Vet School Survival Tips

The first year of vet school was as challenging as it was rewarding, and after two semesters under my belt I thought about a few things that were important for me to remember so that I could stay sane during the stressful parts.

1. Build relationships

Vet school is hard enough as it is; for me, going it alone might have been impossible. The friendships I’ve cultivated have given me the support I’ve needed  through things like study groups, stress relief, and in general just having other people to talk to who are in the same boat.

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2. Stay organized

This topic has two important elements: mental organization and physical organization.

In my experience, the role of a planner is vital to a vet student’s success. I found it easiest to look at my syllabi for each module before the semester started and copy all relevant information immediately into my planner. This became a resource I used to look at my weeks “at a glance” to know exactly when and where I needed to be at all times and to keep track of all important deadlines.

As the semester went on and I learned more about social and society events on campus, I could easily arrange my schedule and block out times both to study and to take a (much needed) break.

This may not be the case for everyone, but I thrive in a neatly organized environment (which I’m sure will come as a surprise to my mother). I find that having everything in its place allows me to feel more relaxed when I begin my daily study sessions. It’s also nice to take study breaks and do some cleaning, which helps me clear my mind and gives me a sense of accomplishment before hitting the books again.

3. Study smart

There are countless different ways to learn, and a lot of thought has gone in to finding what works best for each individual. I myself thrive when I rewrite important points from my notes, lectures, and practicals. I also found drawing to be extremely helpful for both my anatomy and physiology courses – my review notebooks are filled with diagrams and pictures on almost every page.

Some resources I find to be helpful are Microsoft OneNote (for in-class note taking), Khan Academy (for another approach to learning certain important concepts), and Quizlet (for creating your own online flashcards – free). As far as veterinary-specific resources, a few of my go-to books were Guide to the Dissection of the Dog by De Lahunta and Evans, Cunningham’s Textbook of Veterinary Physiology by Klein, Anatomy of Domestic Animals: Systemic & Regional Approach by Pasquini, and the Veterinary Anatomy Coloring Book by Singh. There are also many useful online resources from a lot of the U.S. vet schools including Cornell, Colorado, Minnesota, Missouri and Iowa.

Again, everybody is different – the important thing is to find what works for you early on.

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4. Don’t stress…too much

Let’s face it, stress and vet school go hand in hand – but minimizing the damage is crucial. It’s important to find ways to de-stress, whether that be through exercise (for me, cardio and yoga – anything that helps clear your mind), meditation and mindfulness, creative outlets (like drawing, music, photography, or…maintaining a blog), connecting with nature, or finding time to keep up a social life.

5. Sleep!

Sometimes, an extra two hours of sleep is better than two hours of study. Especially around finals, your body needs sleep to keep you going and to keep your mind charged and ready. Never underestimate the power of a good night’s rest.

6. Utilize your resources

It can be easy to fall into the trap of feeling like you’re the only one going through this, but remember that you are surrounded by people who can help. From your classmates to your professors to your advisors and counselors – there is always someone who can help you with whatever you may need.

7. Get involved

Most schools have a variety of societies and clubs to offer. UCD in particular has a large number, with many being specifically geared towards veterinary and health sciences. The Vet Society here at UCD is popular and hosts a wide range of social and educational events. Another society I particularly like is OneHealth, which is working to bridge the gaps between all medical fields – including human and animal medicine. Through the societies I’ve joined, I’ve been able to attend events ranging from a suturing clinic at a local hospital to presentations from leading researches and industry figures from around the world.

However, it doesn’t need to all be geared towards your degree. There are societies for almost any interest from music and drama to history and debate, Harry Potter, gaming, geography, sports, foreign languages, and many more.

8. Know your supports

Especially when attending a school away from home, don’t forget your support system. Whether it’s friends, family, coworkers – whoever you are close to from life before school is still there. It can be easy to forget when you become engrossed in the rigors of vet school, but you always have someone rooting for you at home. And with things like FaceTime, Skype, and Facebook Messenger, those people are easier than ever to connect with from all over the world.

