I spent the last few days of spring break at the Student American Veterinary Medical Association symposium at Louisiana State University. The purpose of the symposium was to allow students to learn about topics that they might not normally have the opportunity to be exposed to, primarily through wet labs and lectures. There were also several social events, competitions and an exhibit hall with vendors, as well as the bi-annual meeting of the SAVMA House of Delegates.
I was very impressed with how smoothly the whole event seemed to run. The buses were well coordinated, the events started on time for the most part and there was generally no confusion about where people had to be and when. The social events included a tailgate at Tiger Stadium and a crawfish boil — they were enjoyable and a good exposure to the local culture — and were a refreshing change from standard dinner banquets. I’m told that around 1200 students attended the event from veterinary colleges across the country, and I think that the organizers dealt very well with the scale of the event. I’m not sure if something of that magnitude would be possible in Ithaca — aside from the hassle of transporting people to and from Ithaca in the middle of March, it would be hard to find a banquet-style hall that could be reserved for the entire weekend and even harder to find housing for all of the attendees and speakers.
I enjoyed the labs and lectures (I attended one lab and several lectures), but I did think that most of the material covered in the ones that I attended was material that is either in our curriculum or that extracurricular clubs make sure to host because they’re of general interest to students. That being said, I’ve found that in veterinary school the best way for me to retain information over the long-term is to hear or see it several different times in several different ways, so the whole experience was certainly a beneficial one. It also allowed me to explore different topics that I’m interested in that really have very little to do with one another. I could jump from a lecture about cardiology to a lecture about cats to a lecture about horses, just because I wanted to. We kind of have this type of flexibility during the distribution period at school (eight week blocks of classes where we can sign up for optional electives), but in the end we have to commit to an entire class which can make it a little harder to nurture a passing interest. Also, there were definitely lectures and labs offered at symposium that I didn’t attend which covered topics we probably won’t see here, such as alligator handling.
One thing that I did find a little puzzling was the students’ attitudes toward each other. I was expecting other students at the symposium to act like people do on the first day of vet school or the beginning of freshman year, when everyone is more friendly than usual and will go out of their way to start conversations with strangers. Instead, I was surprised to find that most people seemed to adopt a more inclusive dynamic, where they only wanted to associate with people from their own schools and there was an undercurrent of competition when talking to students from other schools. The only time you really got the chance to meet new people and make friends was in the wet labs where you had to work together. I guess I can understand the mentality — veterinary school is so hard to get into that most people are just competitive by nature. Maybe when we get further into our careers, what school we went to will matter less, and our professional interests will take precedent when interacting with each other at conferences. I have a hard time imagining that the annual American Veterinary Medical Association conference has the same degree of self-segregation.
In the end though, the conference was a great experience. It was a little taste of what real life is going to be like after graduation, and I enjoyed having the chance to experience veterinary medicine in a way that I haven’t been exposed to before.
Nikhita Parandekar graduated from Cornell in 2011 and is a second-year veterinary student in the Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Hoof in Mouth appears alternate Fridays this semester.