Spring Break, Indeed

Let’s be honest—veterinary school is no walk in the park. It’s designed to push, challenge, and shape you into the best possible veterinarian you can be, all while learning all of the factors that affect every species of patient you could possibly encounter.

Kelsi and her friends in CaboOne thing I have come to appreciate more than I ever could have imagined prior to starting veterinary school is the value of a break.

In the past, I have always spent my Spring Break working either for money or to better my veterinary school application; returning to school tended to be more relaxing than the week outside of class. I never imagined I would be able to afford to vacation somewhere for the break, so I always booked something else that week in order to have a reason other than a lack of funds to decline invitations.

This year, for the first time ever, I made the decision to ACTUALLY give myself a break, and it was one of the best decisions I could have ever made. Ever the money-conscious veterinary students, my roommate and I shopped around for deals and opportunities for mini-vacations and stumbled an affordable, all-inclusive adventure.

At 5 p.m. on March 8, my two roommates, a friend, and I headed out of College Station to go drop off our dogs and make our way to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.

My fellow first-year veterinary student roommate and I had made a pact to truly give ourselves a break, meaning there would be no school work or conversation on our trip. For the next week we laid in the sun, rode jet skis in the ocean waves, napped, ate and drank as we pleased at an all-inclusive resort with not a single textbook or alarm in sight.

It was glorious.

I returned to school this week feeling completely refreshed and ready to tackle these last seven weeks of my first year of veterinary school.

While it was an adjustment to go back to being in class all day instead of taking midday naps by the pool, the 15 exams I have left in this semester does not fill me with dread like they did on March 8.

I can honestly say that choosing to allow myself to take a break was the best thing I could have ever done.

The Surprise of a Lifetime

Hannah and Tommy
Hannah and Tommy

Last semester, I started my job as a BIMS Ambassador for the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, and I have absolutely loved it!

As part of our ambassador responsibilities, we give tours of the college, which allows me to meet so many interesting people and alumni, and I also get the opportunity to help families with students who are looking into either a BIMS degree, veterinary school, or both!

Last October, I gave a tour to a very nice couple, Tommy and Laurie, and their 8-year-old grandson, Cooper, who was very interested in animals. Tommy, an alumnus from the Class of ‘69, had a lot of great stories to tell about A&M and his time here, and I could tell that he really enjoyed being back to see the college and its students. Needless to say, the tour went very smoothly and was a lot of fun—I learned as much from Tommy as he did from me!

After the tour, I did not expect to hear from Tommy again, but oh boy was I wrong!

Fast forward to early February—I receive an email from my supervisors saying that they had a special request for me and that they would like me to stop by their office that week. Thinking it was going to be a request to set up a tour I would give, I walked into the office the next day with my planner and a pencil, ready to write down a date and time.

Hannah J in her new truck from Tommy

Not in a million years could I have seen what was coming next.

I sat down in one of the chairs, and my boss, Jennifer, jokingly told me I wasn’t in trouble, asked me if I remembered Tommy; she then proceeded to read an email he had sent the week prior.

At this point, I really had no idea what was going on, but could tell that the request wasn’t about giving a tour anymore. Then I heard the words “I was wondering if she would like to accept my old truck as a gift.”

I immediately gasped, my hand flew to cover my mouth while my eyes involuntarily formed tears that were soon streaming down my face. As she kept reading, the crying got much, much more intense, and now that I finally understood what was going on, I certainly could not believe it.

I spent probably another 20 minutes or so crying—very, very ugly crying; nothing was held back—and trying to regain my composure, which was proving very hard to do.

Jennifer and I spoke about some of the details regarding the situation and awed over what a generous gift and a generous person this was. Tommy had not only remembered me from my tour, but had remembered where I was from and that I had casually mentioned that I didn’t have a mode of transportation. 

I remember saying, “This school…this school is such a special place.”

