Soldiering On


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.
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6 thoughts on “Soldiering On

    • I am sorry you have had a similar experience. Have you graduated? How would you start changing the profession if you could? I am encouraged that you are thinking about it.

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  1. I’ve been struggling with this lately as well. In the past few semesters we’ve had several students who have been too sick to take exams, sick enough that they received recommendations from their doctors not to attend school. Yet, when these students contacted professors about taking the exams later, they were told “No, sorry we can’t allow you to take the exam later. There is too much risk that students will cheat.” or in one case “Mental disorders don’t qualify as a disease. It is all in your head and there is no reason you cannot get over that before the exam this afternoon”. Some of these students were brave and went to our dean who helped them make alternative arrangements despite the professors’ objections. Other students attempted to take the exams anyway. As a result, two were hospitalized and one lost consciousness. How can we tell our students that we care about their mental health when they are facing statements like these from educators? What can we do as a student body to change this?

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    • There are a lot of professors, students, and counselors working together to change some of this culture. Surely, when the current students become professors I think they will be more sensitive to the importance of this topic. Right now, I think there are still a lot of professor for whom this topic is not their number 1 priority. That does not mean you should give up pushing for it though! Keep it up.

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  2. Bang on target!

    Now the long, bony hand of academia has infiltrated practice, through expensive and largely irrelevant, mandatory CPD and tuppence ha’penny extra “qualifications”. The latter has mushroomed the number of veterinary “specialists” out of all proportion or need, and has rocketed the cost of veterinary treatment beyond the reach of 75% of (uninsured) clients and into the grasping hands of “specialist” referrals.

    These charge exorbitant fees, bleeding general practice of essential surgical learning through experience and resultant profits, They also, by implication, devalue the MRCVS qualification, despite the latter being still the legal and hard-earned “standard of competence” to practise from day one, as a new graduate.

    Win back our profession – vote ONLY for RCVS Council Member candidates that see the deterioration of our profession for what it is and who will join a “block vote” of the 24 veterinary surgeon Council members to force immediate RCVS change across all fronts!!

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    • Mealer, I love hearing about veterinary medicine around the world. I am writing in the US, and I think a very similar thing is happening that is happening in the UK. I think the ultimate root cause in the US is less government funding of higher education, pushing costs to students, increasing loans, and “forcing” people into specialization as a means to repay those loans. Of course, more students pursuing residencies and internships is great for employers (in the short term) because it is cheap labor. Do you think something similar is going on in the UK?

      Like you, I would love to see greater emphasis on training the general practitioner.

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