Has the vet degree lived up to the hype?

By Gareth Jones (5th Year, RVC) 

With a few months until I graduate, I would like to reflect on my time at vet school (also, it makes for great revision/rotation procrastination!). But first, a little bit about myself: I’m from Kent and went straight from school at 18 to study at the RVC.

Remembering back to first year: the excitement of being at university where I was finally studying to become a vet. I mean, who wouldn’t be excited?! You get to treat a range of animals, solve complex problems, make an impact on people’s lives, be a respected professional in society and, let’s not forget, you get to play with puppies and kittens (and other cute animals). University gives you the freedom of living away from home, an opportunity to make amazing friends, a great social atmosphere, and self-control over your studies.
Walking through those doors on the first day, I had no doubts that this was the right thing for me. First-year was full of amazing memories: ranging from lambing for the first time to touring Alicante with the hockey club. When it ended I couldn’t wait for more. Then second year happened. After a summer of AHEMS, I was ready to see my friends again and enjoy being back in my own space.
While I started off with the same enthusiasm as first year, I began to feel more and more frustrated. The workload had intensified and the topics were more complex. I sat through many lectures thinking, why do I need to learn this? It won’t be useful in the future. My frustration grew as the teaching eluded any clinical focus.
Despite being at university for two years, I started to feel like that I had was not getting any closer to becoming a vet. However, my desire to continue did not falter, because third year and the move to Hawkshead was on the horizon.

When third year started, I was as excited as I had been in first year. The teaching focused on what I wanted to learn, and I felt as though I was finally becoming a vet.

I remember looking forward to Easter as it was my first EMS placement as a clinical student. It was a total buzz! I wished I could graduate, so I could do it full time and really sink my teeth into it. Third-year went by and then another seven weeks of EMS over the summer holidays approached. This did nothing to reduce my enthusiasm and excitement and as soon as my placements started, they were over and fourth-year was fast approaching.

Outside the RVC's Small Animal Hospital

Outside the RVC's Small Animal Hospital

After a short two weeks off, I was back into the swing of things. One more term and I would begin rotations. The term flew by, and the dreaded weekend exam came and went. Before I knew it, I had passed and began preparing to start my 14 months of rotations. I couldn’t wait. However, for the first time at vet school, I felt nervous. Nervous that I might say something stupid, or not be able to do things my peers could, or generally make a fool of myself in front of some of the cleverest vets that I will come across in my career.
Rotations have been a wonderful experience. I have learned more in the past year than I have in the previous four years. It has also been the most eyeopening. It exposed a side of veterinary medicine that I had seen but had blissfully ignored. I experienced and witnessed the physical and mental drain that being a vet has on you – lack of sleep, the emotional drain, impossible ethical dilemmas, the constant fear of making a mistake that compromises a patient, the countless discussions with vets whose friends had left the profession and the realistic employment prospects for new graduates. The list is extensive, and the closer I get to the end of my degree, the more I wish I had more time to learn more, and not feel like a fraud who ‘blags’ their way through. 

However, it’s not all doom and gloom, because mixed in with all the trouble, there are good bits. The joy of the successful outcomes, the great people you get to work with, solving challenging puzzles and interacting with some amazing clients and animals. You do realise at the end that you do know roughly what you are doing, and that the knowledge of the last five years has made its way into your brain. It’s these good things that help you get up in the morning and help deal with the lows. So, has the course lived up to the hype? If I had to answer yes or no, it is a yes, but this is a tricky question to answer. While I have had an amazing experience, there is a side of the degree and profession that 18-year-old me was blissfully ignorant of. I think a better question to ask is, would I do the whole thing again if I knew what I know now?
This question is easier to answer, 100 per cent yes.