This past weekend, a second-year student commented, “It takes a village to raise a vet student.” Everyone laughed, because we knew how true it is. We study and learn and work and take exams, we do our laundry and go grocery shopping and other adult things, but behind the scenes are a multitude of supportive people. Significant others that listen as we cry about nothing at all, parents who calm us down when we think we’re failing at everything we put our minds to, brothers and sisters who listen with only a little exasperation as we complain about yet another exam or three-hour lecture. So what happens when communication fails?
I know how to study, learn, and take exams, and how to approach professors. I understand nutrition and stress and the theory behind the harm I am doing to my body when I don’t sleep or when I eat fast food. What I don’t know how to do is ask for the support I crave in a healthy, clear way. When I call home to complain about exams and insomnia and I’m clearly overwhelmed and in distress, what I’m really doing is asking for acknowledgement and a little commiseration. I don’t need to be told that the levels of stress I am subjecting myself to are harmful, and I don’t need the advice that I’ve been getting for years – I have pursued education both on my own and through school on how to alleviate stress and take care of myself. I’ve been in school for 90% of my life, at this point I’m pretty good at being a student. What I’m not great at is asking for help. The help I need isn’t advice on how to get through vet school given out by people who have never experienced this; what I need is acknowledgement of the sweat, blood, and tears (quite literally) being shed in my pursuit of a DVM, a little patience, and maybe something else to focus on. Even if you ask us about what we are studying, the subjects themselves – the physiology behind reproduction, or the weird way birds breathe – are absolutely fascinating, and can be very safe subjects to distract from the stress of exams. I know that sounds counter-intuitive, but being allowed to geek out and educate a semi-captive audience that won’t know the difference if I mispronounce ischium (it’s actually pronounced iss-kee-um) always reinvigorates my own desire to learn. Better yet, you could always tell us about what’s going on in the outside world – it’s too easy to forget that the world turns outside of vet school, but even if we are too tired to ask, we want to know what has been happening in your life since we disappeared into the anatomy lab three months ago.
In short, I may be a self-sufficient professional student, but sometimes – a lot of the time – I just can’t cut it on my own. I don’t know anyone who never had any support to get to vet school – each of us had to at least have three people willing to give us reference letters – and I am grateful for the family, friends, classmates, and professors who have made the road a little easier.