Vet School and Me (Part 1)

Joe in surgical gown, scrubs, mask and gloves practicing at Vet School

“What is it Like Being a Student at Nottingham Vet School?”

I’ve come a long way in my first three years at vet school – having just received my first degree, and with clinical rotations and life outside of university getting ever closer, it seems like the perfect time to reflect on my experiences studying veterinary medicine at the University of Nottingham. Do remember that everything I say is based on my own opinions and experiences, which will differ from all 150ish of the other vet students in my year. I will try and talk as candidly as I can about my first three years, so that new students may learn a little more about vet school, and current vets might see how much or little vet school has changed since they were students, especially since Nottingham Vet School is relatively young. I am a little uncertain how exactly to write about 3 whole years of my life in such a short space, so I will break it up into my experiences as a vet student, and my student life in general.

 

Three Years Down…

My course is roughly split up into 3 non-clinical followed by 2 clinical years – as I understand it, most other UK courses follow a similar setup; however, Nottingham’s course distinguishes itself by including clinical teaching very early on. For me, this made it is easier to link detailed anatomy and physiology, which we learned in the first 3 years, to future use in practice. I sometimes found it hard to see the importance of learning the minutiae of biochemical pathways, veterinary-related legislation, and other dry subjects, but there is a relevance to everything we learn. I appreciate this early foundation much more now, now that we are into wholly clinical teaching. But we all have our own interests, and certain topics did not interest me, and were a pain to study for exams.

The other area where Nottingham excels at is its practicals. Pretty much every week, we have practical sessions based on recent teaching (for example, performing cytology after learning about cells, or using an ECG after studying the heart), which are always useful to go to. Certain practicals are less useful, especially those where the techniques are difficult to replicate in classrooms, or very advanced niche ones, but they are still handy to be aware of. I’ve heard talk that Nottingham graduates are very desirable to hire – whether this is true or not, I do feel our consistent reinforcement of theory with practice makes us far better vets than if we left practical-based learning until the latter years.

Placements

All UK vet students must complete a number of work experience placements before graduating. To match the teaching, the first 2 years are non-clinical, animal husbandry based placements (covering dairy, equine, lambing, pig and poultry). Once again, everyone’s experience varies – I’ve heard some horror stories, and equally heard of some dream placements. Overall, I enjoyed the majority of my placements. However, as always, it can be difficult at the time to understand why lambing in a cold field at 6am will make me a better vet… More so now, I see that although we learned some crucial skills (mainly animal handling) the most important part of non-clinical placements, for me, was that we gained a greater appreciation and understanding of farmers. As someone from a rural area, but with limited farming background, this was very useful, as I know it will mean I can better communicate with farmers in future and understand their industry better.

I am still unsure on what field I will go into (currently small animal practice seems most likely, meaning these experiences may be less useful to me than those who wish to go into large or equine practice), but all experience is good experience, and I will always remember to consider hard working farmers because of this. If the idea of these pre-clinical placements is off-putting (and I can totally understand this), remember that it is only a few weeks of hard work here and there – life as a vet will be as hard (in a different way), so just power through. Get it done and you’re on to the fun clinical stuff, like me.

The bottom line…

I may complain too often to my friends about long lectures, confusing practicals, and cold nights on placement, but I can honestly say I am enjoying almost all our teaching, and I am in awe of the amount I learn every week. Someone told me early in freshers that vet students learn more new words than a language student, and I can believe it (try explaining to me 3 years ago what alopecia with focal crusting, scaling and pigmented hyperkeratosis meant!). The best demonstration of my progress, apart from exam results, is that every time I return to my local practice to do work experience, I understand a little better, can help out a little more, and feel one step closer to being a real vet. Nottingham Vet School can be proud that this is all thanks to them.

So is it all great? Well, I’ll come on to that in the second part next week…

 

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