My first year veterinary class spent a lot of time this year developing our physical exam skills. We worked with three categories of species (equine, ruminant, and small animal) and practiced our hands-on skills, with veterinarians guiding us from our very first week of class. This was a welcome relief since we were spending so much time studying other topics that involved a lot of reading!
Now that the year is approaching its final stages, we are being tested on our physical exam knowledge. Each of us has to perform certain physical exam skills in front of one of the faculty veterinarians. It is reassuring to think about how foreign some of these skills were at the start of the year, and how second-nature they have now become. For me, being able to palpate the spleen in a dog was very difficult, but now it is easier. The equine GI tract always seemed like such a confusing series of twists and turns, but now I feel comfortable in my understanding of where most of the different anatomical regions (usually) reside.
Learning these skills is a reminder to me about the importance of practice during skill development. It is even more important when considering that physical exam skills involve a lot of muscle memory, such as when checking for pregnancy in cattle via rectal palpation. Of course, listening to the heart of a cow with a stethoscope may seem easy. But, can you really identify when you are listening to the different heart valves? Why is it that some cows have easily distinguishable heart valve sounds while others do not? These skills are not easily learned in one day, or even one month. They take years to fine tune.