A Spring Break Surprise

Ali and Spencer Selfie
Ali and Spencer, newly engaged

Spring Break has come and gone in a flash!

I traveled to Utah’s Zion National Park with my boyfriend, Spencer, and we camped for three days under the Utah stars. Being used to waking up at 6 a.m. for school, it wasn’t hard for me to adjust to our early-morning hikes, but for Spencer, it was a bit harder! Beating the Spring Break crowd is a priority, because being in nature surrounded by loud strangers is never ideal. My favorite hike was up Angel’s Landing, one of the most coveted spots to hike in North America. Half of the trail is a series of 21 brutal uphill switchbacks, which make your legs (and lungs) shaky like Jell-O. A sedentary, studying lifestyle has somehow failed to put me in peak mountain-climbing shape.

mischievous chipmunk
The mischievous chipmunk that stole Ali’s lunch

The last half of the hike has chains built into the mountain, a narrow rock path, and cliffs on either side of you. I kept telling myself, “Don’t look down.” But it never worked. I repeatedly looked down and kept scaring myself. Six people have died climbing that cliff face since 2004, so it must be taken seriously.

Unexpectedly, as we were watching the early morning sun cover the canyon, Spencer got down on one knee and proposed to me. I said yes, of course, but was too afraid to wear the ring down the mountain, so I put it back in the box until we got to stable ground at the bottom. I am very excited to finish my last year of vet school in the clinics, marry him, and start our life together in 2019!Once at the top of Angel’s Landing, you can see across the entire Zion Canyon that has been explored by humans for thousands of years. It was a breathtaking view and a great reward for the challenging trip up to the summit!

Our second hike was up to Observation Point, a little higher and lengthier than Angel’s Landing, but a much less terrifying hike. There was a family of chipmunks at the top that were feistier than any animal I have ever met. National parks tell you to “Please do not feed the wildlife” when they really should warn you that wildlife will sneak into your backpack and drag your PBJ out of it. I never knew something so adorable could be so mischievous!

After not showering for three days, we headed to Las Vegas to celebrate our engagement with family. Someone asked me, “How are you going to study when you have a wedding to plan?” and I really have no idea. Being a vet student leaves us with such little time to think about anything except for vet school, but I think I will have to take some steps back and prioritize what is important!

We also traveled to the Hoover Dam, which is only 30 minutes away from Vegas in Boulder City. It is so much bigger than I could have ever imagined, and I cannot imagine the feat that it was to build it in 1935 to block the Colorado River.

I was curiously wandering around and found a dog’s grave near the entrance. The plaque states that the dog rode the bus and accompanied the workers to their job sites every day. But then, one day, he was sleeping and was run over by a truck and was mourned by the workers and buried under the guard tower. Such a special tribute to man’s best friend!

My Spring Break was a very needed respite from the stresses of vet school, so that I am fully recharged and ready to take on my last semester and last full year of clinics. I am slightly regretful of the amount of things that piled up over the week off; however, I know I will find a way to catch up, like I always do.

Dam DogAlong with tests, quizzes, and projects due this week, we are also getting ready for our Vet School Open House that is coming up this Saturday. I am volunteering to present a surgery simulation where we show what veterinary surgeons look like gowned, masked, and gloved-up in the operating room. It is always so much fun interacting with kids and adults who share our passion for animals and science. Hopefully, we can inspire some little minds to join this amazing and rewarding profession!

Class Schedule, Exams, and Stress

Recently, on a veterinary school tour, I heard this question: “How does the class schedule look like?”

Dr. NantikaI rarely get asked this—I’m more commonly asked how hard it is to get into veterinary school—but this is an important question, because, in my opinion, I think that it is harder to complete a DVM degree than it is to get accepted to veterinary school.

To start, we can look at my spring veterinary class schedule and how I am dealing with this hectic routine. I start the week with Monday, 8 a.m. exams and end with my Friday, 3 p.m. class.

My daily studying hours are blocked from 7 p.m. to 1 a.m., or perhaps more like 3 a.m. Not being a morning person, this is a real challenge. It is important to know your learning style and quickly implement a study routine. This will save time for studying and will increase time for sleep. If you want to attend vet school, you need to get ready to put in that many study hours.

The exam schedule usually begins on the third week of the semester. The second-year vet students have exams almost every Monday and Friday. This continues until final exams at the end of the semester. Additionally, even though Tuesday and Wednesday classes start at 10 a.m., I still wake up and review the materials at 6 a.m. before the weekly quizzes (this semester, for pharmacology or toxicology). It feels like a constant pounding of studying, preparing, and taking exams.

