By NIKHITA PARANDEKAR
The clinical part of Cornell’s veterinary program is roughly a year where the veterinary students spend two weeks rotating through the various departments of the hospital. The Cornell University Hospital for Animals is located at the east end of Campus Road on Cornell’s Ithaca campus, and offers primary as well as specialty care services for any species you could imagine. We start “clinics” any time from January to May of our third year and continue without any official breaks until graduation in the May of our fourth year, with a semester’s worth of classes also interspersed in that time period.
As students, clinics are our opportunity to be “doctors” with the safety of complete supervision. Generally, unless a patient is critically ill, we have the opportunity to evaluate them and discuss treatment options with the senior clinician, and then to participate in procedures when possible. We are also responsible for all of the treatments (administering medications, performing physical exams and assuring a good level of comfort) on our patients from eight in the morning until eight at night every day, with a highly skilled technical staff available to help as needed. Depending on the rotation, we are then on call for emergencies during nights and weekends as well.
I started clinics in March, and now that I’m five months into the process I feel like it is a good time to step back and evaluate it all. Right off the bat, I would have to say that I love it. I absolutely learn the most from practical experience and I’ve noticed that during clinics I’m learning more (in terms of both volume and speed) than I ever have before. I’m sure part of it is due to the fact that all of the things we see applied during our rotations are things that we’ve learned about at some point during the academic part of the curriculum, but I feel like my retention rate is exponentially higher now.
Aside from the veterinary learning, I’ve found that I’ve learned a lot about myself as both a person and a future veterinarian in the last few months. I’ve learned to be confident in my knowledge, because I haven’t gone through 20 years of schooling for nothing, and am completely capable of coming up with rational answers to questions. I’ve also learned to make sure to always be open to new ideas, because five different very experienced people can have five completely different methods to attain the same goal, and you can never assume that one is better than the other. On a more personal note, I’ve learned that after a certain amount of sleep deprivation I can physically feel my brain moving more slowly than usual, and I need to make an extra effort to take advantage of sleep, food and time off when it’s offered to me. Along the same vein (pun kind of intended), I’ve found that I can be remarkably paranoid about the patients under my care. I want to make sure that I’m always doing the absolute best thing for them — at this point in my career, it’s probably good because it means that I ask a lot of questions and am constantly vigilant — but I can see that at some point in the future I’m going to have to figure out how to draw a line between being anxious and being attentive to my patients.
As for the downsides? There really aren’t many. I feel like the late nights and unpredictable schedule are all part of the process and not something to complain about — we signed up for this, and are dedicating ourselves to it for the rest of our lives. The only hard time I run into is that non-veterinary or medical-related people in my life sometimes don’t completely understand the process, and I inadvertently upset or confuse them when I can’t make plans weeks in advance. Doctor’s appointments and life errands can also be a little tricky to squeeze in, but in the end, it’s just a year (well, actually two, but we’ll talk about the year after graduation some other time) and I think I’ve made it clear that the value of this time is more than worth the inconveniences.
Nikhita Parandekar graduated from Cornell in 2011 and is a fourth-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.