I cannot stress how absolutely important it is to gain experience in the veterinary field. Paid experience is hard to come by, but the value of just being able to observe a vet at work and to learn a certain skill is worth the time you commit to job shadowing. Whether you’re applying to vet school, in vet school, and even if you’re already a practicing veterinarian, there are always new learning opportunities available. I had quite the awesome morning one day shadowing with the local small animal vet and got to see quite a rare case!
A dog came in that had suddenly lost all function in its hind end after a brief episode of pain while outside playing in the yard. It dragged its hind end and made no attempts to use its hindlegs. The vet I was working with performed a neuro and ortho exam, took some radiographs, and concluded that nothing was broken. But the dog could still feel pain in the hind end and had no motor function.
All of a sudden, this lightbulb seemed to go off in his head. He said, “Shannon, remember this because you’ll probably never see it again!” He ran off to do some research, coming back later to administer the proper treatment and said, “I haven’t seen a case like this in twenty years.” For a vet who has been consistently practicing for a while to see something so rarely, and to have that patient in front of me, made me so excited (not for the dog, I felt bad for her). Turns out, the dog had something called a fibrocartilagenous embolism, which basically interrupts blood to the spinal cord and causes a loss of function in the hind end. I took the opportunity to learn, and when I went home that day I read every research article I could find on the condition. I learned how it would be treated, what the prognosis was, what different symptoms could possibly mean for the dog, and just about anything else I could find. I’ll most likely never see it again, but if I do, I was really lucky to have been job shadowing that day!
P.S. The prognosis is good for dogs with this condition. With physical therapy and TLC, they often make an excellent recovery!