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Monday, December 31, 2012

Facing Setbacks In Vet School

Time to close out the year by closing out my inbox.  Here's an email from Rachel....

Happy holidays!  I am a 25yo 4th yr vet student in Kansas.  I have only recently discovered your blog and find it an enjoyable respite from the 24/7 stress at a teaching hospital.

I have not always wanted to be a veterinarian, but there was never a moment I could not admit that animals were fascinating to me.  The past 3.5yrs have not been kind or easy.  But I made it to 4th yr despite the challenges.

My previous rotation was anesthesia.  I did not pass the rotation.  I readily admit that pharmacology has never come easy to me, ever.  And I am allowed to continue on with my last year here, finishing up with repeating anesthesia after graduation.

My question for you is did you ever face a similar challenge, this far along in your journey?  This upset has made me question if I am the person for the job, the work.  The doubt makes continuing on with the rotations, ICU duty, and emergency shifts almost impossible.  Job searching seems like a fantasy, as I won't be able to gain licensure until all my transcripts are received.  The transcript for repeat anesthesia won't be available till August/September due to academic bureaucracy.

How did you keep going, moving forward?  I would appreciate any words of wisdom.

Veterinary school is extremely difficult.  Learning how to detect, diagnose, and treat diseases is complicated and requires a lot of hard work and knowledge.  This is compounded with veterinarians because the physiologies and anatomies of the different species can be quite different.  Not everyone can make it through the process and not everyone that does make it did so easily.

I graduated in the dead middle of my veterinary class, right at the 50th percentile.  I never failed a class, but I got several Cs and some of those were only by the skin of my teeth.  Some classes and rotations were much easier for me than others due to my interest and the complexity of the subject.  None of it was easy.

It frustrated me to see some of my classmates seeming to breeze through the classes, especially the ones that maintained a 4.0 average.  Yes, I probably could have studied and worked harder, but I didn't exactly goof off.  So when I was struggling and one of my friends aced a test I felt pretty down.  And Rachel, pharmacology was difficult for me as well, and was one of my Cs.

While I didn't fail anything, one of my classmates did.  In our third year he was doing very poorly and was placed on academic probation.  His grades continued to stay low and get lower, so after discussions with the Dean and administration, he agreed to stay back and repeat the third year.  I can't imagine how he felt, watching his classmates advance while it was well known that he had failed and was lucky to still even be in school.  It must have been depressing and discouraging.

So what happened to him?  He made it through school and went on to be a very successful veterinarian in Las Vegas.  I've talked to him a couple of times over the years and he seemed to be happy with where he was, and I knew he had done well for himself.  Despite his challenges and setbacks he overcame and followed his dream.

Rachel, the road ahead is not going to be easy for you.  You first have mental and emotional struggles to face, trying to overcome your own sense of failure.  But keep in mind that you failed one class, not your whole education.  Once you graduate nobody is going to care what your grades were or how narrowly you may have made it through school.  If you've done well in your other classes you can succeed in this.  It's going to be difficult and you're going to have to work even harder to make up this class.  You'll also be delayed in getting your first job.  But now that you know your areas of deficiency you can spend the next several months preparing yourself.  In a way you have an advantage over your classmates because you know exactly what you're facing and what you need to do to perform well.  Spend all of your spare time (little though it may be) becoming an expert in anesthesia.  You have the time.

As far as your other rotations, start cracking the books.  If this is really your dream, cancel any social life or fun and spend all of your time studying and preparing.  Yes, this has hit you mentally and makes you doubt yourself.  But you can make the choice right now.  Are you going to throw in the towel, or are you going to dig your heels in and work even harder?  Sometimes when you have a hard time seeing yourself walking down the entire road, switch your focus and concentrate only on the next step.

On that note I wish everyone a blessed and joyous new year!


  1. Thanks for the post Dr. Bern! I recently failed a course (because it was based on one exam and because of some other factors) - but I failed by 3 points under a C! I am currently studying over this winter holiday to retake the exam before starting winter quarter. I am in my third year of veterinary school - and really I don't feel stupid, I felt like it was an opportunity - rather than argue small points to better learn the material. Don't feel discouraged, just do what Dr. Bern says, dig your heels in and just keep trying harder!

  2. Thank you for writing this post! I'm a final year vet student in Ireland and recently failed the foot paring aspect of my farm animal rotation. Failing, no matter who you are, never feels good! Veterinary is a long old slog, and there are always going to be bumps along the way. It's nice to get the reassurance that one day it will all pan out :) Linda (You can read about my veterinary student experiences in Ireland hereL


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