Category Archives: Vet school

Not a Real Doctor (#21)

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I often say “I should have gone to med school instead”, but last weekend for the first time in my life I meant it. I’ve wanted to be a vet since I was 9 years old, and I gave up everything to chase that dream. It was the only thing I have ever wanted to do, despite the low wage, lack of recognition and high suicide rates. But final year has broken me.

I am absolutely drained, not simply of energy but also of passion and conviction. Hard as I try I cannot will myself to pick up my books and study for yet another exam. I’ve recently been contemplating the idea that it simply isn’t worth it. All that effort put in and abuse taken, and almost half a million dollars in university fees, for a lifetime of shitty pay and a lack of recognition. To get told you aren’t a real doctor; that you don’t save real lives. No one becomes a vet for the money. But given the work and effort we put into it all, the massive discrepancies with regards to income and social recongition for the human and veterinary medical profession does get to me.

I’ve calculated that I have been made to work 130 hours over the past 2 weeks on my equine rotation.  I know that to register as a vet you need to know about all the different species, regardless of whether you intend to ever work with them in the future. But it is an unrealistic expectation for students to remember every bit of information they had learnt over the past 6 years – especially when they are worked to the bone during the day and have little time outside of work to revise the material. I struggle with equine medicine, having never grown up around horses and having little interest in the subject area, and I got put down everyday for it: told I wasn’t good enough; and that I would make a shitty doctor. On a rainy saturday night I was involved in a minor car accident. I was ok, but my tyre had blown out. I hadn’t a tyre iron with me, and after getting some help from a friend, realised that my spare wheel was flat too. I emailed my supervisors saying that I wasn’t able to make it in time for morning treatments on sunday due to my circumstances, and was met with the cold reply that I should have ubered into work regardless. I think that was the breaking point for me. I called my mom sobbing and spent the next week endlessly worrying that I would be failed because of circumstances that were beyond my control.

I promised myself that regardless of my position in the future – if I ever make it as a specialist surgeon – that I would remember what is was like to be me right at this moment, that I would always treat my peers with respect and compassion. That I wouldn’t allow the stress and pressure get to me in such a way that I became destructive to the dreams of others.

When people meet me they say “Wow you must really love animals to choose veterinary medicine”. But in truth it is because I don’t like people. A dog bites because it is fearful and a lion kills because it is hungry. But we have an ability to be unkind despite intelligent reasoning. It is unkindness without a cause.

Come to think of it, the things that have been getting to me lately have been due to the words and actions of people, rather than my work with the animals. My faith in people (and myself) is broken, but my yearning to help animals remains unchanged. So maybe I don’t actually mean it when I say I should have gone to med school instead. And maybe this isn’t a dream I should give up on just yet.

Jol

Rotation Rookie (#5)

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I am officially in the midst of my final year at vet school. We have done away with the daily monotony of hours upon hours of lectures and labs that made up the past 5 years and have graduated into the hospital as veterinarians in training (we even have badges that say so).

My rotations are on 2 week blocks that may be split up into individual specialities within it. For instance, my first rotation of the year is surgery, which is split up into a week of orthopaedics and a week of soft tissue. After this rotation I will have 2 weeks of anaesthesia followed by 2 weeks of emergency medicine etc.

I am so far greatly enjoying myself. There is always something new to learn everyday and we are starting to actually get a sense of what it means to be a vet. The learning curve is pretty steep and I am still trying to find my bearings around balancing full time work in the hospital and having to study for exams, write papers and prepare for presentations at night. Needless to say it is extremely exhausting. In my surgery rotation we are expected to independently perform consults before reporting our findings to the surgeons whereby we will perform a physical exam before returning to the owner to discuss the plan. We get to scrub into surgeries, but don’t get to do much whilst in surgery. Lastly we have to write up surgical reports, discharge instructions, drug order forms and clinical records. Thus I sometimes find myself working from 7.30am through to 7pm with scarcely a lunch break on busy days. When I get home I am expected to read papers and study for the rotation exams that we have on the friday at the end of every week or two. I am therefore struggling to find time to simply rest, given that we also get rostered on every other weekend and are on call throughout some nights.

On top of this I had signed up for an external dental course that runs for 10 weeks or, so I spend my remaining free time during the weekend studying for that.

It’s only been a week and already I am tired beyond measure.
I met up with a couple of classmates last friday after not seeing them for months; we all went over to a friend’s home and ate KFC and ice cream and talked about how sad and tired we all were. And thus is a summary of my first week back in vet school – so much has changed, but so little, too.