The consequence of these class and exam schedules is stress. We all are dealing with it (differently, in some ways, and similarly, in others).

Because of this, I have found that it’s important to focus on my top reasons in order for me to keep going. These include:

Friends—It is delightful to have friends who accept your weaknesses and strengths. I have a language difficulty because English is not my first language, so my friends take time to spell things out for me or to explain things to me when I don’t understand the lecture. Many of my classmates were very competitive when we first got into vet school. But that competitiveness has gradually regressed as we all started to understand that we are here to be successful together. Every morning, one of my friends asks me, “Nantika, how it is going?” It’s a simple question that brings a smile and helps me get ready for the day.

Nantika Art 2CVM Counselor—I used to be afraid to let people know that I’m struggling through my classes. I stayed stressed and grumpy for my whole first-year fall semester. I became an unhappy and frustrated person, which impacted my productivity. I decided to seek help from CVM counselor Elizabeth Eaton. She guided me through accepting my weaknesses and fear of failure. I feel lucky that the Texas A&M Vet School takes the students’ mental health and wellness seriously. We also have a stress reduction room and relaxation space, where we have a massage chair and biofeedback equipment to help de-stress and help the body to achieve a relaxation response.

Time outside school—It’s hard to pull myself away from studying, but I realize I need to do something besides study. So, I chose to paint. While I’m painting, I really focus on the canvas and color in my brush. That is one form of meditation that I have started to enjoy in order to refresh my mind.

The love of medicine and animals—At the end of the day, I see the innocent eyes of my dogs, one of which recently got diagnosed with immune-mediated hemolytic anemia. It reminds me why I’m pursuing this career, because I want to learn medicine and use my knowledge to improve the health of the animals.

Forward Thinking

I am now almost halfway through veterinary school, and I can’t help but be blown away. Just the other day, I stood talking with my friend at the dog park while our two pets played. The topic came up of our mutual friend being accepted into the incoming class of veterinary students. My friend mentioned how excited she is to apply next year and how crazy it would be if she got in: she would be in the first year, our mutual friend in the second, my roommate in the third, and me in my fourth year. I agreed, not fully processing the concept at the time.

Helping out in the CVM Marketplace, a fourth-year student came in to purchase some College of Veterinary Medicine merchandise. As we casually conversed while she checked out, I noticed the tears in her eyes. “I just finished my last rotation at the vet school,” she informed me; afterward, she said, she sat in her car for 30 minutes processing that fact. I couldn’t imagine the emotional overload she must have felt. I, myself, will have had 20 years of schooling, in total, by the time I graduate.

After that conversation, it hit me—this is the top of the hill. All semester I have joked about the “Wednesday of vet school,” as I like to refer to it. You work so hard and climb so high just to realize it’s all downhill from there. Two years is still a lot of time, but for the first time since entering vet school, it feels within grasp. I’ve finally begun to feel like a doctor this semester, and it has both amazed and terrified me at the same time. Having just finished anesthesia before Spring Break and jumping straight into the “Principals of Surgery” this week, it’s amazing to think of how school has just flown by. Before I know it, I’ll be picking my third-year electives and my White Coat Ceremony will be a thing of the past.

My Spring Break really seemed to summarize these feeling for me. My family and I returned to my grandparent’s coastal property to hang up pictures and clean up the place after all of the construction completed post-Hurricane Harvey. Driving down, my mother remarked about how all of the telephone poles had been knocked down the first time they had driven the route, and I noticed all of the new streetwork that had been done. It’s an odd feeling, really, how a place can look so foreign and familiar at the same time.

Despite what happens and the obstacles that arise, life keeps moving on and people adapt. I find it hard, sometimes, to look forward instead of back, but it’s nice to see how far things have come. Come two years, there will a completely new chapter of my life that begins. Though I’m hesitant to turn the page, I’m excited to see what’s in store. With every uphill battle comes the other side, and I’m just happy to be along for the ride.

Summer Aspirations

Chelsea B.A few days ago, six fellow classmates and I gathered to have a catered lunch from a College Station favorite, Blue Baker, with our three faculty mentors. Every now and then we meet to discuss current happenings in the vet school and receive some sage advice about developing our future careers. On this occasion, being mid-semester, spring break and summer plans were big topics of conversation.

Most of us are planning on catching up on sleep and TV shows during our Spring Break week, but a few relayed some exciting travel plans for sunny destinations; conversely, I know quite a few students and friends who are choosing snow for their week away.

As for me, the mountains will have to wait until summer, when I plan to stop by my parents’ home in Colorado before hopefully heading off to a veterinary student internship!

