entire life; do I even know how to do anything other than be in school?” So that was how I ended my second year, full of self-doubt.
I didn’t intend to waste my final summer vacation, though. I reached out to numerous veterinary practices in my hometown area and asked if I could do an externship at their clinics. Many of them said yes and were very happy to have me. I was very excited to spend time in these clinics, but also still very nervous.
Once there, though, I was surprised to find that at the clinics I went to, I was treated by the veterinarians and their staff not as a student who didn’t know anything but as a future colleague. Veterinarians and technicians alike were happy to answer all of my questions and teach me new skills, as well. Many of the clinics I went to even allowed me to get a large amount of hands-on experience doing different things, which really helped my confidence.
Among all of the vets I shadowed this summer, their years of experience in practice ranged from one year to 42 years! This was very helpful to get to listen and learn from years of wisdom but to also get to hear from someone who was just in the same situation as I am now.
As the weeks went by, my confidence grew and my fear diminished. I realized that I was more capable than I initially thought I was.
I also realized that while I still have room for improvement in certain areas (and likely always will), there is no need to try to be perfect or even to know all of the answers right away. That is what colleagues and mentors are for—to help you along the way. And sometimes it’s important to know when you need to ask for help.
I realized from watching and working with all of these vets that I will get there someday, too, and until then I will just keep working hard and worrying less.
“Never be afraid to try something new. Remember, amateurs built the ark, professionals built the Titanic.” —unknown
Taking on Phoenix
Recently, 10 Texas A&M veterinary students, including myself, traveled to Phoenix, Arizona, for the 51st annual American Association of Bovine Practitioners (AABP) Conference. As if simply attending my very first AABP conference wasn’t exciting enough, three fellow third-year veterinary students and I had the opportunity to compete in the Quiz Bowl competition!
The Quiz Bowl is bracket-style competition, during which students must not only be well-versed in a variety of bovine veterinary medicine related topics, but also have lightning-fast fingers in order hit the buzzer before another team does! While our team, unfortunately, did not advance out of the first round (congratulations to University of Georgia for winning our round and the entire competition!), it was still a very fun, worthwhile experience and I am proud of our team!
The AABP Conference also offered a trade show with more than 100 exhibitors ranging from pharmaceutical and ultrasound companies to our very own Texas A&M Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory! The most beneficial part of the trade show, for me, was learning about a student loaner ultrasound program, through which students can request to borrow an ultrasound for use during a two-week externship. As someone who plans to practice dairy medicine, the opportunity to have substantial reproductive ultrasound experience prior to graduating from vet school is HUGE and I am so excited about taking advantage of this opportunity.
When not wandering around at the trade show, talking to company reps and snagging some cool freebies, you could likely have found me sitting in on the dairy sessions. What was neat about the AABP conference is that they offered concurrent dairy, beef, practice-management and student sessions—something to pique everyone’s interest! Talks on the use of thoracic ultrasound to monitor lung health in dairy calves, antimicrobial stewardship (presented by Texas A&M’s own Dr. Virginia Fajt), and field necropsy were just some of the many diverse topics aimed at equipping us to embody this year’s conference theme to “Become Indispensable.”
Another highlight of the conference was the opportunity to reconnect with friends made at past externships, as well as meet other students and veterinarians. We came to Phoenix from all over the country, but we all have one thing in common—we are proud to be future and current bovine practitioners and will continue to strive to do the best job we can protecting the beef and dairy industries.
The countdown is on for next year’s AABP conference in St Louis, Missouri! 🙂