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Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Staying Sane In Vet School

Here's a great question sent in from Jaime...

I have just been accepted for an undergraduate Veterinary Science course in Australia. I was just wondering what your advise would be to keep vet school student sane during their studies.

I have often said that it's a good thing they don't require psychological evaluations to enter vet school, as we would likely find that the majority of veterinary students are actually quite insane.  You pretty much have to be to spend that much time in school and work as hard as we do for the comparatively small salaries we make.  Now, I say all of this tongue-in-cheek, but there is probably a grain of truth to it.

My four years in veterinary school are the hardest, most stressful time in my entire life, before or after.  Nothing compares to those hardships, including work stresses, having kids, or achieving my Master's degree.  Veterinary students spend an almost impossible amount of time studying.  You're in classes and labs from around 8:00 AM until at least 4-5 PM.  Then you can expect to spend another 3-5 hours in the evening studying.  When you have a major exam, especially an anatomy practical, you may literally spend all night trying to cram the material in your head.  The amount of dedication required makes it hard to have much of a personal life and makes it pretty much impossible to have anything other than a very part-time job.  The courses are incredibly hard, and you have to learn all kinds of nuanced details about the anatomy, physiology, diseases, disorders, pharmacology, and toxicology of most non-human species.

So how do you stay sane during all of this?  It's not always easy.  Here are some suggestions.

1.  Take a little time every day to decompress.  That will differ between people, and may include talking to a friend, playing a video game, listening to music, taking a nap, and so on.  You sometimes have to force yourself to take this time, but it's well worth it.  Find something that takes you away from the rest of life and do a little of that each day.
2.  Get together with non-veterinary friends.  Spend time each week away from the studies and the field, reminding yourself that there is more to life than being a vet.  Being a vet is what you do, not who you are, and you need to keep grounded in reality.
3.  Get together with fellow students and spend time comparing notes about how horrible Dr. So-and-so is or how impossible it seems to have to learn the entire canine musculoskeletal system in a few weeks.  Sharing the misery makes you realize that you're not the only one going through all of this.
4.  Enjoy your breaks.  You'll get time off from studies throughout the year.  Do whatever you can to make the most of these times.
5.  Remember that the person with the lowest Grade Point Average in the graduating class is still called "doctor".  Once you get out of school no employer will care what your grades were like! Do the absolute best you can, but realize that after several years in practice there isn't much difference between the A students and the C students.  Practice and real life are the great equalizers.  So if you get a few bad grades, don't freak out about it (which you will likely do, as it's only the A students that can get into vet school, so it can be a hard lesson to rack up lower grades).
6. Laugh, especially when you want to cry.
7.  Remind yourself why you want to do this.  Find some sweet animal (dog, cat, horse, snake....pick your preference) and spend time just enjoying being with them.  Resist the temptation to practice your palpation and exam skills!!!!

Good luck, Jaime!