Last summer, I spent the majority of my time at home in Colorado, helping out with my family’s ever-growing ranch of animals and getting some valuable shadowing experience in equine sports medicine. I’ve been an avid equestrian since I was in diapers and learning more about some of the injuries horses sustain from show jumping and dressage has been a longtime interest.

Since last fall, however, I’ve been contemplating what to do with this summer, and in January, I took the plunge into preparing applications for what I call my “oddball interest”—primate medicine. I was first exposed to the study of primates as an undergraduate, researching a variety of social and cognitive behaviors in capuchins and hamadryas baboons that were housed on my school’s campus. I found it incredibly fascinating and ever since have wanted to explore the veterinarian’s role in caring for these species.

When most people hear primates, they think of zoo medicine; however, primates fill a huge area of regulated laboratory research. Subsequently, veterinarians are utilized to help manage their care and headline study design and publication. This practice is incredibly important in terms of understanding mechanisms of disease and improving treatments for everything from infectious organisms to pathologic disorders of the heart, all of which can be applicable to human medicine.

My goal for this summer is to receive mentorship from practicing board-certified laboratory animal veterinary specialists to better learn about the ins and outs of this career path. I reached out to four institutions with programs specifically designed for veterinary students interested in learning more about primate medicine and research. Each program had slightly different requirements, and I felt like I was applying to vet school all over again! Preparing a resume, writing personal statements to fit the individual programs, asking trusted individuals for letters of recommendation, and then waiting, waiting, waiting for news….

Fortunately, I have just heard back from the first of the four, with an offer to interview over spring break! I am incredibly excited; so please keep your fingers crossed for me!

Preparing to Study Abroad

Kimberly N.Several months ago, I was accepted to the biomedical sciences’ Costa Rica semester abroad program. Woo hoo!

But, now, I have to think about the most essential thing—money. How am I supposed to get the money to pay for this? As a first-generation student who is dependent on financial aid, money is a huge issue for me.

Thus, I started looking into scholarships and found one I am eligible for—The Gilman International Scholarship.

The Gilman International Scholarship is geared to Pell Grant recipients who are intending on studying abroad in a level one or two travel advisory country for more than three weeks. The application requires a statement of purpose essay (basically asks why you decided to go study abroad) and a project plan essay (which is your plan to promote the Gilman Scholarship AFTER you study abroad), along with your official transcript.

It has been a pretty easy process, other than the essay. The application is due in a few days, so I’m struggling to get my essay perfect while studying for my three exams, two of which are the day before the deadline (March 6). But I think the struggle with be worth it!

My advice to anyone considering studying abroad is this: There are resources! Study abroad sends out frequent emails about scholarships available, and you can go to the Money Management Center to work out how to save up for the trip if you need to.

Texas A&M isn’t called the No. 1 public university to send students abroad for no reason!

The Importance of Wellness

Cortney P.One of the exciting things going on for students is the opening of the College of Veterinary Medicine’s new Wellness Room. The Wellness Room was designated for use by vet students and faculty when the Veterinary & Biomedical Education Complex opened in 2016, and new machines and equipment were recently moved in there.

Wellness is something that is highly encouraged and talked about throughout vet school, so I thought that in light of the new opening of the wellness room, I would share my own personal wellness journey.

When I started my first semester of vet school, I had no idea how hard it would be to find balance in my life. I felt like I never had time to work out or spend time with my husband; some days I felt like I barely had enough time to shower and do other, general self-care routines. On top of that, my grades were struggling. I’m not sure how, but I did make it through my first year, and I came out stronger on the other side.

At the start of my second year school, I decided to reclaim my life and my health. While I still did a good deal of studying, I actively made time to go to the gym, spend time with my husband, and do things that calmed my mind and soul (for me, that would be taking longer walks with my dogs, reading a good book, cuddling with my cat, etc.).

The first day I started working out, I was discouraged by how out of shape I was; it was hard to ignore the little voice inside my head that kept telling me I needed to be studying right then. But I got through that, and I continued to make my working out a priority. I soon found that running was a great way to escape the frustrations and mental anguish from the day. I also found that I was more at peace and my marriage was happier when I made time for the things that are truly important to me. I started to feel stronger, healthier, and more confident. And, as a bonus, my grades were better than they had ever been since I started vet school.

I have learned a lot of things in vet school, but perhaps the most important thing I’ve learned is how to take care of myself physically, mentally, and emotionally. No matter where you are at in life, it’s important to never forget that you matter most of all; you matter more than the goal you are trying to reach or the grade you’re hoping to get. So every now and then, take a break and go for a run, go see a movie, go relax and hang out with your friends. Do what you need to do to be in the best health (mental, physical, and emotional) you can be in.