Jol

Noah’s Ark (#3)

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I spent the past week learning and working in an animal sanctuary in Malaysia. I stayed in a gorgeous house of bamboo walls and thatched roof filled with rescue cats, dogs, snakes and fish. I started work sometime between 12pm – 2pm and finished between 8pm – 12am. There was no electricity outside of these times, and no WiFi either. I spent all my free time reading when it was light enough and watching Harry Potter on my laptop when it got too dark. I made sure to pat every single dog and cat within my quarters before bed every night – even the little yappy ones I didn’t particularly like, lest they felt left out. It was a week of work experience that felt nothing short of a country vacation. It was a forced break from the busyness of my everyday life that I hadn’t known I needed.

The shelter housed about 700 dogs, 300 cats, half a dozen macaques, 1 gibbon, 12 horses and 2 snakes. I worked exclusively in the hospital, mostly performing castrations, abortions and ovariohysterectomies as part of a catch-neuter-release program for stray dogs and cats. This was the main purpose of my trip to Malaysia – to learn about shelter medicine, but mostly to gain the surgical experience I was so badly lacking. It was a bit intense because I would be showed how to perform a surgery once and then left to my own devices with an anaesthetised animal in front of me. It forced me to have more confidence in my skills and knowledge, and to make my own decisions involving my patients.

I think I have improved vastly in the short period of time I was there, but I know that I still have a long long way to go; there is always more knowledge to be acquired and practice to be had. In university I am taught only the gold-standard treatments and options. My main struggle at the shelter was therefore having to set that aside and adopt other methods that are both time and cost-saving but defied the teachings of my professors. But that is how the real world works: as a doctor I will not always have the time or resources to perform the gold standard tests and treatments. I will be limited by my clients finances, and my patients condition. It is a vital skill I need to learn, to be able to come up with treatment plans that cater to the needs of all these factors.

I am so thankful for the opportunity to have learnt as much as I have in the past week. And I am so excited for all that is to come – to learn and to better my skills and knowledge. I am beyond privileged and I am grateful.

Jol

Ain’t No Rest (Fickle Friday #48)

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Vet school is relentlessly unforgiving. There is no rest. I started my clinical placements 3 days after my last exam paper. I spent the week before last at a mixed practice about an hour’s drive from the city. I got to watch my first colic surgery, as well as a number of canine orthopaedic surgeries. This was really cool because whilst we do get a fair bit of live practice with soft tissue surgery in uni, we only got a day to practice ortho procedures on a cadaver. Watching a live TPLO or FHEA really helped to put context to all the procedures I have thus far only tried to make sense of from books. One of the nurses had also found a piglet who had fallen off a transport truck- he was named Wilbur and the entire hospital promptly fell in love with him. 🙂 It was also puppy/ kitten season!

I had my equine rotations last week which consisted of several 24 hour shifts lasting from 7.30am to 7.30am the following day, with all but a 4 hour break in between from noon to 4pm. The work itself is not too difficult, getting up every hour or so to medicate horses can be annoying, but I find that these shifts simply throw my body clock out of synch and I can’t help feeling lethargic for the next couple of days afterwards, even if we do get the next day off to catch up on sleep. On the bright side, this did mean that I if I chose not to sleep the following morning (and often I have trouble falling asleep once it’s light outside anyway), I got a free day to go out and do the things I enjoyed. I have been using all my non-existent free time to hike, climb, run and snorkel- and to soak up the australian summer as best I can. On Friday I had my first swim of the season, and it was glorious. Even the poor water visibility couldn’t dampen my spirits. Unfortunately I did eventually succumb to the exhaustion and promptly fell asleep under the sun and got burnt to a crisp. I am now a comical shade of pink- like a cooked prawn. And it hurts to move.

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This week I am on emergency rotation- here is to hoping I don’t get rostered on too many night shifts. I have a week of GP practice following that before I get to fly home and spend Christmas week with my family (and then do another 2 weeks of placements prior to heading back to uni).

I really do value the learning experience and I do try to make the most of it. I am just tired, and I wish we got a bit more of a break to take a breather- to go home and spend time with family and to hug our dogs. I am thankful for earnest doctors who try their best to impart their knowledge on us. But I am also tired and weary of the impatient ones who make me feel small and inadequate- God knows I do enough of that on my own already.

