My life stopped and started over on Friday, March 13th, 2020. It was 8 am, and I was attending the first of four lectures that were standing between myself and a weeklong spring break. I had planned the following day to go to an agility trial and then a short weekend girls trip with my mom and one of my nieces. That’s when I got the email from main campus. As I had been suspecting but desperately hoping would not occur, classes were to be moved online for two weeks following spring break, and the rest of the semester reevaluated at a later time. As anyone reading this can probably guess, my classes ended up being moved online for the entire rest of the semester. Over the next 24 hours, both of my trips planned for spring break disintegrated, and I hastily packed my entire college life into my small car to head back to my home state where my husband and family reside. I have found myself reflecting a lot on that day as the last day of somewhat normalcy in my life. Veterinary school is hard enough but add in a pandemic and online distance learning and it becomes one thousand times more complex.
Most of that first week of isolation I spent in my house working on home projects or taking my dog Cherry to the deserted walking trails near our house. My biggest memory from that time is uncertainty. How can I learn how to be a vet online? How am I going to take all the tests I have scheduled over the next few weeks while not physically being at school? How can I learn this material without in-person help from my study groups and professors? But, those weren’t the only areas of ambiguity. Like most people, I was also wondering during this time if I’d be able to meet my family’s basic needs. Both food and toilet paper were in short supply, and limits were placed on how much you could purchase at a time. I found myself referring to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. How can I reach self-actualization when I’m uncertain about my own basic safety and physiological needs?
The second week, which was my first week back to classes began with a new resolve. I didn’t like my situation but neither did anyone else, and we were all in this together. None of us had asked or opted to learn online, and none of our professors had voluntarily determined that this was the most effective means of communication for a class of budding veterinarians. However, this was the best we could do with the current situation, so I needed to make the most of it. I am going to be a veterinarian, after all!
The rest of the semester, about 6 weeks, went by in a blur. It had its ups and downs, and I learned more about my own individual learning style. I retain information a lot better when I listen to lectures sped up than when I am listening in real-time. While I will never purposefully choose online computer-based education, I am able to focus better when the speaker talks faster. Luckily, our software lets us change the playback speed, so I was able to listen to nearly all my lectures fast. I was also impressed by the resiliency many of my professors showed. They came up with new and innovative learning and teaching methods on the fly. I will forever respect those individuals for that.
I wouldn’t wish a half of a semester of online veterinary school on my worst enemy, but I do see how this semester made me a stronger and more self-reliant individual, both of which are important qualities for a veterinarian to have. I often think back to that day in March before everything changed. That chapter in my life is over, and a new one has begun. My values have changed. The thought of crowded concerts or restaurants isn’t as exciting as it used to be. Instead, I’d rather learn how to sustainably grow my own food to provide for my family. I wonder what my future children and grandchildren will ask me about this historic event that I’m currently living through. One thing for certain is that my story will be unique; not many veterinarians can say they were trained while in the grips of a global pandemic.