September 22, 2011

Testing the Waters

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It’s now been six weeks into my first year of vet school and it’s time for a recap. The only reason I even know that six weeks has passed is that a) I measure time in how long it’s taking my broken leg to heal, and b) we had our first midterm on Monday. Yes, they call them midterms here — maybe to intimidate us, because “midterm” sounds so much more serious than “prelim.”

Having gone through Cornell’s science weed-out classes with, let’s say, running colors (not exactly flying, but not limping, either), I might have been a little unconcerned about the whole concept of vet school exams (regardless of my physical limp). That feeling didn’t last long. It seems like we’re taught more in one week than in an entire semester of some of my undergrad classes.

The first block of classes that all of the first years have to take is innocently titled, “The Animal Body.” What it really means is that we have to know absolutely everything about canine anatomy, and a little bit about all of the other animals too. All of them. And you can’t just memorize the information to the extent that you can reproduce it on a test; you actually have to know it inside and out. What’s most different, perhaps, is that you want to know it.

I’ve never been a very anxious test-taker, but the midterm for “The Animal Body” was more intense than most tests. And that’s not just because it was 24 pages in two and a half hours in addition to a practical exam. What if I disappoint my favorite professors? What if I disappoint myself?

Filled with pre-test anxiety, the entire year (there are around 100 of us) was on edge for the days leading up to the exam. One of the professors commented on how much energy we had during lecture one day, and I’m pretty sure it was all nervous energy. And post-test, it felt like we’d all emerged from a (mental) battle, a little beaten up, but stronger for it.

Okay, that might be a little dramatic. Or is it?

I should probably emphasize that vet school is not just a giant bubble of stress and studying. It’s true that we usually come to school to study on weekends and that there’s no point looking at the clock in lectures because even if the lectures run over, it’s not like you have your own life or could possibly have somewhere else to be. It’s also true that the people (students and professors) are amazing and I’m having the time of my life. Socially, it’s a little like high-school without the cattiness. We all spend a lot of time together, so there are natural cliques and no secrets. At the same time, everyone is friendly and works well with everyone else.

Also, I don’t think I’ve emphasized this enough: The stuff we’re learning is a lot of fun. I know I sound like a nerd (who am I kidding, everyone here is just a little bit nerdy), but it’s all incredibly practical, and it’s stuff I’ve been waiting 12 years to learn. What’s even more exciting is that we get to learn it from professors who are some of the world’s experts in their fields. And it doesn’t hurt that we play with live animals on a daily basis — alpacas, cows, cats and everything in between.

The only thing that I feel like vet school is missing is communication with the rest of the world. More often than not, I don’t even have time to stay in touch with my friends and family, much less read the news. The upperclassmen tell us that we should basically let our loved ones know that we won’t have much time for them for the next four years, but I’m still hopeful to find some kind of balance. I also wish there was more mingling with the rest of the Cornell graduate population, because as much as I love my fellow classmates, I’d like to have the chance to meet other people too. So in summary, vet school is a little like Texas.  Everything about it is bigger than I thought it would be.  The work is more intense, the people are more amazing and life is a lot more fun.

Nikhita Parandekar ’11 is a first-year veterinary student in the Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine. She may be reached at [email protected]. Hoof in Mouth appears alternate Fridays this semester.

Original Author: Nikhita Parandekar