Going through veterinary school during a pandemic is not something everyone experienced, but it was a large part of some students' veterinary journey
In March 2020, I was beginning to wrap up the third quarter of my third year of veterinary school. It was finals week and my classmates, and I were all furiously trying to learn cardiopulmonary physiology, gastrointestinal tracts of dogs, cats, horses, and ruminants, and planning a trip for spring break. While in veterinary school, I was in a bubble, so I didn’t really know what was happening in the world outside of when I occasionally checked the news on my phone. I had a trip to Florida planned for spring break with some friends to escape the gray monotony of winter and early spring in the Midwest. I had heard some rumblings of something called COVID-19, but I didn’t really think anything of it.
On the Friday of finals week, a few hours before our last final of the quarter, we got an email from the dean telling us all to come 15 minutes early so we could discuss plans about how to proceed with the fourth quarter. I showed up when asked, but to be honest, I was more concerned about the impending exam and what to pack for spring break than whatever the meeting was about. The dean walked in the room and it fell silent. He stood at the front and scanned the room with all of us first years and a handful of professors there as exam proctors.
“I am sure you have heard about COVID-19 at this point,” he told the room. “The administration has been discussing how to proceed and fourth quarter instruction will begin virtually. You will all probably be back within 4 weeks.”
Okay 4 weeks, I could deal with that. Let’s get this exam started so I can start enjoying spring break. I finished my exam and trekked to my already packed car to start the drive home to Indiana. I was spending some time with my family before heading out to Florida. It wasn’t until I got home that I realized just how bad COVID-19 was.
Long story short, my parents definitely did not allow me to go to Florida, and we all know what happened next with COVID-19. The second year came with biweekly testing, social distancing, and a lot of virtual learning. While going to veterinary school during a pandemic is not something I would wish upon anyone, I did learn a lot throughout.
This was a hard pill for me to swallow because I have been a perfectionist my entire life, always striving for the best grades. I am sure most of my fellow veterinary students are the same way and I would even dare to say most veterinary students are used to being some of the smartest people in their classes. Then in veterinary school, there is an entire classroom full of the smartest people. Veterinary school education is hard to explain unless you have gone through it. The amount of information and difficulty of the information is like a fire hydrant of all the hardest science classes you have ever taken shooting at you. That might be a little dramatic but that is how it feels sometimes. This means we must study. A LOT. However, that doesn’t mean studying is all you have to do. My best memories from school came from nights with my friends where I wasn’t studying such as going to concerts, hiking, and playing intramural sports. Grades are important, but they aren’t everything. You don’t have to spend every waking minute studying and in all honesty, it will probably drive you crazy if you do. Take time for yourself to do things you like. You need to study, but it doesn’t have to consume every minute of your day.
During the pandemic, there were many hours of virtual learning and restrictions on the number of people who could be in a group. There is no way to sugarcoat how hard it really was. It was isolating, lonely, and difficult to learn so much information without really every interacting with a professor. The friends I made were the people who got me through. My parents had gone through graduate school so they could relate to the rigor of the courses, even if the material was different. My friends from undergraduate were nice to talk to just to get perspective of what life was like in the working world and what I had to look forward to. Without these people, I would have had a much harder time getting through that second year. The support group doesn’t have to be a big group, but it is nice to just have people in your corner for those really tough days.
I have made this point vague for a reason. Everyone needs different support during veterinary school. Whether you are struggling academically and need a tutor, or you’re struggling with your mental health and you need a counselor. We are fortunate enough to have a counselor specifically for the veterinary students at my school. I, foolishly, never thought I would need to talk to her, but the second year I had a Zoom session with her where I spent the majority of the session crying. Like I said, school is hard and you need to take care of yourself. You can’t help others, especially patients, if you don’t take care of yourself. That is a quick way to burnout.
Veterinary school is difficult and something most people don’t have the opportunity to go through. I can’t tell you the number of people I have talked to that said, ‘I wanted to be a vet, but it was too hard.’ We are the lucky people who were admitted and get to be a part of this profession. Becoming a veterinarian has been a lifelong dream of mine, and I remember being so excited when I got my acceptance letter. That excitement was not always present during school. There were certainly times during class where I didn’t feel lucky or during clinics where I was going on hour 15 and I wished I was anywhere else. That is normal. You certainly aren’t going to love every minute and I sure didn’t, but it is not all bad. One of my favorite memories from school was when I was able to help take care of a critical patient and was able to send them home. Through school, I created lifelong friendships with some of the best people I have ever had the honor of knowing. It is not all going to be puppies and kittens, but it is not all bad. When you are struggling, one tip I have is to remember how excited you were to get into veterinary school and cling to that.
COVID-19 certainly threw a wrench in my veterinary school, but it taught me a lot. Many changes were thrown at us quickly, and we were able to adapt. For the new classes, you got this. It is going to be hard, and there are days you will want to quit. Just remember, a veterinarian is your career, not who you are. Find hobbies you love and keep doing them, build a support group, and don’t forget to enjoy the wins no matter how small they may seem.