Yesterday one of the things I was most excited and most nervous about vet school came and went. I successfully completed my first vet school surgeries: a spay and neuter! I was SO nervous, but in the end, it actually went really well and I have some tips on how to prepare.
- Practice. Sure, you can’t do an actual surgical procedure at home, but you can practice all of the components of surgery without spending a whole lot of money. All semester I’ve practiced gowning and gloving with a large long-sleeve button-up shirt. You can practice draping a stuffed animal with towels at home. I do highly recommend purchasing a suture practice kit because they come with suture and all the instruments you will need to become proficient. You can learn to do just about every type of suture or knot tying pattern on your suture kit, and I try to do them in order of how I will do them in surgery.
- Think success! In order to succeed, it’s really important to imagine yourself doing a procedure really well. In your mind, visualize the surgery going perfectly. Your ligatures are perfectly placed, your knots are tight and secure, and your tissue handling is gentle. The patient recovers quickly, and you did a GREAT job. Science actually backs this up. Visualizing success is a common tool for athletes to better their game, and there are several scientific studies to back up that imagining success actually helps with muscle memory and completing the task. Check out these articles here and here.
- Be willing to try new things. We have multiple junior surgery professors, and they all have a little bit different style for how they do surgical procedures. We are supplied with videos to watch before we attend labs or live animal procedures, but each vet does things just a little differently. It’s important to stay flexible and learn new things from each professor you encounter. You might find you like how one does something better than another. All of this is important for becoming a vet and deciding what works best for you.
- Stay calm. I feel like this was the hardest part for me. Surgery is something I am really excited about, but I also know how much is at stake every time we anesthetize a patient. There is a lot of responsibility that comes with being a good vet. It was helpful for me to remember that every vet that’s come before me goes through exactly this same step and that my professors expect that I will be nervous. They aren’t expecting me to be perfect yet. It’s in your patient’s best interest to stay calm, so if you need to take a few deep breaths before you begin, that is just fine to do.
Surgery can be extremely intimidating, but that just means you need to prepare well in advance for it. Practicing at home, visualizing success, and keeping an open mind are all important components of having a great first surgery. Your professors know you will be nervous, but try to stay grounded and focused. My second day of surgery got postponed due to an ice storm, but I’m already looking forward to my next day in the OR where I can learn more new things.