November 8, 2012

Studying 2.0

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In the spring, I mentioned that fall of second year is rumored to be one of the hardest parts of vet school (at least in terms of the non-clinical portion). I haven’t written much about it yet because it isn’t really something that people have polarizing opinions about. The block of classes that we’re currently in, known as “Block IV” and entitled “Host, Agent, and Defense” is generally accepted to be hard because there’s a lot of material to memorize and very little time to do it in. I’ve never had to study this much in my life (everytime I talk to my mom on the phone, she asks if I have a test tomorrow …) and I still don’t study the “recommended amount,” which is four hours every weekday night and eight hours every day on the weekend — the school day itself is from around 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. All of this being said, I don’t actually have any complaints (besides the whiney ones) because I don’t think that there is a lot that could be done to change the system itself, and here’s why.Block IV encompasses microbiology, mycology, virology and immunology. We also take parasitology at the same time, which isn’t technically a part of Block IV but most of the time feels like it is. The point of the course is to learn about all of the pathogens that could potentially infect a host and how the host defends itself against it. For example, we would learn what bacteria causes tetanus, how it causes the disease, what species it infects, how the animals respond to the disease and how to treat it. Multiply that by over 200 different pathogens and counting (okay, I’m actually not counting … that would be overwhelming) and you’ve got the gist of Block IV.The fact of the matter is, we need to learn all of these and we need to learn them at this point in our careers. We know enough to be able to understand how everything works, and even if we don’t retain everything, being at least aware of all of the different pathogens by the time we reach our clinical years is crucial. So it all boils down to what kind of learner you are, which we’re expected to know about ourselves by now. Personally, I remember words on pages (more if I’ve written them, but also when I’ve just read them several times) but don’t get a lot out of listening to things. I go to lecture anyways because I feel guilty not going and, sometimes, they tell us little tricks to help us remember things. The only way I’ve ever learned things like this without just sitting down and memorizing them is when I see cases in real life. If I were to see a horse with tetanus when I learned about it, I would probably be able to tell you almost everything relevant about it a year from now. It generally has to be a real case though — a living animal with a personal story — so just pictures usually aren’t helpful.Ironically, the one way Block IV tries to let us experience working with the diseases ourselves is in tutor group, and this is the one thing that I would modify about the course. It’s generally useful for immunology, but immunology is also the easiest to study on its own because it’s a lot more understanding than memorizing. In tutor group (which takes up to around six hours over the course of the week), we’re presented with a case and try to figure out the pathogen. In doing so, we’ll talk about all of the possible differential diagnoses and go into detail about, at most, three to four of them. When we’re learning 30 different pathogens a week, three or four doesn’t really make a big dent. I think that tutor group would be more useful as a group that met maybe once a week to go through differential lists for certain symptoms and not bother about going into all of the detail (because there isn’t enough time) or dealing with the management / testing procedures that come along with a case (because a lot of these seem to be common sense). However, just because I don’t think tutor group is dramatically helpful in the whole scheme of things doesn’t mean that everyone else feels the same way. People who study best in groups and by talking about things out loud probably love tutor group, and you can’t ask the curriculum to please everyone all at once. Also, even if I’m skeptical about the value of tutor group to my learning, I do still like the tutor group experience — it’s a nice change of pace to interact with people instead of sitting in a lecture hall.Block IV also has a lab component where we learn the practical aspects of pathogens — basically what happens to our samples in the real world when we send them away to a lab to get tested. I think most of us have done a lot of the things already in our undergraduate microbiology classes, but it’s fun to be able to handle some of the diseases that we learn about, it doesn’t usually take a lot of time and helps to solidify some type of concept / disease process / pathogen along the way.So that’s Block IV. Hard? Yes, in terms of volume. Evil? Sometimes. Interesting? Intellectually, yes. Block IV is all about finding a way to stick a lot of material into your brain at least semi-permanently, but it’s not an impossible task. Talk to me before the final though, and I’ll probably take that back.

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 [email protected]. Hoof in Mouth appears alternate Fridays this semester.

Original Author: Nikhita Parandekar