As I was sitting in the office, I called Tommy on the phone to let him know I had received the news and to thank him profusely, during which he gave his reason for giving me the truck: “Aggies help Aggies.” 

So, the first weekend of Spring Break, I met Tommy again and picked up the truck! It is a 2000 F-150, navy blue, and…a manual! I had never even seen the inside of a manual vehicle in my life, much less driven one, but I was definitely determined to get the hang of it as quickly as possible!

A lot of my Spring Break was spent getting lessons from my boyfriend and driving around the neighborhood, updating Tommy on how I was doing with it. The first day was definitely the most frustrating, but by the third, it was fun, and on the eighth day, I was even able to take it on the highway!

Tommy's old truckI will be forever grateful to Tommy and his generosity; knowing that he even considered giving his old truck to me warms my heart, but the fact that he actually did ignites my desire to pay the good deed forward.

There are two things I had learned already, but are now so much more strongly held beliefs: one is that there is no other college like Texas A&M, not in Texas, nor in the country—it has such spirit, found just as strong in alumni as in current students. And two, that being kind to everyone you meet will get you places you never expected to be.

Keeping Bee-sy

Cora and her partner removes frames
Cora and her research partner remove frames from a hive at a local apiary as part of her research with the Texas A&M Entomology Department.

As a Tier One research university, Texas A&M is globally renowned for its research and academic excellence. Coming to College Station with this knowledge, I still never expected to get involved with research.

My previous conceptions regarded research as something dull and boring; I pictured research as sitting at a desk all day investigating dead ends and pointless work.

Yet, my coursework within a veterinary entomology class sparked an interest in me I never thought possible.

In this class, I learned about problems plaguing honey bee colonies around the world—deformed wing virus and Nosema fungal spores are two of the largest killers of honey bees. Immediately, I became interested in preventatives or treatments for these pathogens, but then I learned there were none.

Shortly after, I was offered the opportunity to join a research laboratory within the Texas A&M Entomology Department that is centered around finding cures for this RNA virus and parasitic fungus.

Although optimistic about the opportunity to participate in undergraduate research, my lingering apprehension remained.

However, within a short span of months, my perception about research has completely changed. I have learned invaluable laboratory skills and knowledge about honey bees, including their ecology and biology.

In fact, more recently I visited the local apiary, where most research with bees in the Texas A&M Entomology Department is conducted. At the apiary, my research partner and I practiced identifying different levels of bees and smoking frames to mellow out honey bees from their overactive or angry states.

My newfound experiences in research have been so exciting and telling of the different kinds of opportunities available at Texas A&M.

I look forward to the transformative experiences left in my time here in College Station and the impact I can make on honey bee populations!

Having Fun in Second Year

Caitlin with her friends
Caitlin (far right) and her friends at this year’s Fur Ball, an annual formal event for veterinary students

I am in my second year of veterinary school, and I have to say that this semester has been so fun! I think that it has even been my favorite so far.

This semester, we have been learning how to do surgery and anesthesia, while also learning how to interpret radiographs. In previous semesters, I have seen the clinical significance of what we are doing, but this semester, it is even more apparent.

One of the neat things about class is that we have been getting to use what are called syndavers to simulate surgery. They are these very realistic, synthetic models that allow us to perform many different abdominal procedures and get practice suturing.

In “surgery,” we are split into groups of three students, and each week we have a different surgery to learn how to perform. I am really grateful for the dedication that our professors and school have to helping us learn.

As if learning more about being a veterinarian isn’t enough, we also get our white coats in April! That is something to look forward to, because it feels like I have hit a milestone once I get my white coat. It technically signifies the beginning of our experience in the hospitals at Texas A&M, but, even more excitingly, it marks the almost halfway point of veterinary school.

As I think about my time as an undergraduate, I recall how I couldn’t even imagine getting into veterinary school, so now that I am almost halfway done, it is kind of surreal.

