It took a global pandemic for many of us to realize just how much we thrived on routine and having at least some sort of structure in our lives. After 8 weeks of Virtual Vet School (I can’t even believe that), and while many other schools have finished their spring semester, my classmates and I have another 3 WEEKS to go! While I wouldn’t say that I’ve found a new routine, I have started to figure out how to create some structure in my days that helps me handle this online school thing a little better. These are the tips I’ve used to create my virtual school schedule that can hopefully help anyone else struggling through that home stretch of spring semester, or maybe for a little help getting back into the new swing when fall semester rolls around and we’re still virtual.
Give yourself some grace
None of this is normal. Even though faculty and administrations will have more time to develop the adapted “online” curriculum for us by the time the fall semester rolls around – vet school was not meant to be delivered virtually. So, with this in mind and the fact that we are still dealing with a global pandemic, cut yourself some slack!
Some days you may have had a plan of what you were going to accomplish, but you wake up with just no brain power – that’s OK, and taking an unplanned day “off” of school work will probably help you conquer the next day!
It’s also important to remember even in “real-life” vet school, but maybe more importantly now in virtual: learn for the sake of learning, to be the best doctor you can be. Remind yourself that no one is expecting you to know the name of each enzyme in the Citric Acid cycle when you are a practicing clinician. I even heard a board certified veterinary dentist say that she uses a handy cheat sheet to remember the eruption times of puppy and kitten teeth! Yes, you are being taught details like these now and will be tested on them, but for your long-term memory and your sanity focus on understanding those things that will make you a better doctor for your patients one day.
Organize yourself: Get it out in the open! One huge key for me has been changing how I use the white board in my office! If you’re like me and feel like your anxiety tends to make you think about everything and anything that you need to do (whether it’s today or 5 months from now) putting your actual “to do” list out in the open where you will see it every day could help a ton. For me, I knew I had a big white board in my office and so after the first couple weeks and a few cry-sessions, I started building this giant check list for myself:
Makes you take it one day at a time: a.k.a. Prioritizing – keeps track of today’s date (this can be tough in quarantine) – won’t worry about forgetting important things if they’re ALL up there – countdowns to each exam/assignment
& Acts as a reset button for the day: Every morning I pass by my office to feed my guinea pigs, so I see this board and I can change the date, change the countdowns, and feel like I’m setting out on a new day with very clear goals and deadlines in mind.
Maximize efficiency, take brain breaks I didn’t think that I really took regular breaks from studying before this, but I realized that my daily life made me take breaks. I commuted to and from school, walked from building to building, chatted with classmates, or ran errands. Each of these things were breaks that I realize now I took for granted. Now with nowhere to go, it can be easy to say “I’m going to sit here and get through this whole list,” while never giving yourself a break from that chair.
Being someone who regularly has to remind myself to cut myself some slack and take breaks, sometimes scheduling breaks is the way to go! I don’t always plan what I’m going to do in between tasks, just tell myself “after (blank) amount of time, I’m going to do something else.” Some of my go-to ideas for breaking up lectures (even in the middle of them sometimes) are 5-10 minutes scrolling social media…or TikTok (lol), going to get a snack, jumping jacks and stretching, or just walking around the block. When I can, I also find it’s good to throw in longer breaks for marathon days like before an exam – IF you can stop yourself at a single Netflix episode, that can be a perfect break to give your brain a good rest before continuing on for another big leg of the day.
You can't get "behind," it's not a race! Try not to let yourself feel that you are behind your classmates! It’s normal to feel behind sometimes simply because there is a ton of material to cover in vet school and you have pretty constant deadlines to meet. BUT, especially as you’re learning completely or mostly from home by yourself, don’t fall into the trap of thinking you’re behind to a point that you can’t handle.
Keeping in touch with your classmates can be super important for getting you out of a negative headspace about school. Your classmates are the only other people going through exactly the same thing that you are – same exams to worry about, same recorded lectures that may have horrible audio quality and you need help with, and same lectures that you can share jokes and memes about. It can be difficult to keep in touch as much online as you may have back on campus because you could chat between lectures, see each other in the library and other study areas, or eat lunches together. If you aren’t already finding a way to touch base with your class online, reach out to them because they probably want someone to chat and complain about online school with just as much as you do!