Now that the school year is almost over — which is something I won’t admit out loud, but writing it down seems okay — I’ve been thinking of the things about vet school that have surprised me over the last years. I thought brainstorming for this column would be a little like pulling teeth (why is that even still a saying? I hope my dentist doesn’t find it hard to pull out teeth, and I don’t remember it being particularly painful), but it turned out to be surprisingly easy.
I’ll start with the things that relate directly to what we learn. I feel like we’ve learned how to make animals come alive — metaphorically, at least for now – under our fingertips. I pet my cat and I can picture what’s underneath all that fur, or I look at my horse and have a much more complete understanding of how he moves. Here’s a story to help this make sense for you. When I was very young, someone told me how to differentiate male sparrows from female sparrows. Ever since then, every time I saw a sparrow I would think in my head “male sparrow!” or “female sparrow!” but when I casually mentioned something about a male sparrow to a friend a little while ago she looked at me like I was crazy. (If you’re curious, male sparrows are the ones with the pretty dark brown streaks on their heads). Vet school has made it so that when I look at an animal, I see so much more than I used to.
I’ve also been surprised at the amount and variety of animal contact we’ve had. I didn’t ever really process that a vet school curriculum would include vaccinating llamas and trimming sheep hooves. However, I’m incredibly grateful that we get the opportunity to do things like this, because it makes everything that much more real for me, and makes me start to understand that one day I’ll be the one directly responsible for the lives of other creatures. Additionally, my friends in med school have to practice things on themselves. I think vet school wins on that front (well, on all fronts, clearly, otherwise I wouldn’t be here, but this is a good example), because as much as I love my classmates, I would much prefer not to practice sticking needles into them.
Which brings me to the social aspect of vet school. I’m used to the undergrad Cornell, which is so massive that you never expect to know even half the people in your classes, and even in the small seminar classes you almost never interact with each other outside of class. I’m not complaining — I loved the feeling of fitting into a niche as part of something bigger, and I knew what I was getting myself into. Which makes the contrast with vet school Cornell even larger. Almost everyone in my class knows each other and we see each other often outside of school (on the rare occasions that “outside of school” exists). Fortunately, the people are all fantastic. I’m not saying that we’re all best friends, but we all seem to respect each other and get along well. Although the upperclassmen say that by the end of the four years, the way you see your classmates changes pretty dramatically. Hopefully that doesn’t happen to us.
I also wasn’t expecting Ithaca itself to change for me as much as it has. I’ve only been to the arts quad once this year, and basically only go into Collegetown to meet friends who are still undergrads. Really the only thing that’s stayed the same is the Wegman’s trips. My life is also considerably more dependent on my car than it ever used to be. We drive everywhere — to school, shopping, home, back to school again. It feels a lot like living in suburbia and being in senior year of high school again.
Speaking of Ithaca, I also feel like the general attitude of the community to the vet school is different from the attitude of the community to Cornell in general. This one could be all in my head, but I’ve noticed when I tell people I’m in vet school they say, “Oh vet school! Cool!” Usually followed by “So I have a dog…” But when I used to tell people in Ithaca I was an undergrad at Cornell, the reaction was more “Oh. Cornell.”
On a more flippant note, I was surprised to find that I could be (almost) fully functional at 8 a.m. on a regular basis, to the point that sleeping in on the weekends means waking up at 9:30. And to think, I used to drag my feet to those 9:05 classes and absolutely refuse to take 8:40s. Also, vet school has changed my wardrobe into a strange hybrid of flannel (comfy), fancy (when interacting with clients) and farm (when interacting with large animals).
Seriously, though, in the beginning I would have told you that I was going into the whole experience with no expectations. Clearly I must have had some if so many things over the last year surprised me. I would say that I was excited to see what second year has to bring, but that would only be a half truth because there’s a lot of learning and a set of exams before the summertime and I’ve heard that fall of second year is one of the hardest parts of vet school. So instead, I suppose I’ll say, I’m excited to see how the rest of vet school will continue to surprise me. And that’s the truth.
Nikhita Parandekar graduated from Cornell in 2011 and is a first-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.