Friday, March 5, 2010

Freshman vs Sophomore Year

As a sophomore this spring, I see the current freshmen trooping over to our Pathology building every Friday morning for their "Biology of Disease I" labs.

Ah, yes, I remember Biology of Disease I. That was way back when we were first learning what "inflammation" meant. What the differences between "benign" and "malignant" tumors are, and how to tell. When our weekly BoD labs consisted mostly of "Let's Play: 'What the Heck Organ Is That?'", or you'd spend 10 minutes examining a gross pathology specimen believing it to be a pig's lungs, only to find out in the end that it was actually a liver and everything you talked yourself into thinking you "knew" was totally wrong.

So when I get to school on Friday mornings, and as I approach my locker I get a big whiff of the gross specimens wafting out of the adjacent pathology lab, and I see the freshmen huddling around tables with ugly preserved globs of flesh on them, I reminisce.

I also muse about what it would be like to be a fly on the wall of that freshman lab, knowing what I know now after being halfway through the last of the three-semester series that the freshmen are just starting. When I'm feeling down about being behind on school stuff and struggling to stay motivated, sometimes I think that on a Friday, sitting in with the freshmen is just what I need to make me feel smart again.

So I've also been thinking about the differences between the freshman and sophomore years of vet school. Here are the advantages of each, as I see them:

The Good Things About Freshman Year:

1. More coddling. The professors know you're just starting out and are scared about this huge undertaking that is vet school, and they are there supporting you every step of the way. You get reminders about out-of-class assignments, due dates for online exams, unusual times when you have to go to classes. You even get some hours off during classes when you have online exams that have to be taken outside of class.

2. You aren't expected to know anything, especially first semester. Because everybody's science background is a little variable, they really start from the ground up and teach you everything you're expected to know, either in lectures or in a readily accessible format outside of class.

3. Eagerness and enthusiasm. You're in VET SCHOOL! Your dream has come true! You will actually be a doctor someday! This is exciting!

4. Hands-on activities. This especially pertains to gross anatomy/dissection labs during first semester.

5. Live animals. Despite what you might expect, we actually saw more live animals in school for physical and neuro exam practice during freshman year than as sophomores.

6. Club meetings are interesting. Everything is new, and you are excited to go discuss pros and cons of declawing with the behavior club, or attend an internship/residency panel hosted by AAHA, or learn about gowning and gloving with the surgery club.

7. Better classroom technology. The classroom has a lighting setting that sets a great balance between "I can see the screen" and "I am falling asleep." The microphone works consistently, and never produces eardrum-exploding feedback.

8. The Cubes! I think this is one of my school's most brilliant ideas. What better way to acclimates students to vet school, to each other, and to the rigorous demands of our new curriculum? A quiet place to study, a sort of "forced" friend-making, a place to hang out, to relax, to party, to get to know each other, to learn to trust your classmates, and to cope with the stresses of being a freshman vet student.

The Good Things About Sophomore Year:

1. Brains. You are smarter (in theory) than at least 25% of the other students in the vet school.

2. Better classroom. The sophomore lecture hall has wide tables with swivel-ly chairs, and you're not packed in like sardines.

3. More clinical applications. Most professors are really good about recognizing that there are esoteric, useless things that they could teach us, and there are readily applicable, clinically relevant things they could teach us, and opting for the latter.

4. Past the basics. No more hours spent memorizing bony protrusions on long bones, foramina in skulls, the many twists and turns of the equine intestine...

5. Light at the end of the tunnel. You are one year closer to graduation and being a real vet, but perhaps more importantly, you are in the last year of your life (potentially) that you will have to do nothing but sit in a classroom all day!

6. Know the system. For me, at least, the last 3.5 semesters of vet school have really taught me how to learn the material I need to know, how to prioritize my studying, and how to look at a new professor's teaching style right away and know how I will need to study to learn from them. You also are past the apprehension of doing online exams (that's old hat now) and you know how just about everything else in the vet school works.

7. Know people doing clinics. Typically, each class gets to know the class above them and the class below them pretty well. That means that as a freshman, you really only know the sophomores, none of whom know anything about clinics or have advice for your latter two years of school. But this year, I know a number of juniors who can give me tips about electives, rotations, etc.

8. Knowing that you can do it. This is a big one. If you are a sophomore, that means you've made it through 1/4 of vet school. You've survived two semesters, passed two sets of final exams, and gotten through a capstone exams. You learn to worry a little less about the nitty-gritty stuff. Yeah, you might mess up a midterm or forget a homework assignment or fail a quiz, but in the long run, the odds are that you'll be a junior next year.


Although vet school has had its ups and downs (particularly this semester, it seems), I think it's good that I can look back at two years and find good things about both years. Yes, there have been negatives during the last two years, but it seems liike most of the bad things about freshman year are fixed during sophomore year, and most of the bad things during sophomore year were the opposite as a freshman. Overall I like vet school, although I can't wait to get into clinics...

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