I could easily say that hands-on learning is my biggest strength. While I have been doing extra things to supplement my education all along, I didn't fully realize how much those experiences did for me until the past few years. I came to recognize my ability to learn skills and information well and quickly when I had the chance to do them myself. By now I know that I can actually use this to my advantage. I was never and will never be the best of the best academically, but I can reach my highest potential by playing up my strengths with hands-on learning. I really like talking about this with others because I think there are more learners out there like myself, and maybe you haven't realized the value that hands-on experience can add for you yet!
Getting out of your comfort zone and getting hands-on does a few big things for you:
1.) Keeps you Motivated: Especially in vet school where you may be spending little to no time in a clinical setting or with animals, getting that time in helps you stay focused on the long term goal and get through those endless days of studying.
2.) Builds Skills that you Couldn't in School: There are things that are and can be taught in a classroom, and then there are skills that can only be learned and perfected through practice. In school settings, we often have a chance to do nearly everything once, but getting to practice multiple times builds skill and confidence!
3.) Creates Connections: Building a professional network or community can start from day one, and you might be shocked how connections that you make early on come back to help you, either through opportunities, recognition, or even being able to start conversations with new contacts.
I absolutely filled my first semester of vet school (and this winter break) with extracurricular learning experiences, which made a huge impact on how I have been able to think about and apply what I learned in the classroom.
During orientation, a 3rd year student introduced herself to us with the enthusiastic opening line “I love sheep!” I found this student during lunch on day one, struck up a conversation and she gave me the contact info for someone to reach out to at the campus farm. On day four of classes, I spent the entire afternoon on the farm getting hands-on time with some sheep, making connections with the farm staff, one of the field service doctors, and getting to show them about myself and my skill level. I got to stay involved with some special things going on at the farm (my own personal introduction to assisted reproductive technology) throughout the semester, way before our clinical skills course even began! Plus, I have continued to run into that same 3rd year student while doing many of these activities, and she has been incredibly friendly and such a joy to talk to and learn from.
Within the first few weeks of class, I put together a proposal for a self-styled selective for myself, which I was able to get approved by the dean. Selectives at Tufts could be best described as elective externships that we can do either within the campus offerings or in a variety of places out in the world, including ones that you design your own - the "self-styled" option. The school recommends waiting until second semester to begin a selective, but of course I didn't listen and I filled up my first-year plate even more. My selective was with a biomedical research facility that I had been in contact with well before the semester began, and it turned out to be an absolutely invaluable experience to learn more about research, surgery, medicine, and also to make some great connections with the wonderful administration and staff.
Small Animal Hospital
Once I was better adjusted to classes and a few exams in, I also continued picking up about a couple shifts per month at my small animal hospital. This hospital was my home for the two years prior to vet school, so getting to see my amazing coworkers and clients was just one more way to keep myself motivated during the difficult semester. With each month of school that passed, it felt crazy how much more information I could integrate into my job as a technician – I was able to visualize some anatomy in my patients and start trying to piece together the knowledge that I had in order to understand some different conditions.
Tufts Veterinary Field Service
Finally, toward the end of the semester, I started reaching out to doctors on the Tufts Veterinary Field Service hoping to get some ride along time during winter break. The faculty on the field service are awesome, and I was actually able to start one day with them even before finals ended. I've gotten to spend several days there over winter break, with a couple more days to go, and holy cow I have gotten to learn and do so much! Like I said, these faculty are amazing and I have had the opportunity to get my hands into work that I never imagined I would get to do so early on in school - more assisted repro technology, nerve blocks, disbudding/dehorning, and a bunch of practice with rectal palpation and getting to watch repro ultrasounds. More importantly I think, it was all of the experience that I had built up before coming to school that prepared me to show that I was capable and ready for more. Every day with the field service has been the next best day of my whole winter break, and I'm certainly going to be bothering them again when spring break and summer roll around!
I’d say that I was pretty successful in filling up my winter break with extracurricular experiences! Sure, some days I wished that I could just catch up on some of the sleep that I lost when studying for finals, but every single day of this break was so much fun and absolutely worth it.
Spring semester begins one week from today, and the class schedule already looks more full than the Fall. I am definitely excited to start my selective on the Dialysis Team at the Foster Hospital for Small Animals at the same time that we start Renal Physiology in class. Then, once the first couple weeks get rolling, I'll be making it a point to load up these next few months just as well as the last!
What have been your favorite or most valuable experiences in vet school so far?
What experiences are you excited to pursue next?