OK…I can do This

Cortney P.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

An Unexpected Education

Laine with her dogThe more time I spend in vet school, the more I’m in awe of the passage of time. Perhaps it’s just growing older or the realization that I’ve just experienced my last “summer break,” but it has become more striking than ever that time simply flies by.

Recently, as I stood in my coveralls, watching the farrier demonstrate how to maintain a horse’s hoof, I reflected on the many years of my childhood dreaming of being a veterinarian and working tirelessly toward that goal. All the skills I was once so terrified to do for fear of messing up—injections in large animals, reading blood smears, conducting a physical exam—seem so simple and natural now.

It has only just now truly hit me—I’m over halfway done with vet school! More than that, clinics are right around the corner, and in a matter of weeks I’ll be donning my “big doctor coat,” all white and freshly ironed. It really sends my head spinning to think about, but that isn’t to say I’m not ready.

Summer was an educational adventure in its own way.

As luck would have it, my dog started coughing before I could even return to work at my home clinic. I was only a handful of days into summer and I was already back at the vet school. Thankfully, it turned out to be nothing more than a case of kennel cough and the Texas A&M Small Animal Hospital had her already improving within the day.

paisleyIt was exciting, though, to speak with a fourth-year student (4VM) who had only just begun her clinical rotations. Knowing I am a vet student, the 4VM even brought me into the discussion when it came time to decide how we wanted to proceed with my dog’s case. Though I didn’t realize it at it the time, it was the first instance of many that summer during which I would realize just how much I’d learned the past two years.

Back in San Antonio, working at my home clinic, I found myself understanding more and more. The veterinarians there showed me radiographs and discussed cases with me, helping me practice my new skills and get into the habit of trying to make educated clinical decisions.

Then, lo and behold, my family cat, Antonio, became a little “quiz” of his own within the month; Antonio began refusing food, and I knew something wasn’t right. I took him to work with me and he had a 106F fever!! Instantly, we went about trying to fix the issue.

The next two weeks were an absolute roller coaster! He got better briefly…and then worse. Having turned down every avenue, we, again, turned to the Small Animal Hospital, this time to consult with an internal medicine specialist. And, yet again, I was invited to listen in on the conversation as we discussed potential diagnostics and treatments. Once more I found myself able to keep up with the conversation and even made the final decision on how to treat my cat. Finally, the fever cleared Antonio the Catand Antonio’s appetite returned. As stressful as the situation had been, it was so rewarding to reach that happy ending. Through Antonio’s illness, I learned that even if I didn’t know all the answers, I was developing valuable skills as a veterinarian and could even think through difficult cases I never would have imagined being able to before.

Looking back on how quickly the first half of vet school has flown by, I can confidently say I’ve loved every second of it—at least, almost every second. That’s including the nights poring over textbooks and the minutes before a big test, fidgeting anxiously as I mentally reviewed every little detail that could possibly be on it.

Has it been worth it? Absolutely. Not once have I doubted the path I’m on, and every day I only become more certain of it. I know just on the horizon awaits uncertainty and new challenges, but I’m excited. I’m ready for it.

Clinics, here I come!