If you were to look at my class under a microscope at 60X magnification this week, you would see a little over 100 students at varying stages of attention sitting in the auditorium of Missouri’s CVM, listening to a lecture on the complex world of cancers affecting the bone marrow. Move out to 40X, and you would understand the slightly spotty attendance and general torpor – in the middle of a stranglehold of nine exams over two weeks of class, the end of this IP doesn’t seem much closer than it did six weeks ago. At 10X, you would see holiday plans in the works, weddings planned, funerals attended, and the general assumed competency of a second year class in the middle of the ‘diseases of animals’ phase of veterinary education. A 4X view would show our citizenship more than academics – symposiums being planned, club-hosted continuing education events for local veterinarians, conservation medicine practiced in the context of the Raptor Rehabilitation Project, and volunteerism at the local shelter and low-cost vaccination clinic. Overall, a standard slide of a second-year veterinary class.
But look at the class grossly – or with your naked eye – as we are trained to always do before putting the slide under the microscope (and as we usually forget to do) – and you would see an education in the midst of evolution. Our curriculum is under constant review by administrators that we rarely interact with day-to-day. New challenges to veterinary medicine, evolving definitions of health and the emerging One Health paradigm (which recognizes and seeks to exploit the overlap of human, animal, and environmental health for the good of all), and increased visibility of the dark side of medicine (compassion fatigue, depression, suicide) are taken into account as our education shifts to address the changing needs of our profession and students. Veterinary education today is very different from the education of James Herriot’s day, as some of our professors always remind us – their ‘When I was in vet school…” comments reminiscent of the “I walked to school, uphill both ways” stories many of us are familiar with from parents/grandparents. But they are right – it is different. Predominantly female incoming classes, with a focus shifting toward small animal, specialty, and conservation medicine, behavior-focused clubs teaching the fear-free and low-stress handling model, and veterinary hospice and in-home euthanasia specialists (though home-visits are definitely nothing new to the veterinary profession!) are indicators of a profession that is changing to adapt to the times, and our curriculum has to change with it.
In the middle of two hell weeks of exams, it’s too easy to get bogged down in the stress of exams, of trying to cram knowledge into our heads long enough to pass while knowing that we’ll curse ourselves down the line, when we will need that information in a real-life situation. But it helps to take a step back, and remember the big picture. We’re not here to be veterinary students – this is just a transient stage. We are the next generation of veterinarians, and the future of veterinary medicine is something we will help to create.