Welcome to fifth entry in our “Day in the Life of a Veterinarian: Dr. Katie” blog series! I’ve already blogged about why I wanted to be a veterinarian, high school and college preparation, and the classes of veterinary school. Today’s entry is about the last 2 years of veterinary school: clinical rotations.
In October of my third year of vet school, I earned my white coat and started my clinical rotations. Clinical rotations are the part of vet school when vet students start to make the transition from student to doctor. As a student on clinical rotations, we see patients and start learning procedures. We work side by side with a clinician (a fully trained and licensed veterinarian that works in the teaching hospital) to examine, diagnose, and treat patients.
Each clinical rotation lasts from 6 to 8 weeks, and each student rotates through the different services. The core services every student must complete are as follows:
- Equine Medicine and Surgery
- Food Animal Medicine and Surgery
- Radiology (x-rays and diagnostic imaging)
- Neurology/neurosurgery (brain and nerves)
- Oncology (cancer)
- Ophthalmology (eyes)
- Small Animal Orthopedic Surgery (surgery involving the bones)
- Diagnostic Pathology
- Small Animal Community Practice
- Small Animal Internal Medicine
- Theriogenology (fertility and reproduction of animals)
In addition to the “core” rotations, students must also complete around 12 to 14 weeks of elective courses. Students can also elect to repeat core rotations for more experience in particular areas of practice. Here are the rotations I chose to fill my elective time:
- Small Animal Community Practice
- Small Animal internal Medicine
Over the course of the 2 years of clinical rotations, students have 12 weeks of time off clinical. During this “time off,” we complete externships, study for licensing exams (boards), and interview with prospective employers. I spent 4 weeks in Houston, TX and completed externships in 2 different small animal clinics. I also spent 3 weeks in North Carolina and completed an externship at a high volume spay and neuter clinic. If your free block falls over a holiday, students get that holiday off from school, but if you are on rotation during a holiday…there’s no guarantee you get that holiday off!
To give you a feel for what clinics are like, here’s an excerpt from my own journal (January 30, 2011).
“Today marks the 5th day into my Internal Medicine rotation. Although, I’ve been the busiest I’ve been since starting vet school, I’m enjoying almost every minute of it (well aside from the hours of S.O.A.P.s [medical records] and paperwork). Every day is full of learning – and not the sort of learning where you try to cram thousands of seemingly irrelevant facts into a tired, already full brain – the sort of learning where you think through disease processes and APPLY everything for the benefit of your patient. It’s invigorating to actually try to use what you’ve learned to save a life. I’m early to rise and late to bed for the sake of my patients, but it’s worth it to see the clinical signs and blood work improve little by little, day by day.
I have to say though, my ability to keep up with the housework has dwindled to next to nothing. “Poor” Chase [husband] has had to pick up almost all of the household chores (like taking the dogs out every morning b/c I leave before my dogs care to get out of bed) and cooking dinner. And as for “me” time…well, there’s just no fitting it into my schedule.”
Advice for students on clinical rotations:
- Start studying for board exams about 1 year in advance. I did Vet Prep and passed on the first try with no problem.
- Use your free blocks to network and experience as many veterinary clinics as possible.
- Sleep when you can. Don’t stay up late if you’re not on call! There will be plenty of sleepless nights!
- Speak up in rounds (even if you’re wrong).
- Be nice to your classmates. I know it’s hard to always be nice when you’re around someone 24/7, but you’re all stressed and tired. Be as nice as you can! What goes around comes around.
- Respect your clinicians. Most clinicians are board certified, veterinary specialists with YEARS of experience. Even if you don’t agree, respect them!
- Communicate with owners! Explain how the teaching hospital works, and that you are a student working under a highly qualified clinician.
- Keep the referring veterinarian up to date. When I send a patient over to the VMTH [Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital], I still worry about those patients. Please keep us up to date!
- Don’t go to sleep until you’ve gotten all your medical records done. It’s easy to get buried under paperwork, so don’t let it pile it up! When you’re SOAPing on internal medicine, you can cover one part of a disease every day. If you put it all in your first SOAP, you’ll run out of subjects if the patient stays for a long time!
- Be nice to the employees in accounting and medical records. They are just doing their jobs and trying to keep you out of trouble!