I’m just over halfway through a week of work experience at a local veterinary clinic. Because I have a lot of free time before my Farm Animal tutorials this semester, I thought it might be worth my while to squeeze in a week of EMS. My brain is very, very rusty, and just a few days of cats, dogs, rabbits, and horses has reminded me how much more revision I need to do. And I thought I was finished for awhile!
This particular placement is only for a week, which is not how I like to arrange my EMS. More time with a practice usually garners more confidence from the vets and techs, and thus more chances to try my hand at practical skills and cases. Plus, a lot of the cases seen during week 1 come in during week 2 for a check-up, which allows me to see how effective a treatment has been, or how well a wound is healing. Still, I’m glad for the chance to see some cases, and for the wake-up call.
In case anyone is interested in what a week of EMS is like for a veterinary student, I thought I might share what I’ve seen and done over this placement. This is a very dry list, but perhaps a student considering vet school in UK would be curious about these things:
Watched morning consults, which were mostly re-checks from last week, boosters injections, and general check-ups. The vet did all of the above, and I was a fly-on-the-wall for each consultation. In the later morning, I watched a cat castration. I gave two subcutaneous injections to a dog that needed fluid therapy for several bouts of vomiting. After lunch I watched another hour of consults (boosters, re-checks for treated wounds, a dog with a persistent cough) and in the late afternoon I observed a few small surgeries.
With only a small number of consults, I spent most of my morning watching a cystotomy on a dog with bladder stones, and then a laparoscopic liver biopsy. In the afternoon, a dog arrived with a fractured forelimb and shallow respiration; chest x-rays showed a pneumothorax, or air outside of the lungs but within the thoracic cavity, which the vet cleared with a needle and syringe. After stabilizing the breathing and administering pain relief, the vet bandaged the dog’s leg until surgery could be performed. Finally, I watched the vet open and flush out an abscess on the tailhead of a cat.
I saw a few brief consults: a booster injection, a check-up on a kitten before surgery to castrate him, and a cyst on the back of a dog’s neck. Afterward, I watched a vet perform a keyhole bitch spay on a television monitor (very cool). After lunch, I restrained a dog while the vet scanned her abdomen for liver disease, then watched the practice owner clear out an impacted crop in a pet hen. There were two lame horses at a livery yard that I went to visit in the afternoon, and when I came back I watched the vet training one of the nurses on how to stitch up an abdominal incision.
Morning consults included a dachshund with vomiting and diarrhea (she was admitted for fluid therapy) and two rabbits, one of which ended up needing his teeth filed flat and his nasolacrimal duct flushed under general anesthetic. I didn’t get a chance to watch this, however, because I scrubbed in for an orthopedic surgery. I was only needed to hold the leg in certain positions, but because I was gloved, I was able to touch the tissues and get up close to the incision site. The vet gave a very nice tutorial on the operation he performed. I microchipped a cat (hopefully this one will stay in!) and gave a subcutaneous injection. After lunch, I watched a dog dental. The vet let me extract one of the teeth (we took out 5) and I polished the mouth at the end.
The morning consults were mostly booster injections. There was a dog that came in for castration who was pretty snappy, so it took awhile to get him calmed down and put in a kennel. I watched his castration, then helped position dogs for a few radiographs. In the afternoon, I saw the dog with pneumothorax from Tuesday have a plate put on her fractured limb, and then I watched the vet place pins in a fractured tibia (hindlimb) in a 6-month old puppy. I didn’t do much in manual skills, but I did monitor anesthesia quite a bit.
That was my week. It was less busy than some EMS of the past, but more busy than others. And now for the tons of studying I need to do….
My big exam is in 9 days, and feels like it’s just around the corner.
I think it would be impossible to not feel very anxious about this exam. Although I don’t necessarily believe that I can’t pass it, the thought of how I would feel if I were to fail for a third time makes my stomach twist. I would still have the summer re-sit for a fourth try, but I’m not alright with failing this test any more. It needs to be passed. I need to know that I’m not completely in over my head by choosing to become a veterinarian. Just a little success to confirm the original inkling that I can become a good vet if I keep on trying.
It has been a struggle this semester, if I’m honest. By becoming a re-sitting student, I was not allowed government student loans to finance the year, so I had to apply for a private loan. The entire process was incredibly murky and overcoming one barrier seemed to reveal another. Finally, nine weeks into the semester, I got a loan cheque. However, I was unaware that the University automatically disperses US loans in two installments. Thus, I get the second half of the money I needed for this semester at the start of next semester. Confused? Me too! I have emptied savings accounts, sold textbooks and personal effects, and eventually relied on borrowing from friends, just to pay bills and have a little money for food.
I tried very, very hard to stay focused on my studies, but my money woes meant I probably lost a lot of study time because of anxiety regarding paying rent and my next meal. The process has been incredibly frustrating. I did apply for work but nothing ever came to be, most likely because Uni demands all of my free time, and I couldn’t find anything with working hours that matched my availability. I would rather be dead broke than fail this exam.