I don’t really know what to expect from the final two years of school, but if it is anything like the first two, I think that I will like them a lot.

Communication 101

Mary Margaret with her goat
Mary Margaret, goat whisperer (OK, it’s not really related to the story, but it’s cute…)

I opened the door and she was right in my face, spewing endless fears about her cat dying in the back room. She was a constant stream of worry and concern, pulling at her hair and filling my ears with the sounds of escalating panic. “Can I see her?” “Is she going to die?” “I don’t know what to do; she’s never been this bad before!”

 

It was like walking into a room with the living embodiment of pure anxiety.

We sat down and I calmly talked her off the cliff long enough to have a serious conversation about the care her cat was about to receive. Yeah, not so much. As we sat, she panicked externally while I panicked internally and tried to remember how to stave off an anxiety attack long enough to get a form signed and get out of there.

This was communication training for veterinary students. It is one of the most terrifying things we face in veterinary school, and one of the best opportunities we have to get ready for life as a veterinarian.

It starts off innocently enough in first year, with actors playing clients, and students working through a simple history-taking exercise, just trying to get the information needed to assess the patient. As we moved up in the curriculum, the scenarios get more challenging, with our third year putting us in front of enraged clients, anxious clients, clients whose pets have horrible diseases, clients who are determined to criticize everything the veterinarian says or does.

After we painfully work through each scenario, we have the opportunity to discuss the scenes with our classmates and professors, as well as the actor.

We receive feedback on our active-listening skills, how empathetic we were, whether we achieved our goal for the scenario, and how the client felt and what they heard. Our classmates offer constructive criticism, and we talk through other ways it could have played out.

Watching my classmates work through their scenarios, and completing my own, has given me more confidence going into our fourth year, where we are expected to be mini-doctors and handle all those tough talks.

Any panicky clients coming through the front door? I’ve got this.

Exercising My Knowledge

Paisley with cast
Paisley, being a good sport

One of the many incredible things about veterinary medicine and Texas A&M is that not all learning happens in a classroom! Now that I’m in my third year of veterinary school, I have come to truly appreciate any opportunity to learn beyond sitting in a chair listening to lecture.

As ready as I am to hit the clinic floor come my fourth year in May, I am a little apprehensive to find out exactly how much I have learned. I am thankfully reassured every time I get the chance to exercise my knowledge.

My pet Labrador Retriever, Paisley, also gets to participate from time to time. In exchange for staying still enough for me and my groupmates to practice casting her leg or running an ultrasound, Paisley gets more treats and attention than she could ever ask for. As almost any Lab would, she loves it!

Not every day can be “Bring Your Lab to Lab Day,” though. Thankfully, we have models that also serve as great learning tools.

Laine performing ultrasoundRecently, in Orthopedic Surgery, we practiced fixing fractures on synthetic plastic bones. Although they weren’t exactly like the real thing, it was good practice trying to align the bone and drive a pin through it to stabilize it.

By the end of the lab, I really got to admire how good I had gotten at twisting my wire tight.

I was surprised to find that something I never would have considered doing in normal practice two years ago—fixing a fracture with pins and wires—seemed totally feasible in the next year or two. What I had considered as a “specialty” procedure before, I now consider doing in the future if my patients need it all because I’m more comfortable performing it now.

It’s amazing how much a single lab can change your viewpoint!

One of my favorite hands-on opportunities is one that isn’t even specific to the veterinary college. Disaster Day is an annual disaster simulation that nursing, medicine, public health, and veterinary students all get to participate in.

I had opted not to participate in my previous two years of vet school and having finally taken the chance to try it out, I thoroughly regret not participating sooner!

Laine with her friendsThough the event is a simulation that utilizes actors, it was surprising how much I immersed myself in the moment and learned from working through the various cases that were presented. The actors were so convincing and would show up anywhere from calm and collected to crying to screaming in panic!