The good news though is that I’ve passed all my exams- I did surprisingly well and ended up with 7 disintinctions. It could be better, but I definitely expected worse and I am thankful nonetheless. This means that I am officially in final year, and that exactly 1 year from now I will (hopefully) be a Dr Jol. 🙂

Jolyn

Vet school burn-out (Fickle Friday #41)

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I actually have the most wonderful friends, but this is just such a beautiful song.
And I am no stranger to feeling alone, even when you are surrounded by the people you love. These past few weeks have been tiring and stressful and whilst I have been coping well, I have seen far too many of my classmates succumb to the pressure; I recently wrote this message to a friend who was was on the verge of giving up, but I felt that maybe there were more people out there who needed to hear this- so this is for you, if you feel burnt-out and alone:

~~ I know that vet school is tough and you feel like you are running in quicksand. But Remember to take a breather and realise how far you’ve come. You end every year with just so much more knowledge, and it makes you that much closer to becoming a Dr/ surgeon. 5 years ago we had no idea how to even catch a horse or properly auscultate a cat. And now you’ve performed surgeries, monitored anaesthesia, calculated drug doses and don’t even think twice about loading cows into crushes or interacting with clients. I know it gets harder every year, and that the work never seems to end. But you are so close, and you are not alone- neither in the physical struggle with the sheer amount of study content or the mental isolation. You’ve come a very very long way, so don’t ever discount that fact or devalue your sacrifices and efforts by not also realising that what you’ve achieved so far is incredible as it is. I think you are pretty great- even if you don’t think so. ~~

If we are friends but just don’t really hang out, or if we are strangers but you just really need someone to talk to right now, send me a text or a Facebook message. I will buy you a coffee, we can hang out. 🙂

Remember that you have made it through every worst day of your life so far.
And that people care- even the ones you least expect to.
Remember that you are not alone. Ever.

Jol

Baby Surgeons (Fickle Friday #35)

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The past few weeks have been exhausting and I have had barely much sleep at all. Today I concluded that if I were to enter a panda-lookalike contest, I would actually win out over an actual panda. You know, because of my bamboo-eating abilities.

I’ve had to do my over night shift in the equine hospital last monday, from 4pm until 8am the following day, and then go through my regular day at university from 8.30am until 4.30pm. It was actually pretty fun because I finally got to live in the student apartment in the vet school, but I also had to get up every hour or so to check on the 6 horses in ICU throughout the course of the night. We often get told that tiredness compromises patient care, and that it is a doctor’s duty to get adequate rest, I only wish they also told us how to survive all the hospital shifts and uni work, whilst still getting more than 5 hours of sleep daily.  It didn’t help that I also had an exam that week (which I am pretty sure I screwed up). I have spent the past 4 weekends in hospital looking after our patients/ on emergency shift, and have learnt a fair bit from it, but made me feel like I don’t ever get a break from it all; I come back on monday feeling like I never left.

We’ve been conducting a lot of surgeries this semester, and that has been the highlight for me. It recently hit me that 5 years ago I had no idea how even to approach a horse or restrain a sheep, and now we conduct surgeries, monitor anaesthesia and draw up drugs on a weekly basis. And I think that is incredible, and I am again reminded of all the sacrifices my family has made to allow me to get to where I am, and so thankful for the opportunities in my life.

We recently got to perform a sheep rumenotomy/ exploratory laparotomy. And that was the most stressful surgery I have performed yet because we experieced a few complications during the procedure. I am fairly confident with the blade but I think really need to work on keeping calm when hitting roadblocks- Shaky hands do not make for good surgeons. But the procedure went well and we checked on all the sheep daily over  the next 2 weeks and ensure that they were back to full health before being returned to the paddocks.

Yesterday I got to perform my first canine ovariohysterectomy. I had been quite looking forward to this for years now. Most of the dogs are from local shelters and we spay/ castrate them with one-on-one guidance from experienced surgeons and then vaccinate/ microchip them before returning them back to their shelters with hopefully a higher chance of adoption now.  I think it is a fantastic system because it gives us the practice we need, and for a good cause. I only wish I were able to adopt her, she was the loveliest little thing.


So yeah, that is what I have been busy with- Slowly inching closer to becoming a veterinary surgeon, and mostly just never getting enough sleep and spending the rest of my free time studying in the library. I love every minute of it (ok, maybe not the studying for exams part), but I think I am also very much in need of a breather- and soon.

