September 22, 2019 started out like any other day in my life as a third-year student at Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine. It began with catching up on some emails and noting what lunch meetings I had signed up for that week. Typically, my morning would then transition to studying for the week’s exams and quizzes.
But this Sunday was different, as it was my first treatment crew shift in the university’s veterinary teaching hospital intensive care unit (ICU). Treatment crew, a requirement for our clinical skills course, offers the first opportunity for third-year students to enter the teaching hospital. The requirement is designed to introduce us to the hospital, acquaint us with the clinic environment and see real cases that bring our classroom learning to life.
As someone who learns better through cases, I always looked forward to my treatment crew shifts. We would work through cases with fourth-year students, treat both small and large animal animals, familiarize ourselves with the locations of important items and ask all sorts of questions during downtime.
By January 2020, when the second portion of treatment crew began, we had grown accustomed to the hospital and ICU environment, making us more efficient and allowing more downtime to talk with fourth-years. As a second-semester third-year student, I began to think more about the quickly approaching fourth-year clinical rotations. Aside from working through cases with fourth-year students, I would often ask them about preparing for clinics. This included suggestions for professional yet comfortable attire, scheduling tips, and important supplies and resources.
One of the most consistent recommendations was the importance of having a pocket notebook to write down case notes. Many students showed me their notebooks, which were often inconsistent in layout and difficult to refer back to in a clear, concise and efficient manner—a necessity in the fast-paced clinic environment. Knowing my sloppy, illegible handwriting, I knew that blank pocket notebooks would not cut it for me. As I searched in vain for case-templated pocket notebooks, I imagined I was not the only clinical student in search of such a product. I thought to myself, “If there’s not one out there, then why not create it!”
In collaboration with an amazingly talented graphic designer named Emily Adar, I created a notebook designed for use in clinics, one that helps students and clinicians keep organized case notes, set goals and self-reflect using a template that works simultaneously for medicine, professional growth and wellness.
The Clinic Notebook includes pages for about 30 case breakdowns (signalment, history, physical exam, differentials, diagnostics, treatment and plan), reference page for easy access to common clinical reference ranges (TPR, fluid rates, etc.), and weekly and monthly calendars. The best part? It fits in the pocket of a white coat!
The importance of purpose
I’ve learned many great lessons from this entrepreneurial adventure, not the least of which is the importance of purpose. The Clinic Notebook serves a specific purpose for veterinary students and clinicians, and everything in the notebook has a purpose: It provides structure, and promotes organization and efficiency to propel learning. For the goal-oriented, it provides a space to record and track what you want to accomplish. Lastly, the notebook provides an opportunity for self-reflection, a critical component to achieving growth and realizing how far we have come. Veterinary professionals who use the notebook will develop skills in these areas and, in turn, will work harder and achieve more. Everything in the book, like everything in a veterinary practice, has a purpose.
Getting down to business
Behind every successful veterinary hospital is a business plan. During the early stages of The Clinic Notebook, I worked hard to come up with a business plan that included where we would source production, how we would market the notebook, where and by what means we would sell it, and how we would announce its release. It was also important to determine and solidify our short- and long-term goals. I also had to calculate the budget and price of the product and create a spreadsheet to track income and expenses. Going through these exercises provided me with valuable experience in business management. As I work toward my goal of becoming a veterinary practice owner/partner, I look forward to continuing these practices and forming a solid foundation for life in veterinary practice and hospital management.
Matt Schiffman is a fourth-year veterinary student at Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine. His current veterinary interests include internal medicine, practice management and physical rehabilitation. When Matt graduates in May 2021, he plans to work in a small animal practice with future aspirations of practice ownership.