I don’t think you will regret it.

Ready for a Good Day (Lessons Learned from Bubba)

Mary W.Veterinary school is hard.

If you’ve been talking to vet students or graduated veterinarians, you’ll hear this phrase pretty often. People will first congratulate you on the path you’ve chosen, and then try to warn you of its steepness. You won’t believe them, even when you’re filling out the extensive application, or prepping for the nerve-wracking interview, or just trying to get your hands on as many sick or broken animals as you can and realizing its impossible to help them all.

Well, maybe you’ll believe them a little, and steel yourself against the stress, but it won’t really sink in until that first week of vet school bowls you over and leaves you buried in the dirt. And then the next week does the same. And the next. Over and over again for four years.

As you can imagine, this takes a bit of a toll on a person. To keep our heads above the rising tide of stress, we vet students learn a couple of coping mechanisms. Maybe it’s exercise or hobbies that have nothing to do with school. Perhaps it’s something small, like setting aside all study materials at meals. Many students lean heavily on their families, friends, and partners.

But one coping strategy we all seem to pick up in the first month of school is complaining. We vent our frustrations to our classmates almost constantly. Maybe it’s a poorly written test, or a difficult skill to master, or we don’t agree with an administrative decision; the subject doesn’t really matter—we will find fault with something in this stressful experience  and will kvetch about it until we have run out of words. This strategy is so pervasive throughout school and the profession that it’s one of the strange things that draws our community closer together.

This is why Bubba stands out.

I first met Bubba working the morning shift at the ambassador desk. After a series of halfhearted “good mornings” that were responded to with a grimace and a mumbled greeting, here comes a man who looks like the sun grew legs and started walking. Big smile on his face, a spring in his step, eyes so cheerful they’ve almost disappeared, Bubba radiates joy. He greets everyone he sees with a smile, a “how’re you doing today?” and a few questions about their lives.

He seems to know something about everyone and delights in getting to know a little more every time he sees them. Just this morning he asked me about the exams I was getting ready for, and he was more than confident that I would ace them all. But what really stuck with me from talking with Bubba this morning is when he asked me if I was ready for a good day, as if the good days are all around us, just waiting to be found.

What a different perspective to have! In vet school, we condition ourselves to expect little more than stress and frustration from everyday life, that we aren’t ever truly “ready” for good days. We don’t expect to find joy in school, and, so, we don’t.

I want to say thank you to Bubba for reminding me at least once a week that there are good days to be found in vet school, if only we are ready for them to happen.

A Blessing in Disguise

Priya during ASB
Priya spent last her last spring break working at an animal shelter in New Orleans as part of Texas A&M’s Alternative Spring Break project.

With spring break being less than three weeks away, I find myself remembering my spring break last year and how that one week completely changed my college career for the better.

Last year, I was blessed with the opportunity to go to New Orleans for the entire week and volunteer at an animal shelter through Alternative Spring Break (ASB).

ASB is a service-based organization in and out of the BCS community that primarily aims to provide students with a meaningful spring break experience through selfless service. Every year, a group of about 45 students choose between four projects across the country through which they can make the most out of their week away from school and classes.

Originally, I was signed up and ready to go to Oklahoma to volunteer at a Native American Reservation. When that trip was cancelled, I was, instead, placed on the New Orleans trip, which looking back was a blessing in disguise.

Beignets from NolaI remember sitting in the van en route to New Orleans and being nervous about how my spring break was going to turn out. I didn’t know anyone on my trip because I was added to it at the last minute and I didn’t know what to expect from the volunteer site.

But New Orleans changed my life. From eating beignets every morning, to playing with the sweetest dogs and cats every day and bonding with my group every night, I can definitely say I made some of my favorite college memories on that trip.

The shelter we volunteered at was heavily understaffed and there were way too many dogs and cats for all of the employees to shower with affection, so we were able to do what they couldn’t. After being in their cages all day, the larger dogs, especially, had a ton of energy and got so excited about the smallest things, even just playing with us for 10 minutes.

We left with a bunch of scratches and bruises, but it was definitely worth it to give the animals the loving attention they deserve!

Additionally, were able to help the staff, too, by cleaning cages, changing food bowls, doing laundry, giving some of the smaller dogs haircuts and baths, and organizing the very unorganized linen cabinet.

The pre-veterinary students even got the opportunity to shadow the on-site veterinarian when he was spaying and neutering the dogs that were new to the shelter.