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It’s essential to remember that, as a vet student, you are going through things that thousands of other people are. It’s certainly difficult, but you’re doing this because you want to. Keep things in perspective, remember that it isn’t insurmountable, and take care of yourself. 


And most importantly: if you find that you need help, just ask for it.

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Vet School Semester 1 Overview

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Wow. I cannot believe my first semester of veterinary school is over already. In a way it feels like it went by in the blink of an eye, yet at the time it felt the opposite.

The first semester started with a week-long orientation which included campus tours, meet and greets, and team-building exercises – but most of our time was devoted to scheduled trips to Lyons Research Farm. Almost every day, my fellow 30 classmates and I would travel by bus from campus to the university’s research farm about 30 minutes away. We purchased coveralls and Wellies and spent the days learning about handling and behavior basics with horses, sheep, and cattle. It was a pretty exhausting week, but very informative and fun.

The first few weeks of classes were pretty intense as I was juggling a new school with a very different scheduling style, a lot of difficult classes, a new home in a new country, and trying to make new friends. Luckily, as time went on, all of those things did get easier. The classes were always hard of course, but the material is very interesting and fun to learn about. Unfortunately, vet school is a lot of information overload at times and it can be quite a task sorting it all out. Much of my time this semester was spent in the vet building library studying and tying all of the information together. The modules are good in that, for example, aspects of my histology class would relate to particular organs we had been looking at in one of my anatomy dissections that week. The module coordinators try to arrange things that way in order to aid students in piecing together the big picture.

The modules this semester were:

  • Cells, Tissues, Organs and Development
  • Neurobiology and Structures of the Head
  • Cardiovascular and Respiratory Systems
  • Animal Behavior and Welfare
  • Professional Skills
  • Cell Metabolism and Dynamics

 

As a side note for anyone interested in applying to/attending vet school at UCD, most professors say that no books are required  but there are books that they recommend. The ones I found to be most helpful were: Anatomy of Domestic Animals: Systemic & Regional Approach by Pasquini, Cunningham’s Textbook of Veterinary Physiology, and the Saunders Veterinary Anatomy Coloring Book. Pasquini’s anatomy book has great diagrams and pictures as well as a wealth of information on anatomy of many domestic species. Cunningham’s Veterinary Physiology can be a little terminology and detail heavy but does a good job of explaining more in-depth physiological processes that you learn about in your classes. The Veterinary Coloring Book is an amazing study aid. It’s a great tool to work with in the days after your dissections to help you reinforce what you’ve learned.

I was lucky enough to make friends with a great group of fellow classmates and we created a study group. I highly recommend study groups, as it’s a great way to cement what you know and also a wonderful chance to talk through the things you don’t understand. We put this weekly group together about midway through the semester and I believe it helped me a lot with finals. We’ve already set it up for next semester so we can start right out of the gate.

Finals. Where to begin? They were very different than what I’m used to. First off, the exams are taken off-campus – about a 10 minute drive (5 Euro parking each exam) or a 40 minute walk from campus. You take the exams in a very large hall with around 2,500 other people. Most of the exams are essay only and (at least in the vet program) make up the majority of your grade – as in between 60 and 80 percent. You are only allowed into the exam hall with your student I.D., pencils, pens, erasers, and a calculator (all in a clear plastic bag). No backpacks or purses can be brought in. They also do random desk searches and may ask you to roll up your sleeves. If you come in with your phone or a smartwatch, it has to go face-down under your chair. If you are unlucky and your phone makes any kind of noise during the exam, you have to pay a fine and meet with a disciplinary board to discuss the situation. If you forget your student I.D., you also have to pay a fine and fill out a form. This was all very stress-inducing to me at first but after the first exam, it gets a lot easier.

Overall, this semester was exhausting and very stressful. Yet I know it was all well worth it as I reflect on the knowledge I gained over the past several months. I am also very lucky to be surrounded by supportive friends, family back home (sending me lots of great care packages), and wonderful locations around Ireland and the rest of Europe to travel to and get some much needed stress-relief. <— Posts about those trips to come soon! 😉

 

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