After four weeks of veterinary school, the day was finally here: our first exam. I had honestly been worrying about this day since I started applying for veterinary school. I had heard how hard the exams were, and I was starting to let it get to my head. Am I really good enough? Can I survive this test, semester, and year? What if I really don’t have what it takes to be a veterinarian? To top it all off, the first exam was in anatomy! While anatomy probably is my favorite class so far, it’s also one of the hardest because it’s extremely detailed, and learning to speak anatomy is like learning to speak a different language! In the end, I was able to overcome the mind games and succeed on this exam well beyond my expectations, and you can too! Here’s how I succeeded:
- When it comes to anatomy, you have to take it one muscle, attachment, and action at a time. Don’t get overwhelmed by the amount of information your professors try to throw at you. Learn each muscle individually before you move on to the next one. Practice both writing and saying the names so that you can easily recall them in your head. Don’t be afraid to ask your professor or a TA for help if you are having trouble distinguishing one structure from another.
- In the words of one of my professors, “Anatomy is a contact sport.” What they mean by that is you need to be actively engaged during laboratory times. Try to work with your lab mates by quizzing one another over structures and their purposes. As long as your program allows it, try to go to the lab outside of your regularly scheduled lab hours for extra studying. Those study sessions with just a few close friends have been so helpful to me because it’s hard for me to learn when the lab is full of classmates and very loud.
- Draw it out. For me, drawing the forelimb on my whiteboard and labeling my flexor angles was key to succeeding on my first anatomy exam. For weeks before the exam, I drew the limb, labeled bones and joints, and marked where landmarks would be found on each structure. This definitely helped me visualize in my head how and where each muscle attaches and how movement occurs.
- Look at as many different examples as possible. My instructor recommended several different anatomy textbooks for this course, and there is a reason why. Each book presents the information just a little bit differently and has different photos or drawings which all have helped me to form a well-rounded idea about whatever structure I am trying to learn about. Additionally, I’ve used my personal dogs as models. When I did not quite understand how the humerus articulated with the scapula, I watched my dogs both walking and standing until I could really see how these bones were contributing to the movement.
- There are several different online resources you can use to learn more about anatomy. For learning structure of the canine forelimb and hindlimb, one of my favorite tools so far has been this 3-D simulator. You can look at each bone and manipulate it to different views.
Veterinary school is intimidating, but it’s possible to get through if you work hard. Don’t let it get to your head, and make sure you prepare well in advance before that first exam happens!