Veterinarians: Clever People?

Vicky Ede, RVC

 "When I was young, I admired clever people. Now that I am old, I admire kind people." - Abraham Joshua Heschel

A 2016 article entitled "Veterinary Students as Elite Performers: Preliminary Study" details what I, the rest of my class and no doubt every present and previous generation of vet students could have already told you: vet students are smart. Perhaps an over simplification, vet students can be described as not just smart, but also "over achievers" - essentially hard working, competitive creatures with a tendency for performance-related anxiety issues.

Being no different to so many of my peers, intelligence was always very important to me. Looking back, it probably defined me for a large portion of my life. I saw intelligence as what set me apart from others in my class and what would get me into vet school.  Conversely, I know classmates who saw so-called aptitude as an obstacle. They were told that they would never be smart enough to get into vet school or struggled with scraping the grades to unlock their dream course.  

Either way, intelligence becomes a heavy label in vet school as a large number of high-achieving students are thrust together to plough their way through an academically strenuous and lengthy course. Thus, from comparing what surgeries people have done to what end of year grades they achieved, intelligence and skill set seem to be everyone's number one priority.

In this mindset, and after hearing "Oh you're in vet school? You must be so smart!" a few dozen times, it becomes difficult to see the point in anything else. Of course, we all know that being a vet involves more than just book smarts, but to what extent are practical skills or even good communication just other forms of intelligence (see 'Emotional Intelligence')?

Especially in vet school, thoughts like "am I smart enough?" seem to dominate, and in many ways it seems completely impractical to ask instead "am I kind enough?".  Yet, I remember a quote from a vet saying that ten new vet grads were easily worth one experienced vet nurse after complaining that a new graduate that they were trying to train was, among other things, not cleaning up after their messes.

It would be easy to get in a huff about the audacity of reducing those five or more years of academic and practical training down to the act of cleaning up after a mess. But it did made me think, not "am I smart enough?", but instead "am I thoughtful enough?", "am I respectful enough?" and "am I empathetic enough?". In my opinion, kindness is not something that can be taught, but it is something that can be actively paid attention to and nurtured - indeed, kindness nurtures kindness!

To me, passing tests and equipping myself with knowledge and skills to enter the profession still remains a high priority. But I am starting to think about what else is important to me and what defines me not just as a vet, but as a person in a professional workplace. I wonder if I am kind enough to all the different types of people I know and am yet to encounter: people who I might one day work under, with or above, people who are struggling, people with different values to me and people who can simply do nothing for me.

As I get older, I see intelligence more for what it is - hard work and natural ability, but not the be all and end all to my future profession. Instead, I think more about how vet school is hard and how people should just be nicer to each other.

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