Our latest shared experience emphasizes how emotionally difficult vet school can be – even when it isn’t academics causing the problems.
Yesterday in a lab, one of our classmates lost consciousness and had to be transported to the hospital, where she remains as of this evening. I heard from several people how traumatic it was for them to see this happen. How they were unable to concentrate on the lab once the ambulance had left, and they were instructed to carry on by faculty. Hearing this, it struck me that maybe these are the situations where the neglect of our own needs take root. That expectation that we ignore our own feelings and needs to press on at all costs. Self sacrifice is part of the veterinary school culture. I’ve seen people show up for exams when they’re so sick they have to leave twice to throw up before they can finish. I know students who missed saying their last goodbye to relatives because of finals. There is the unspoken expectation that we use our lunch time to go on rounds, or sit through more lectures. Or the school only schedules us for half an hour for lunch, and then expects that we’ll use that half hour to drive out to the dairy barn. And when a classmate collapses during a lab and has to be rushed away, still unconscious, in an ambulance… we’re expected to buck up and carry on as though it was nothing. We’re expected to pay attention to the lab and commit things to memory. Not wonder or worry about our classmate and friend. There was no thought of rescheduling the lab for another day, to give students a chance to regroup and recover. I wonder if this isn’t why veterinarians are struggling so much with depression and suicide. Is it because we cut our teeth on the expectation that we put our own feelings and needs aside, no matter what happens? Veterinary school trains us to put ourselves last. Maybe once we graduate we don’t know how to say no. Maybe we feel guilty saying that we need a few minutes each to day just to sit down, eat lunch, and not think about work so we can feel like a real person again.