Jol

Anal fisting, abdominal surgery & a lot of studying (Fickle Friday #24)

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Semester one is officially over, and I had wanted to write about all the amazing and interesting new things I have learnt but never found the time to do so. We had to take 6 units this semester, which has been really taxing because it had previously only been 4 units a semester. We generally have 4 hours of lectures in the morning, an hour’s lunch break and then 4-5 hours of lab/ prac/ surgery in the afternoon most days. Some days we have fewer hours, and some days we don’t even get lunch. On my busiest day it was lectures from 8.30-12.30 and then surgery from then until 6pm. I felt like I would pass out by the time I got home. Many working friends of mine joke that I now know the stress of working office hours. But they don’t consider that you have to be on the ball every minute you are in the lecture hall, your mind cannot wander or you will miss out on something important- and when the day ends your work does not. You go home (or you stay in the library) and study.

We had four main predominating units this semester, the first of which is Exotics & Wildlife Medicine. I found this really interesting because it is something I have always been interested in. It was nice to learn about reptiles, amphibians, fish and marsupials for a change besides the common domestic and production animals.

We also had to do Reproduction & Obstetrics. Which involved a lot of anal fisting, and a lot of poop. I thoroughly enjoyed myself though- it was really cool to be able to put your arm up a rectum and tell if an animal was pregnant- what stage of gestation she was in, or if she were in anoestrus and currently taking a break from baby-making to go and truly find herself, y’know? It also involved a lot of poop: Poop in my hair; down my boots; on my overalls; up my sleeves- the smell stuck around for a couple of days. But it made for an interesting conversation starter.

Obstetrics was a lot of work. It involved some cool dissections and post-mortems (don’t worry we get them from abbatoirs, we don’t kill them just to dissect), but the most interesting thing was learning how to do a fetotomy. I have decided against posting pictures of that because it is rather graphic. If a calf dies in-utero and is either too big or deformed, and cannot be delivered per-vagina by the cow, your two options are to do a C-section or to perform a fetotomy. A fetotomy requires you to pass a metal rod and a sharp wire through the vagina and saw the dead fetus into pieces so it can be safely evacuated from the cow. You first remove the head and neck, then each forelimb, then the torso (so when you pull it out, you need to pull the intestings/ guts out as well), then you split the pelvis in half and remove both hindlegs. Keep in mind that you have to do all of that with just your arm(s) within the vagina/uterus. You can only use your sense of touch to make educated guessed regarding the position of the fetus. It is incredibly difficult to do- a cow’s vagina is very big, much bigger than that of women’s but it never feels big enough when you are up in there.

We also had equine medicine. Which was a lot of content and rather tough to grasp for a city girl like me who had grown up without ever interacting with horses. I didn’t know the common slang for all the joints and diseases, and I simply couldn’t wrap my head around how everything tied together with anatomy and function. For instance if you told me a dog was vomiting and had an elevated heart rate, I would immediately start thinking about several common differentials for my diagnosis because I understand how dogs behave and what they commonly get up to. My lack of background knowledge in horses (and all large animals for that matter) therefore really hindered my progress.

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Gail and I also managed to get out and volunteer for a charity run hosted by the RSPCA. We were basically just there to offer free health checks for dogs. This was a lot of fun, and much needed practice for both my consultation skills as well as just getting a bit more comfortable/ confident with talking to strangers. Blue skies, cute pooches and occasionally cute runners, all for a good cause- why would I decline? 🙂

Lastly, there was small animal surgery which consisted of orthopaedics and soft-tissue surgery. I immensely enjoyed orthopaedics, and I think it might be something I would want to get into or perhaps even specialise in once I am out in practice. We conducted our first live surgeries (see below piglet- my first ever surgical patient!) and went on to perform a gastrotomy, splenectomy, gastropexy, cystotomy and other various surgeries commonly performed during an laparotomy. Surgery was so much fun, I was more nervous and excited for my first surgery than I was for my first kiss. I have dreamt of this since before I even started thinking about boys! Surgery on a live patient is nothing like the previous years of practice on cadavers and synthetic skin. There is so much pressure because you need to ensure your patient doesn’t die on you. There is the beeping for the anaesthetic machine, and the shrill reprimand from all the other various machines if any of the vitals drop too low. Live animals also react to your blade even under general anaesthetic and that was quite nerve-wrecking because you are reminded that you can’t make any stupid mistakes. One good thing though was the it was very warm in there. No more freezing hands and the smell of formalin- I will not regret that.

Here’s to hoping I passed all my exams so I can proceed to learn even more cools stuff next semester. 🙂

Jol