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A Test of Balance: One Busy Student’s Approach to the Demands of Veterinary School

Dogs pond

Sarah Blau, a member of the Class of 2017 at NC State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, is sharing some of what she learns and experiences as a second-year veterinary student with readers of the CVM News Central Blog. Watch for these postings on a monthly basis.

Honestly, I don’t have time to write this blog. I mean it; this is seriously getting in the way of precious study time. Well, I guess it’s a good way to give my brain a break, and it lends itself to the topic at hand: how DO we balance out the workload of vet school?

As my second year of veterinary school gets hurriedly underway, I notice the quick disintegration of my “life” outside of school. It’s a constant challenge for us as veterinary students to attempt to balance school with everything that is, well, not-school. School typically consists of a full day of classes followed by anywhere from 1-4 hours of studying each night and over weekends. Add onto that lunch meetings one might attend, extracurricular club events one might participate in or lead, and other auxiliary tasks such as e-mail correspondence, scholarship applications—or monthly blogs. This great and thrilling educational experience is also exhausting.

During my increasingly lengthening life as a student, I have learned a few tricks to try to balance it all. For example, every weekend I make plans to hang out with friends or family for one day, and I save the other day for study. If I start to feel excessively stressed, I go for a walk or run. And I almost never study past 9 p.m. to ensure I get at least seven hours of sleep.

Of course, outside of school, we veterinary students have all the non-school responsibilities that you might expect most people to have: bills, jobs, doctor’s appointments, family, friends, and especially for us, pets.

We all have our own fur-favorites, and mine are dogs. Last June I adopted my second dog. “Why would you get a SECOND dog?” people asked. Sure, dogs do take time; they are another responsibility. But dogs are also a huge part of why I’m in vet school in the first place. Dogs make me happy, relieve my stress, and keep me active—the perfect therapy for an overworked student!

Besides that, my dogs allow me the best way to marry school with non-school: by studying while I walk. I accomplish at least 50% of my studying while walking my dogs. We walk for 20 minutes to an hour every morning and afternoon, and I bring my flash cards or class notes along every time. I have even found that I concentrate better while I am on the move!

In addition to study-walks, my dogs give me the perfect practice specimens for physical exam skills (disguised as giving them attention) and feeling out important anatomical landmarks (disguised as petting). Beyond that, my new shelter rescue dog came with a history of leash and fear anxieties—the perfect opportunity to practice some of the behavioral skills I learned last semester!

Everything is a balance, though. The responsibility of two dogs at home sometimes draws time away from club events or study sessions. But for me, the benefits are worth the costs. Ultimately, each student must decide for his or herself what gains priority, and where the balance is reached. I admire the great variety of activities my classmates take on as they balance their loads in their own ways: from playing in a local band or participating in intramural sports to running marathons or showing horses, veterinary students do it all!

The balance is delicate, and it’s easy to become swamped by all that’s involved in a veterinary education. Fans of the movie “The Neverending Story” will remember when the boy hero, Atreyu, lost his horse, Artax, in the Swamp of Sadness. The overwhelming workload of vet school can feel like that. Some days you are Artax, slowly sinking, looking around frantically for someone to save you. Some days you are Atreyu, pulling on the reins and encouraging a friend out of the muck. And some days you get lucky, and Falkor the Luck Dragon comes to save you. These would be days when class lets out early, or a friend leaves a gift in your school mailbox. In the end, to survive you have to remind yourself why you are doing this, to prioritize, multi-task, and even every once in a while, take a break…maybe write a blog.