But it hasn’t been all terrible. I am grateful for family and friends who offered to help me with my finances, and have volunteered so much support while I am studying a topic that seems to defeat me. I wanted to be an “adult” and deal with my money problems without any assistance, but when I couldn’t do it anymore, there were many people who stepped in to help me. I’m am so thankful for, and indebted to, them all.
Now I will turn my focus back to studying. I really, really hope I have some happy news to report on this blog when it’s all done.
Today is National Poetry Day in the UK. There is, admittedly, limited crossover between poetry and veterinary medicine; however, being a lover of poetry I wanted to share an example of such an intersection.
As a veterinarian, my understanding of science must be influenced by and compounded with my understanding of humanity. That fundamental principle of primum non nocere - “first, do no harm” - accounts for the lives and emotions tied into any patient observed. I hope I never forget that the animal in front of me is someone’s pet and companion.
So, printed without any permission at all - but also to no profit to me besides the satisfaction of a good poem:
The Family Cat
This cat was bought upon the day
That marked the Japanese defeat;
He was anonymous and gay,
But timorous and not discreet.
Although three years have gone, he shows
Fresh sides of his uneven mind:
To us - fond, lenient - he grows
Still more eccentric and defined.
He is a grey, white-chested cat,
And barred with black along the grey;
Not large, and the reverse of fat,
His profle good from either way.
The poet buys especial fish,
Which is made ready by his wife;
The poet’s son holds out the dish:
They thus maintan the creature’s life.
It’s not his anniversary
Alone that’s his significance:
In any case mortality
May not be thought of in his presence.
For brief as are out lives, more brief
Exist. Our stroking hides the bones,
Which none the less cry out in grief,
Beneath the mocking, loving tones.
— Roy Fuller
Edinburgh, in the spring, is decorated in yellow: daffodils and gorse take over the landscape. After the brown and gray of a Scottish winter, this warming yellow is a very welcome sight.
The late summer, however, is very much pink and purple.
Still, a little yellow remains….
The musical stylings of a group of nurse-anesthetists:
(Love the name of the group)
It’s time to share a bit of information with the people reading this blog, that I hadn’t anticipated ever having to write.
In December 2010, I took, and failed, my farm animal written exam. I missed the pass mark by 2 points, and while I was not happy about the prospect of resitting the exam in July, I recognized that reviewing the material a second time would only serve to benefit me. If I pass, I prefer to pass with a healthy 60+% (remember, in the UK, 60% is akin to a B-), just so I know that I hadn’t “scraped past.”
I spent a lot of my summer studying for this resit exam, grabbing minutes to review flashcards between appointments at my EMS placement and re-reading notes in a nearby cafe. I came back to the UK for about two weeks of intensive studying, spending long hours in the library with my study-partner, answering practice questions and constantly quizing myself. I never feel fully prepared for an exam, but I was more knowledgeable this time around, and felt some comfort in knowing I was only 2 points away from passing in my first attempt.
Fast-forward two weeks later, to when I found out I had failed the exam for a second time. I wasn’t surprised - quickly after leaving the exam, and when chatting with my friends, I realized that I had misunderstood one of the essay questions and wrote about the wrong topic, which I knew would probably cost me the exam - but I was still very upset. Very suddenly, I went from moving steadily along the stream with the rest of the school, to realizing I had made a mistake that would hold me back, and cost me a lot of time and money.
The consequence of failing this exam for the second time is that I must take it a third time: in December of 2011, with the class of students I had once called “the year below me” and must now call my own. The class that used to be mine - now “the year above me” started final year yesterday. They’ll spend this year mostly in the hospital, acting as vets-to-be; I will be back in the lecture theatre, re-learning about farm animals, come the end of September.
After I take the exam for the third time, I am free for awhile: as I have already passed all of the course work in the Spring Semester of 4th year, I don’t need to retake any of it. Being (mostly) free until August, and without a work visa, and no longer a student, I have to move back to the United States for awhile. I am not upset about moving home, but I hadn’t planned to come back to California under these circumstances.
All of this news has been very upsetting for me, especially to my confidence, and I was hesitant to share any of this publicly. But, ultimately I decided it was important to open up about this, because I think the next generation of US/Canadian students looking to apply to vet college abroad, should be aware of the consequences of doing poorly. No one thinks they’ll struggle to the point of failure - I certainly didn’t - and I should emphasize that I am part of a small fraction of students who failed their exams for a second time this year, so I am not wishing to scare people away. The clear majority of students make it to the end without having to re-organize their plans for resitting a semester. But shit happens. And while students fail in US/Canadian vet schools as well, failing and re-taking a course in a foreign University brings even more complications. I think it’s only fair that future applicants are able to prepare for a ‘worst-case’ scenario.
NB Worth noting is that the UK system of re-sitting years, while increasingly less common, is still more frequently encountered than in US universities. UK students traditionally leave vet school with substantially less debt than their American and Canadian counterparts, and at a younger age; thus spending extra time in University is perhaps less dramatic a consequence. Believe it or not, over here, re-sitting a year is not seen as a mark of a poor student, but rather that the student needed a bit more time - although I dread trying to explain that to a future US employer!