What was truly engaging and eye-opening to me was seeing the crossover between the veterinary and human medical fields as zoonotic diseases—diseases passed from animals to people—popped up over the course of the day. After the event, I found myself wrapped up in just replaying some of the day’s excitement over and over again in my head.

Just when I start to really grow tired of all those hours studying, some exciting opportunity pops up for me to practice what I’ve learned.

I’m three years in now and I can confidently say vet school is just exciting as it was on day one—if not more! Here’s looking to fourth year and all the exciting cases ahead of me.

Shaping My Future Self

Texas A&M presents great opportunities for its students, and majoring in biomedical sciences (BIMS) is one of them, because there are a variety of career-specific classes to take.

I am now beginning to take more classes geared toward veterinary medicine, since I am a pre-vet student. Majoring in biomedical sciences has allowed me to gain a great understanding of the basic sciences needed for a great academic foundation leading up to veterinary school.

One class, in particular, that I have really enjoyed taking this semester is “Animal Nutrition and Feeding,” since it really pertains to what I need to know for my future career. I initially entered this class thinking it was going to be difficult, but because of those basic science classes I’ve taken in the past, I more easily understand the basic concepts of this class, which makes it more enjoyable.

Aside from this particular class, Texas A&M offers many other similar classes students can take as a BIMS major that further expand our knowledge.

Aside from classes, there are also many other things to get involved in, such as student organizations or even intramural sports.

I recently joined an intramural soccer team for the first time since I arrived at Texas A&M, and although we’ve only had one game so far, it’s been a lot of fun to meet new people and play the sport I love to play again.

Joining an intramural team can serve as a way to relax and destress or simply just hang out with friends while being physically active. I have also found that sometimes it’s best for me to take some breaks to relax and get away from schoolwork for a bit and joining this team has allowed me to do that.

Another way I spend my time outside of classes and working on homework and such is through a student-run organization I’m a part of, Aggie Guide-Dogs and Service-Dogs (AGS).

As a pre-vet student, I especially enjoy interacting with animals, so this organization allows me to do a lot of that. Our organization allows students to train service dogs while also educating the public about the different types of service dogs there are.

Like the intramural soccer team, this organization gives me some time to get away from classwork and participate in an activity I particularly enjoy doing.

Many people have told me to enjoy the time I have as an undergraduate, so taking part in these campus activities and doing so with friends helps me to make the most of my time.

Although we are here for a great education, having fun is also an important part of the process. Personally, I think it’s really important for everybody to find some fun things to do while in college, because while education is a big part of the journey, having fun and putting yourself out there will also help in shaping your future self.

Fourth Year is Almost Here!

rebecca gooderIn just 15 months that are sure to come and go in the blink of an eye, I will officially be a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine! We are currently about halfway through our sixth and final didactic semester of veterinary school, and I must say, the light at the end of the tunnel is shining bright!

Come May 6, it’ll be time to pack up all of the knowledge I have gained and make that highly anticipated journey from the Veterinary & Biomedical Education Complex (VBEC) over to the Large and Small Animal Hospitals to begin clinics.

Clinics span an entire year; we spend two weeks on each rotation collaborating with classmates, technicians, residents, and clinicians in a quest to apply our veterinary knowledge in a clinical setting with real patients.

Core rotations that we all must participate in include small animal emergency & critical care, veterinary radiology, anesthesiology, and equine medicine & surgery, just to name a few. My very first fourth-year rotation will be small animal emergency & critical care, and while it certainly sounds intense, I am looking forward to jumping right in.

At Texas A&M, we are very fortunate to have the opportunity to “track” during our fourth year, which means that, in addition to the core rotations that all veterinary students must participate in, we can focus our remaining time on either small/companion animal, equine, mixed, food animal, or alternative rotations.

Considering my dream of becoming a dairy veterinarian, it is no surprise that I chose to track food animal.

