I’ll be honest with you: frustration is something that comes easily to me. On the first day of kindergarten, I spent the entire morning sulking in a corner, refusing to come to snack time because the self-portrait I was asked to draw didn’t look anything like me. In short, I was frustrated because my drawing ability wasn’t what I wanted it to be. You might be able to detect a streak of perfectionism in that tale as well, but perfectionism was slowly squeezed out of me in the following elementary and high school years. I had no choice but to abandon perfectionism when it turned out that many of my aspirations (actress, horsewoman, French hornist) didn’t match up to my personality or abilities.
Besides the personal frustration I’ve learned to live with, vet school comes with its own host of frustrations. One of the long-term dissatisfactions is that there never seems to be enough time. Time to understand and absorb the material, time to decompress after an exam or a long day, time to think about the material and clarify or apply knowledge. I get frustrated because I can’t shake the feeling that I would be a better doctor if I just had the time to really think and understand the information I’m being exposed to. Our professors seem to understand—it’s an oft-heard sentiment that vet students forget more information than they learn, because we cram for exams, regurgitate the info, then move right on to the next subject. Additionally, making time outside of the classroom becomes ever more difficult. Most of my classmates are here because we love learning, and so prioritize it above one or more of the following: relaxation, exercise, hobbies, friends, or family. Time is so precious that even the minutes spent doing laundry or buying groceries is resented.
Another vet school frustration is that mild annoyances about class schedules, lecture formats, and exam questions are blown out of proportion by long-term stress and sleep deprivation. It’s a slippery slope, because on the one hand, venting to friends or classmates about the little details that drive you mad can help restore your perception about the importance of the issue, and helps you decompress a little. On the other hand, frequent venting can normalize complaining to the extent that you feel the prickling surge of irritation more often in response to perceived inconveniences, absurdities, and injustices.
The one silver lining I can see is that I’m getting remarkable practice with managing my expectations; staying on top of my frustration and stress levels and adjusting my mental attitude. Practicing self-care is something I’m definitely still struggling with because not everything works every time. But surprisingly, I feel more assured than ever that I’ll be able to handle the stresses of general practice once I get there.