I’m sure I’m not the first person to remark on the irony of being a “professional student. ” Technically, we are professional students because we’re enrolled in an academic program that results — hopefully — in a professional degree. Ironically, we are professional students because being a student is our profession – we’ve been in school for roughly twenty years. A handful of my classmates had other careers prior to veterinary school but they are by far the minority … at some point I’ll have to ask them what it felt like to adjust to being a student again. Anyway, I’m rambling about this because last week, for the first time, I felt the balance shifting from being a professional student to starting to be a real professional.
First, I spayed a cat. If you’re unfamiliar with what this means, spaying a cat is when you remove the ovaries and uterus of the female so that it can’t reproduce. I’ve written a couple of columns about the benefits of spaying and neutering already. Admittedly, it wasn’t my first time doing this procedure because I went on a spay/neuter trip to Nicaragua last winter, but that time there was a veterinarian watching, directing and helping me the whole time. This time, as part of our junior surgery course, we spayed cats in teams of three students — one as the surgeon (me, last week), one as the anesthetist and one as the assistant. There were eight groups performing surgeries at the same time and two veterinary surgeons circulating around the room, as well as anesthesiologists and technicians. They were there to help us if we had problems and answer our questions, but for the most part we were on our own. All of the groups had successful surgeries and the experience made us (or me, at least) realize how much we had learned.
Then there was the day when, after class, I vaccinated my cats, sedated my horse for getting shoes put on (he’s very opinionated and sometimes needs sedation) and looked at the radiographs (x-rays) of his feet with the farrier (blacksmith) and actually understood what I was looking at. I then got a text, a phone call and a gchat about pet-related problems from three different friends (Disclaimer: I do follow these conversations with: “But you should also talk to a real veterinarian”). As I drove back to the barn late at night to make sure my horse was awake enough to eat (in line with what seems to be a general trend in my life: I am completely objective when it comes to other people’s animals but irrationally paranoid when it comes to my own), I reflected on the day and felt happily fulfilled. If this is a taste of the rest of my life, it seems like there’s a lot to look forward to. Sometimes it’s easy to lose sight of the future, especially on the weeks when we have three exams on one day and spend countless hours in windowless rooms in front of computer screens. I think our curriculum, in general, does a fairly good job of mixing in enough practical and laboratory experience so that we always have at least a vague conception of the end goal. However, maybe now that I have just a year and a half left, that end goal appears more tangible.
This is probably the second time in vet school that I’ve felt a transition in the way I perceive my role in the profession that I am pursuing. The first was after anatomy when I learned how to adjust to how incredibly different veterinary school was from my undergraduate experience here — essentially, when I fully embraced the role of being a professional student. I think that this one marks an acceptance of the fact that I’m graduating relatively soon and a realization that I will be as prepared as possible to handle the new challenges that I will face.