Quite an adrenaline fueled episode of Safari Vet School this week with stress levels at an all time high as the students tackled the task of darting and then transporting a number of Oryx to be loaded on to a trailer and sent to another reserve. The main danger, as I could tell from the safety of my comfortable armchair, were the HUGE horns that these animals have, and which more closely resemble fencing foils than anything else, with the very clear potential to impale anyone unfortunate enough to be found on the end of one. I would say that the plastic tubing used by the team was probably one of the best inventions ever, in that particular moment!
I did wonder whether it would have been an idea for them to get intravenous catheters in place in the animals’ ear veins at the outset, given the fact that they needed to be transported what seemed to be a reasonable distance, and would have provided much swifter and safer venous access to allow the repeated top-ups of medication that the animals ended up requiring. Needless to say these would then be removed prior to the animals waking up. Perhaps that is my small animal logic and experience coming into play as I don’t have any direct experience of managing wild large animals. Feel free to shoot down my idea 🙂 Or should that be dart down?
One very interesting part of the show for me was the segment at the end on Tom’s rediscovery, if you will, of his desire to continue in veterinary. He is certainly not the first vet student who nears the end of the course feeling disillusioned and doubtful about whether a life as a vet is the path for them after all, nor will he be the last. The facts are these: veterinary is a very demanding and intense course, often with little opportunity to really disconnect, step back and take in the wider picture of what it means to be a vet and of the opportunities, including globally, that being qualified offers graduates. Due to the huge body of knowledge that needs to be imparted to veterinary undergraduates it can at times feel as though we spend the course having to rote learn huge volumes of knowledge, with the result being that the theory and the practical ‘magic’ of the course and profession – the primary reason many of us choose veterinary as a career option – become disconnected.
Vets are by their very nature the type of academic high achievers that are always seeking mental stimulation and a challenge. This, again, is one of the reasons why veterinary, with its “hardest course to get onto” label, is so attractive to such students and why occasionally the trudgery of endless rote learning can grind us down and leave us feeling somewhat uninspired and seeking professional and academic gratification elsewhere. Its a very real shame and unfortunately something that needs to be addressed at the training level. After all, how is it that you can start five years training with a hundred or so super motivated and über enthusiastic individuals who have dream’t of nothing other than becoming vets, to find several of those same people seriously questioning their path and looking for an alternative one by the end? It’s not really as though they didn’t have some idea of what they were letting themselves in for, as the vet schools do expect applicants to to demonstrate work experience.
Aside from the fact that many vet students realise that they are smart enough and qualified enough to do anything they set their minds to, including in careers that pay considerably more than veterinary does, two of the main factors that I can personally identify as being important in the feelings of disillusionment felt near the end of the course are a) a sense of feeling like a trained chimp, having to plough relentlessly through swathes of endless course material and ‘lists’, with no real requirement to engage the brain and really think about a problem, and b) the fatigue, both physical and mental that sets in by the end of the course. The fact is that very little of a vet student’s time at university is truly their own, with term time a busy blur and “holidays” anything but, as you are expected to complete a lot of EMS placements. There is very little opportunity, in my opinion, to just take some time to explore yourself, try new things and connect with people and experiences truly outside of the confines of the vet school and profession as a whole. It is often the students who do “venture out” of this circle, for example by intercalating, that are the ones to start questioning their ongoing interest and desire to stay within the profession, often as a result of them being able to take a year out to “exercise their grey matter” in a completely different manner and to expose themselves to ideas beyond veterinary ones. There will, of course, be those students who intercalate and re-enter the vet course rejuvenated and full of fresh motivation and enthusiasm for their veterinary career, and this is excellent. I believe that this kind of motivational shot in the arm is just what’s needed during the latter stages of the course.
I personally wish Tom all the very best whatever he decides and it is especially important to remember that just because we happen to be doing one thing today, there is no reason why we have to be doing the same thing tomorrow – people change, careers change, lives change. Embrace change.