Like many pre-veterinary students, I spent a lot of time in undergrad preparing for veterinary school. And not just on my VMCAs application or at jobs and shadowing to add to my resume and animal/veterinary experiences. I spent a lot of time researching schools, programs, talking to friends and alumni from my undergraduate program who were in vet school. I wanted to know what they liked, what they didn’t, how they were doing in their programs, what the curriculum was like. But even given the research I did on my own, there are definitely still things I wish I would’ve known before vet school. Here are a few things I would tell myself if I had the chance to travel back and talk to pre-vet school me.
You will need to get used to working nearly exclusively on a laptop.
I am a very “pen and paper” kind of person. I have a physical notebook planner, keep a pad of Post-It notes in my backpack, along with a spare notebook, folder with loose leaf paper, pen case with a plethora of writing utensils, highlighters, pens of a myriad of colors. My learning style prior to vet school consisted of a lot of writing and re-writing and drawing and diagramming. A lot of veterinary programs require incoming students to purchase a laptop that will support the online testing program that many schools utilize. Basically, my entire life is on my laptop. My OneNote with all my lectures, notes, supplemental documents; Blackboard classes, Quizlet flashcards, etc.
I had to get used to taking notes differently, to absorbing information from a screen, and taking tests on a computer (which if you are used to pen-and-paper tests, it is a bit of a different feel).
It’s okay to adopt new learning and study strategies.
What worked in undergrad might not necessarily work for vet school and that’s okay. The amount of information being thrown around in vet school is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced and the study habits I had from my prior schooling were simply not adequate. I spent a lot of first-year struggling to figure out what exactly the best way to study and learn was. Prior to veterinary school, I was a very solitary learner; I didn’t like to ask questions (and potentially look stupid to whoever I was studying with). I did a lot of re-writing notes – which actually has been proven to not be the most effective way of doing things, but it did work for me for a long time.
Now, I take the lectures we have and transform them into flashcards, whenever applicable. I make charts, draw diagrams, occasionally re-write notes (if it’s something that I just need to commit to memory), look up supplemental sources. But the biggest thing that has changed is I study with others – specifically one other; my roommate. Usually, people who live together and are in class all day together, and have such similar personalities would not be great study partners – but for whatever reason it works for us. My roommate likes to make review PowerPoints for lectures, so between her PowerPoints and my flashcards, we have different ways of formulating questions and before every exam we will trade off questioning on lecture material. It has been an invaluable way to have better retention for the exams, but also a truly better understanding of the material by talking about it with another person.
I wish I had made this realization earlier, and not had so much trepidation and pride against studying with others, because it has only helped me be a better student.
It’s okay if you are not good at everything.
This one was a hard one for me to realize. I wanted to get to vet school, and I wanted to do it all and be in all the clubs and get good grades and continue to do all the things outside of class that I did in undergrad to the same capacity; and that just isn’t feasible all the time. However, I do try to maintain a lot of my extra-curriculars to the same degree I did in undergrad for the sake of being well-rounded and keeping myself sane.
There are some things I found myself to be naturally stronger at – whether that was certain subject material, or technical skills like suturing…but there were other classes, other skills that simply eluded me. No matter how hard I tried, I could not seem to master hand-ties with the same ease that my classmates did. For half the semester of my equine theriogenology lab, I felt utterly useless with an ultrasound probe in my hand. How was I *ever* going to be a vet when I struggled with these skills?
Truth is, everyone is naturally stronger in different areas, and as my therio professor stated the one day (paraphrasing here) – no one was born innately phenomenal ultrasound skills. It’s something you develop over time.
But it did mean sitting down to look at the subjects I have a harder time wrapping my head around. It meant looking up videos of hand-ties and slowing them down to 0.5x speed and watching, re-watching, and re-watching some more while I practiced my hand-ties until it was muscle memory. It meant recognizing the areas where I am not as strong, but not letting myself feel like a failure and instead doing something about it.
It will be hard to stay in touch with friends who are not in vet school.
This was another hard pill to swallow, and I constantly feel like a terrible friend when I realize it’s been a few weeks or months since I talked last to one of my non-vet school friends. Some days, there are just not enough hours to get all the studying and reviewing in and also have a several hour long conversation with a friend (and sometimes I just don’t have the brain space either). Luckily, I have an amazing group of friends and family who tend to understand this, but I have to sit down and make time to catch up with these people periodically, otherwise my school schedule will inevitably dictate these relationships.
There will be days you question your decision to ever go to vet school.
Bright-eyed and submitting my VMCAs, desperately wanting to do anything to get *into* vet school, I would probably not have believed myself if I heard this one. This is all I’ve ever wanted, why would I ever question it?
Truth is, once you’re in – even though you are so grateful to be there, and recognize there are so many people who would happily take your place in a fraction of a second – there are days where you wish you could just hit ‘pause’ for even a minute, but can’t. When the material is being thrown at you at an overwhelming pace (our first year anatomy professor liked the analogy, “like trying to drink from a fire hydrant,” and I think that sums it up well). When you spend the evening studying for one class and realize you still have a handful of other classes that you haven’t even touched yet. Weeks upon weeks of exams that stretch on for-seemingly-ever, with barely enough time to process the end of one exam before you have to set your sights on the next one. It really turns into a marathon and some days you just don’t want to run anymore.
You will love it more than you ever could’ve imagined.
But perhaps not in the ways that you imagined. I heard so many times over when telling people what I wanted to do with my veterinary career, “Oh just wait until vet school, you’ll change your mind.” Now, while my over-arching career goals have not changed, some of the things I have enjoyed most while in vet school so far, as well as the things I am most proud of, have definitely surprised me. I did a summer of bench top laboratory work on equine osteoarthritis; in undergrad I refused to do my thesis on anything that would have me doing bench work because I thought it was boring. My research experience here in vet school proved me very wrong; I loved every second and have had the opportunity to present a poster on that research on several occasions. It was interesting, engaging, and had real-life, clinical applications.
Oh, and the ultrasound that I couldn’t seem to figure out for the life of me? That turned out to be one of my favorite courses; completing a variety of reproductive procedures in a mare, as well as eventually being able to trace the repro tract with the ultrasound tops the list of things I’m proudest of achieving thus far.