I went to veterinary school back in the ’80s. Getting into veterinary school was very competitive, and staying in was challenging. It was intensely demanding to say the least. Nothing I studied was any more difficult than the subjects I had taken in my pre-vet courses. No, in vet school, it was the sheer VOLUME of material you had to learn. It was unbelievable. It was insane. The first year of veterinary school had the reputation for being the hardest. It was the year we developed a strong foundation in science – anatomy, physiology, histology, microbiology, virology, immunology, etc. There were usually about 8 hours of lectures a day, and then several more hours of labs after that. And then when you were through with your afternoon labs, you were usually heading to anatomy lab to study your cadavers. There would still be studying to do that night and somewhere in there you TRIED to find time to feed your weary body, although sometimes even that didn’t happen. Oh yeah, and then there was that elusive thing called sleep. It was rare in those days.
When I attended vet school, it was a three-year curriculum (year round). It has since changed into a four-year curriculum. Years two and three involve studying diseases, their causes, diagnosis, treatment and prevention. The final year, the students participate exclusively in clinical rotations in the Veterinary Medical Clinics. It is the “hands-on” year. I once worked for a veterinarian who used to describe veterinary school like this. He said the first three years are like memorizing a phone book, and the fourth year, you finally get to call some numbers. In a nutshell, I think that’s a pretty accurate description of veterinary school.
I was very eager to start my clinical year. It was exciting to FINALLY get to actually see clients, perform physical exams on the animals and get some experience in the actual diagnosis and treatment of all the thousands of diseases I had spent the last few years learning about. Finally, the day came when I was to see my very first patient. I was nervous and excited and happy and scared out of my wits. But I was ready. The vet students who were on “receiving” in clinics usually went into the exam room alone first with the client, took a history, performed an exam, and then exited the exam room out into a hallway to discuss their findings with the clinician, discuss a diagnosis, and formulate a treatment plan. Then the student and the doctor went back into the room and saw the client and animal together. So that first day, I eagerly got the next patient’s chart, wondering what I would be seeing and what the “CC” was (CC is “chief complaint” or why the animal is being presented to the veterinarian… the most important thing on the client’s mind). Would it be a dog? A cat? Would it be a fairly straightforward case or something complicated that 20 other veterinarians had seen and couldn’t figure out and were therefore referring it to the teaching hospital? Would I remember all the questions to ask the client when I was taking my history? I opened the chart and looked down. My heart sank. I blinked my eyes and shook my head, thinking surely I had read wrong. But I hadn’t. There it was… plain as day. My first patient was a fish. A TROUT to be exact.
Coming up tomorrow….. Part 2