Thursday, August 26, 2010

"Why don't you laugh any more?"

Our first day of class on Tuesday included a 50-minute lecture by our much-beloved freshman anatomy teacher, who appears at this point in the curriculum to give us a brief review of the anatomy of the equine limbs. Actually, this is the only time she lectures in the curriculum outside the freshman year, so it was much fun to see her again. She is a fantastic instructor and really the main person who "breaks in" new freshmen vet students, since we see her 15-20 hours a week during our first semester anatomy course.

Anyway, we had not had a lecture from her for about a year and a half. She professed excitement on getting to see us "almost all grown up," but as she progressed through her lecture, and we failed to respond to several of her small jokes intended to add some levity to the not-entirely-fascinating task of mapping out the arteries and nerves on the equine distal limb, she finally stopped lecturing, turned to us, and said, only about half-joking:

"You used to laugh. Why don't you laugh any more? What have they done to you?"

I think that pretty much sums up how most of my class seems to be feeling so far this yaer. The very beginning of our freshman year was full of terror, intimidation, and the lurking voice in your head telling you the admissions committee made a big mistake. We lightened up quite a bit for the middle and end of freshman year, and at least the beginning of sophomore year, before the constant lectures, endless exams, and serious lack of animals beat us down.

This year, the whole "I want to be a veterinarian someday" thing feels a lot more real. We've already been told repeatedly by different instructors that the goal of junior year is to turn us from students into doctors. And it feels that way.

For one thing, we're a lot more separated. Previously in the curriculum, there have been some electives, but for the most part we've all moved through the same 4-6 courses every semester as a cohesive unit -- not many options in which classes you take. Now we start our mornings with rotations, ranging from only 3 or 4 students only some rotations, up to half the class in my surgial principles lab this week. Even our courses are more divided. We are all together for 2 hours of Clinical Sciences every afternoon, but there are swine medicine, food animal medicine, exotics medicine, and alternative medicine courses to choose from, and almost everyone is enrolled in at least some of those.

For another thing, we are no longer anonymous. Gone are the days of sitting hidden amongst a group of 133 other students all day, knowing that the likelihood of being called on or of the instructor even knowing your name was pretty slim. We are asked to wear our nametags at all times during our morning rotations so that the clinicians can get to know us. We are also told to take our assignments seriously, even things like playing pick-up sticks in surgical principles lab, because as the instructor said at the beginning of the week, "You will have an exam on Friday. Only 3 people failed last year. We remember exactly who they were. Two people failed the year before that. We remember exactly who they were too."

The expectations overall are much higher. Yesterday we learned hand ties (different techniques for tying knots in your suture using your hands instead of surgical instruments). We had an hour to learn the various methods, ask the instructor for clarification, make sure we felt comfortable, and get as much practice as possible. Now, it is expected that we know how to do hand ties. If you forget, that's your problem. If you're confused, you better take the initiative to find an instructor. If you need more practice, well, that's what all those pesky hours previously reserved for sleeping are for.

Some of my classmates were unlucky enough to start the semester with a two-week anesthesia rotation. Anesthesia is probably the most intense rotation we have as juniors, as evidenced by the fact that it is really the only rotation in our junior practicum that is longer than 1 week. On their second day of anesthesia rotation, these students were writing anesthetic protocols and executing them on REAL LIVE PATIENTS, often with the junior student solely responsible for running the anesthesia, including premeds, induction, monitoring, and taking care of any complications that come up, like high or low blood pressure, heart arrhythmias, hypoventilation, etc. Yikes!

While we have still had a few moments of fun and amusement during this week's lecture classes, it's really amazing to see -- well, not see so much as feel -- how much the atmosphere among my class has changed. Maybe we'll slip back toward our old ways once we've become more comfortable working in the hospital, but I doubt it. Don't get me wrong: I don't mean for this year to sound depressing. We still laugh and we still have fun, but everything we do and everything we learn now has a much greater sense of importance.

Stay tuned for continuing updates on Vet School: Junior Year!

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