Priya with her ASB friends
Priya, with the new friends she made during her ASB experience

After volunteering from only 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., my group and I were free to explore the city! Some of the things we did included holding baby alligators, taking Instagram-worthy pictures at the Botanical Gardens, shopping around the French Quarter and Magazine Street, going on a haunted city tour, and ending the experience by watching the St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

I loved that I was able to positively impact so many people and animals through a fun volunteer experience.When the week was over and we were back in College Station, I knew that I wanted to go on another volunteer spring break trip again.

So, this year, ASB is taking me to Memphis to volunteer at a food bank in an underserved area! I can’t wait to see how Memphis will change my life like New Orleans did!

A piece of advice that I always give to prospective college students is to never be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone.

I stepped outside of mine by going to a city I had never been to with people I had never met; I left with an incomparable experience, a group of people whom I now consider some of my best friends, and a new passion for selfless service.

Receiving Our Fourth-Year Schedules

TaylorLast week we received our fourth-year clinical rotation schedules! During your fourth year of veterinary school, you complete 24, two-week clinical rotations throughout the different services in the Small and Large Animal Hospitals and have some time set aside throughout the year for externships and vacation.

We third-year students selected our tracks (small animal, large animal, mixed animal, food animal, or alternative) back in November and ranked our preferences for some of the services in the Small and Large Animal Hospitals. Needless to say, we’ve all been anxiously awaiting the arrival of our rotation schedules for the past three months! As soon as we got the email that our rotation schedules were in our mailboxes, most of my classmates excitedly ran over to get our schedules and immediately started comparing them to see which rotations we may have together. The whole class was abuzz with excitement! To be honest, I could barely pay attention in class the rest of the day because I was just too excited to focus!

In my fourth year, I will start out in general surgery and then go to the Houston ASPCA for my first two clinical rotations. I’m very excited to start on these rotations because I will gain further experience spaying and neutering dogs and cats, which will give me great confidence and allow me to apply these skills during my externships later in the year. I’m also excited to complete the small animal emergency/critical care rotation, because I have not had a lot of experience with emergency cases in the past and am interested to learn more about how to stabilize and treat emergent patients. I’ll also rotate through many other services in the hospitals including cardiology, radiology, food animal medicine, equine field services, dermatology, and anesthesiology, just to name a few. I’m so excited for fourth year, and I can’t wait to see cases, interact with patients daily, and finally get to put the knowledge and skills that I have learned for the past three years into practice!

I honestly cannot believe that I’m in my final semester of classes before entering the clinics! Vet school has really gone by fast! It’s scary and exciting to think that in just a little over one year I will graduate and finally achieve my lifelong goal of becoming a veterinarian!

Thinking about Love on Valentine’s Day

Brandi M.Happy Valentine’s Day! I hope everyone with a significant other is having a wonderful day and is taking time to cherish the person with whom they’ve decided to celebrate. As for the single ones (i.e. me), I hope you are also enjoying the day biding time for all the Valentine’s chocolate to go on sale later tonight.

I find it funny that popular opinions on Valentine’s Day are on opposites sides of the spectrum—the die-hard lovebirds and the nonconforming denouncers of the day. I think when I was younger I was more in the anti-Valentine’s group due to my lack of significant other. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to realize that love and commitment aren’t things limited to just romantic relationships.

More recent conversations that I’ve had with my parents have shown me the extent to which they have gone to help me achieve my goals. They pushed me to do my best in school from an early age, encouraged my quirky interests in animal behavior or cellular processes, and supported me whole-heartedly in every way they could when I truly began pursuing veterinary school once I graduated high school.

My brothers and I have had countless spats over our lives, but if anyone were to ask if we love each other, the answer would be a resounding yes. Even though they have no interest in the veterinary field, they always offer pep talks when I need one.

My friends are wonderful human beings; they are amazing and precious and deserve all of the good things in the world. All of my friends, both here in College Station/Bryan, as well as around the world, mean so much to me because we’ve put a lot of work into maintaining our relationships, and I know I have an unwavering support system if I ever feel down.

I try to remember to be grateful for all these relationships all the time, but on Valentine’s Day, when everyone’s all aflutter about love and whatnot, I really want to take the time to say I appreciate my people. Without them and the encouragement they have given, and continue to give, I don’t know if I would have achieved as much as I have; I am sure vet school would be approximately 2,500 times more difficult without them.

So in the spirit and love of Valentine’s Day, a pro-tip if you’re aspiring to become a veterinarian: always keep your family and friends close and try to tell them you love them as much as you can, because they’re the people you can always count on to back you up.