As we first started veterinary school, we were gently reminded that most of us (especially the younger ones) likely have not had many failures in our lives. We were accepted into veterinary school, which is an accomplishment in and of itself. It also meant we passed a lot of classes, worked really hard, maintained extracurricular activities, and likely had a job or two.
Now we might not pass an exam. Perhaps we have to make sacrifices. This advice was more than just preparing us for exams. We are in a profession where people expect us to “fix” animals, and we want to do that. We care about it. When a meteorologist is wrong, you are late to work because you didn’t plan to shovel the foot of snow off your car. When your veterinarian is wrong, it can be a lot more serious. We can’t always do it. We can’t always save your pet. Sometimes we make it worse.
I was on the daytime urgent care rotation, which is basically the emergency room for animals. We had a cat that presented for lethargy and inappetence. The cat also happened to be quite unfriendly. In order to do a physical exam, we had to sedate her. Unfortunately, we didn’t get that far. As we were restraining the cat to give the injection, she suffered cardiac arrest. After 20 minutes of CPR, we were unsuccessful. I was the student who took the owner to spend time with his cat that was alive an hour prior when he dropped her off at the hospital.
It is sad. It feels like a failure. It is hard to wrap your mind around in the moment. It is also a part of the job. We can’t get 100% on every test. We can’t save them all, even though we wish we could. It happens, but it is not who we are.