My Preclinical Extramural Studies (EMS)

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What is preclinical EMS? We are required to get a certain amount of handling experience with different species (companion animals, dairy cows, beef cattle, horses,  sheep and pigs). This experience is our chance to learn about management of food animal systems and become more comfortable around these animals – especially those we may not have previously had much/any experience with. The EMS has to be completed on our breaks and must be finished by the end of our second academic year.

In my opinion, this is a bit of a double-edged sword for international students. Obviously the experience is invaluable, but there are certain drawbacks. For one, we look forward to our breaks from classes as times to visit home, travel around Europe, and just relax. With our two spring breaks, two winter breaks, and one summer before the handling exams at the end of the second year, we are expected to make time for a total of 11-12 weeks of this experience – this may not sound too difficult, but some of the placements have to be done at a specific time of year. For example, we are required to get lambing experience as part of our sheep handling. This really only happens during the spring, and so must be scheduled during  the March break. Your breaks start to melt away a little bit as they fill up with extracurricular activity.

Additionally, it can be difficult to find willing farmers and organize the experiences as somebody who isn’t from this country. I was lucky, and had an Irish friend and classmate who helped me find farms – and who did the experience with me (UCD recommends EMS be done in pairs). The school itself doesn’t really assist in finding placements – they do get occasional requests from farmers (mainly for calving and lambing) and pass those along, but that is about the extent of their role.

It’s not all bad though – in fact, this requirement has led to some pretty amazing experiences. I’ve gotten up close and personal with baby lambs, beautiful horses, cute sheep and some personable cows. I’ve also been able to see some parts of Ireland you wouldn’t get to as a tourist or even a typical resident – some of the farms I’ve helped on have been in the mountains with some incredible views of the city and the bay.

For my first week, I was able to assist with lambing on a farm in the Wicklow Mountains fullsizeoutput_4168that had been in the farmer’s family for over three hundred years. That was a pretty crazy thought – this farm had been in operation by his family longer than the United States had been a country. It wasn’t just the age, either: his farm and its views are so beautiful that they have been featured in commercials and movies, and are a frequent stop for European tour groups. While I was there, in fact, a French tour group came through the farm to learn about the history of the area and the Irish sheep farming business. Beyond what everyone else was able to see, I had the privilege of getting a few private tours during my time there from the farmer himself, who of course was very knowledgable about the surrounding farms and countryside (including Glendalough and the area around it, Sugarloaf Mountain, and the Powerscourt Waterfall). The work was hard but rewarding and the days were long and full of activity, but looking back on it I had a fantastic time and learned a lot.

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For my next EMS experience, I was again in the Wicklow area. The farm was near a town fullsizeoutput_44d1called Roundwood, but was up in the mountains – again with stunning views. This farm was unique in that it had: two different breeds of sheep, beef cattle, horses, and some quail and chickens. The family was unbelievably welcoming and helpful, and went above and beyond to teach us. We had the opportunity to inject and dose lambs and sheep, lunge and care for horses, and evaluate beef cattle. We had such a great time with them that we were considering coming back to help them during lambing season this year.

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My most recent placement was on a dairy farm in Newcastle, which is a small town west of Dublin. Once again, this farm was on a large hill from which we could see over the city IMG_4523and surrounding area. This was especially beautiful in the early morning – we got to see the city lit up in the dark, the sunrise over the bay, a blanket of fog covering it all, and the mountains in a heavy snow. In addition to the typical tasks like milking, feeding, and bedding, we were lucky enough to have some special experiences while we were there. We got to administer vaccinations, watch artificial insemination and ultrasounds, and attend a market and auction for dairy cows and calves. As an added bonus, we were lucky enough to be there while their sheep dog had a litter of puppies! It was another amazing and helpful family – and a farm labourer that was always willing to answer questions, demonstrate techniques, and give advice. The farmer also invited us back to help with calving in the spring, which my friend and I are both looking forward to.

I have some pig experience planned for the spring, and then handling exams happen right before summer break. Overall, though the EMS placements can be difficult to find and sometimes exhausting, they offer some unforgettable experiences and provide students with a practical way to begin applying the knowledge we gain in lectures.

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Sunrise on the farm.

Disclaimer: the photos used in this post were taken by me and shared with permission from the respective animals’ owners as per university regulations.

The Dreaded Second Year of Vet School?

Since I was first accepted to vet school, numerous vets and vet students have warned me about the ‘dreaded second year’… but why? At this point, I’m only halfway through my second year, but I’m going to try and provide some insight into why I think so many people say this and give a bit of an overview of the first semester.

The first semester of second year (at UCD at least) includes these courses: Veterinary Microbiology, Pathology, Pharmacology, and Parasitology. Initial thoughts? Those sound like some tough classes…but at least there are only 4, right? Well, sort of. Two of the courses (micro and parasitology) are actually double the credits because they include so much information and a LOT of lab time. And while these courses are happening, we are expected to be simultaneously getting our pre-clinical EMS/animal handling experience finished up this year (more about that in an upcoming post!).

One of the most difficult aspects of the semester is the lack of clinical work – that comes in semester two. For now, the coursework is all about lectures and lab work. Our first day of second year, one of our professors was trying to give us a bit of an overview about the semester. What he said stuck with me because it really was true: this semester is all about you learning the overall language of veterinary medicine. Learning the names of diseases and what they do in pathology; learning the scientific names of dozens of parasites, which species they affect and how in parasitology; learning about the drugs that are used and how they work in pharmacology; and learning the families and species of over one hundred microorganisms that affect veterinary species. All of these separate concepts combine to form the overall veterinary language, with which students must be familiar in order to have success in the field.

With all of this rigorous coursework, the evaluation phase comes mostly in the form of a final exam worth 60-80% of the overall marks and which contains maybe a handful of the topics you are required to know. For instance, you may be expected to write a detailed essay on only two of the over one hundred parasites you learn about throughout the semester.  That bit of required knowledge can determine whether or not you pass the course – it’s a lot of pressure!

Another aspect that may be specific to UCD is the hectic scheduling of the semester. We received our schedule bit-by-bit instead of all at once before the semester; every Thursday, we would find out what we had the following week. As someone who likes to have everything written in a planner far ahead of time (a fantastic thing to do for any student, as I’ve said before), this was not an easy thing to adjust to. Part of the reason for this constantly changing scheduling is that all of the classes consist of separate smaller concepts, taught for a few lectures by ever-changing lecturers, that added up to form a bigger picture of the course.

So yes, I can see why people often say that this year is extremely difficult. I’m not sure if it’s the most difficult of vet school yet, but if it is then at least I’m halfway through! If you’re reading this and either applying to or are attending your first year of vet school, please don’t let this post deter you from that. Many aspects of this degree are trying and strenuous, but it’s not impossible. Remember your supports and keep going!

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Christmas Party 2017 with the vet school girls

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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