Friday, August 17, 2012

6th, here I come!

After a very anxious wait and feeling like I might throw up at any second, grades were finally posted earlier this afternoon. I passed my classes and am moving up to 6th semester. It feels so bizarre to be almost done with my time in St. Kitts. But I wanted to talk about something a bit more serious, after my experience over the last few days and watching my classmates go through the same thing.

First of all, this pretty much sums it up. I think I've said it before but it bears repeating that in undergrad, pre-vet students spend all of their time and energy being so focused on getting into vet school that we don't really ever stop to think about what will happen once we're there. No one stops to consider that just because you were accepted, it doesn't mean you'll stay. You can fail out of vet school. All of your hard work and thousands of dollars in student loans can go spiraling down the drain after a few bad exams.

I know I've talked before about vet school and mental health, but I get new readers all the time who may or may not have gone back and read old entries, and this is a very important topic. In our first semester we had a lecture on vet students and mental health, substance abuse, etc. It was good that the university acknowledged it, but I don't think it's a topic that's talked about enough before students are admitted to vet school. Pre-vet students have no idea what it's going to be like, unless they have a really honest friend already enrolled. And people applying to Ross are often so desperate just to get into vet school (I remember, I was one of them) that they haven't even considered the possibility of what it'll do to their emotional and mental health.

I've mentioned my own struggles here before. How I never expected to become clinically depressed in vet school, to the point where I considered seeking out professional help. I even made an appointment with Ross's counselor but I cancelled at the last minute. But I just wanted to provide a quick and dirty little summary as something to chew on for any potential pre-vets who might read this.

During the course of your time in vet school, you will:

  • Be so tired from lack of sleep, pulling three all nighters in a row during finals week, studying for more information than seems humanely reasonable for one person to possibly memorize for a single class, that your physical health will be affected. You'll get ulcers, your whole body will hurt, you'll feel like death warmed over. I've actually thrown up the cup of coffee I just drank the morning of an exam because my stomach was so upset from anxiety that just brushing my tongue triggered my gag reflex. This happens every four months for Rossies as opposed to twice a year in the state schools, so be prepared. You don't get summers to relax and recoup here. You punish your body and brain continuously for 3 1/2 years straight.
  • Cry. A lot. You'll feel stupid, inadequate and overwhelmed. You'll feel like everyone in your class finds all of this so much easier than you do. You'll take your last final and go home, physically and mentally depleted, unable to eat because your stomach is a rolling vat of battery acid, and just sob into your pillow because you're sure you just failed everything and you're going home.
  •  If your spouse/parent cosigned your student loans, or even if you're just married, this adds a whole new level of pressure to the experience. Because your debt is not simply your debt anymore. Whether you fail out and go home with $100+ K in debt and no job doesn't only effect you, but whomever is also attached to that debt. This makes the wait for final grades each semester even more nightmarish as you envision their disappointment and how your failure might ruin their life, too.
And if you think any of this won't happen to you, trust me, neither did I. This isn't just my experience, although yeah, I've done all of these. This is basically a reproduction of the experience of everyone I know here at one point or another.

So before you apply to vet school and take on that first student loan check, ask yourself if this is really something you think you can handle or even want. If you have a good job that you enjoy right now and are happy and financially secure, it's something to consider that maybe vet school can wait a few years. Give yourself time to get your brain off of the "Must get in!" hamster wheel and consider the consequences of what happens if you do.


  1. I can say pretty confidently that what you are going through would KILL me. I had clinical depression in HIGH SCHOOL. The stress of grad school (where I get paid instead of taking on debt, have very few exams, and have far more control over my workload/schedule) has made the muscle tension in my neck and shoulders so bad that it started causing spasms and significantly limiting my range of motion. Grad school has also aggravated my anxiety issues significantly (and man, panic attacks are fucking exhausting). I'm smart and a hard worker, but I need my sleep and the chance to recharge, and I knew that I have limits. I have serious doubts that I could ever muster the physical and emotional resilience for med school or vet school in the states or abroad, and am damn near certain that even if I did it wouldn't be worth it for me.

    I am pretty much in awe of what you have accomplished at Ross. But frankly, I'm even more impressed by how determined you are to be honest and open about the experience, and by how humble you are in doing so. I know a lot of people would have written this post either bitterly (it sucks, don't ever come here) or arrogantly (I am strong enough for this but most people aren't, so be warned and don't come if you are too weak to take it). You, on the other hand, write with the understanding that even smart, capable people have physical limits, and that it isn't weak but rather vitally important to contend with whether what we are is really worth pushing them.

    It absolutely should not be necessary for your vet degree to be so painful and risky to earn, but given that it has been, I think that you handle it admirably. :)

    1. Wow, thanks. That's actually incredibly encouraging to hear.

  2. I just wanted to second this because it's been a major issue for me as well. Nothing in my life has ever made me feel as worthless and inadequate as vet school. Last year my depression got so bad that I really did have to seek professional help. Now, half way through the program, I often find myself questioning my decision to enroll and wishing I could go back and tell myself to consider other options. The only reason I plan to drag myself and my heart full of dread to class Monday morning for the first day of 3rd year is that I'm afraid I'll hate myself forever if I quit. All of the enthusiasm for veterinary medicine has already been crushed out of me. Cheerful, isn't it?

    1. I know exactly what you're talking about. I've had those moments where I start to doubt if I really want this anymore. What if I just spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on a career that I no longer want or feel I can do? Then we have a lab where I get to do hands-on medicine and I remember that not only do I love this, I am damn good at it.

  3. you forgot a bout getting the coffe sqirts and getting yelled at after a exam beacause you farted and shook the table with your legs or rattled your keys during the entire exam and actally had to have professors pull you aside and have a powwow about it. that was a bit embarrasing.

  4. I think there are similar cross-overs in other fields. All throughout Engineering school, nothing but glossy dreamland pictures were painted about how amazing it is to be an engineer and how worth it this degree was because the job was near roller-coaster fun. No one mentioned the 60+ hour weeks, constant political drama, and micromanaging bosses who were wholly uneducated on new technology. Or maybe they did and I was just too naive... needless to say it was a rude awakening.

  5. It is the hardest thing any of us will ever do and everyday you will say "why am I doing this?" "Is this worth it?"...Until the day your graduate and you will know it is worth it!