Tag Archives: Equine medicine

Not a Real Doctor (#21)


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.


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


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.


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. 🙂