Preparations for this began last year, as students choosing this track are required to select a mentor and enroll in food-animal focused electives during our third year; some of these elective classes include “Advanced Food Animal Medicine & Surgery” and “Advanced Herd Health Production.”

For me, a big advantage of the food animal track is the opportunity to participate in off-campus production rotations, which count as two of our track-specific rotations. Both of my production rotations are scheduled with dairy practices—one in Dexter, New Mexico, and the other in Los Banos, California—and I cannot wait to gain more experience in my field of interest.

Other benefits of the food animal track include having three food animal medicine & surgery rotations (for a total of six weeks!) in the Texas A&M Large Animal Hospital and a rotation with the Texas Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory.

It is very surreal to think that I am almost 75 percent of the way to being all done with veterinary school. With clinics, NAVLE (the North American Veterinary Licensing Examination) studying, and job searching coming up within this next year, it is sure to be very busy.

But as busy as I will undoubtedly, I am so excited to being so close to realizing my dream.

As I finish writing this, I realize that this will be my very last blog as a CVM Ambassador. I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to represent our college and guide tours for prospective students and guests and I value all the memories I have made!

Preparing for the New Class

I have the honor of serving as the vice president of my veterinary school class and part of my job is to facilitate the mentor/mentee program that pairs second-year mentors with incoming first-year students.

Now that interviews have passed and acceptances are looming, I have begun planning for how to implement this program next year. I have a stellar committee of my peers who are excited to help make this program the best it can possibly be for the incoming students.

Here at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, we are a family and we want to ensure that first-year students feel welcome.

The first year of veterinary school is hard—it is different than anything most people have ever experienced. Having a mentor to answer questions, give study tips, grab dinner with, and just to be there and help you through the hard times really makes a difference. I have an incredible mentor who helped me adjust to vet school and continues to answer questions and just serve as friendly face in the second-year class.

This is similar to the relationship that any people seek after veterinary school. Most new graduates lack self-confidence in some of the skills and want guidance as they build that confidence in practice; they seek employment opportunities that provide helpful mentorship from someone who has already been in that situation—a seasoned veterinarian.

Here, we want to mimic this type of mentorship by providing first-year students with older vet student mentors.

The mentor/mentee committee is working hard to pair our classmates with interested first-year students. We try our best to pair students with similar career interests, hobbies, and personalities to create successful mentor/mentee pairs that can blossom into friendships.

This is no small feat and requires a great deal of time and thought from every member of the committee.

We are also planning an awesome cookout to welcome new students and help introduce them to their mentors, as well as a few other ideas in the works…but I can’t spoil the surprise!

We will continue to be hard at work throughout the summer, along with many other student organizations, in order to welcome the new class. So, Class of 2023, we cannot wait to meet each of you and we are excited to welcome you to the family!

Learning Outside of the Classroom

Last week, I participated in a really unique event hosted by two of our student organizations—the Internal Medicine Club and the Veterinary Imaging Club. It was an after-school lab in which I got learn how to do ultrasound scans on dogs!

Ultrasound is an imaging technique used to look at soft tissue structures like kidneys, intestines, and liver. It’s an incredibly important diagnostic tool that veterinarians commonly use, and so I am grateful for the opportunity to get extra practice.

My fellow peers volunteered their own dogs—who were so well-behaved and sweet—and we spent two hours practicing our techniques and learning how to search for specific organs. We got a lot of practice in and, of course, the dogs got an abundant amount of love and treats from the students!

It was a particularly fulfilling experience for me because learning how to do an ultrasound scan has been a big focus in our “Professional and Clinical Skills” class.

I have been learning ultrasound techniques and practicing on models since my first semester in veterinary school, and it was very exciting for me to have the chance to apply what I had practiced on models to an actual animal.

I am quickly realizing that during my time in veterinary school, there will be many more opportunities to learn new things outside of a traditional classroom. I need to make the most of my four years here, so I am constantly looking forward to seeing what other doors will open next.