Top tips for first year veterinary students

Vet with a cat in vet practice
I always wanted to be a vet. From aged 7 I could name any dog breed and my poor family spent the majority of our holidays being dragged round zoos, farms and the occasional seal sanctuary. As every pre-vet student knows the dream continues as you scrub floors, muck out stables and trawl endlessly through the student room forums desperately waiting for an interview letter that could hold that golden ticket to vet school. After one failed round of applications I was lucky enough to obtain an offer at Bristol Vet School. Fast-forward 6 years and my time at vet school has nearly come to an end. I have had the best time however if I was to do it all again there are a few things I would change. Here are my top tips for getting the most out of your time at vet school…

1. Get involved

Throw yourself into anything and everything – whether you want to be the president of your vet society or you want to play sport or you want to be in vegan society just do it. Whatever you do you’ll make great friends, learn new skills and have a laugh.

2. Enjoy being a student

Vet school is expensive, discounting tuition fees you have to pay rent, you often can’t get a holiday job due to EMS placements, and come to third/fourth year you will have to buy and run a car. Often a part-time job is manageable during the first few years, however workload increases as the course progresses and vet students are perhaps the most time-poor people about. I learnt the hard way and achieved an absolute burn out in my third year after working nights at a busy bar, serving as Association of Veterinary Students Junior Vice President whilst still trying to pass vet school and maintain a social life. This taught me to recognise what’s important, whilst that extra £50 a week seemed it at the time, in fact passing my exams whilst maintaining my mental health should have taken priority.

Reflecting back, having a sensible(ish) budget when I started would have made life a lot easier in the long run. FYI – you often don’t need to spend hundreds of pounds on textbooks on day one. Hang fire, see what you can get in the library and save that money. You’re doing a vocational course that virtually guarantees you employment for the rest of your life – so make sure you don’t burn out before you’ve really begun.

3. Don’t work too hard!

The same principle applies to extra work, you don’t need to spend every evening in the library or at your desk. Vet school throws an unbelievable amount of information at you and it’s easy to get overwhelmed. I found inner peace when I realised quite early on I was never going to know everything we were lectured on – and that’s okay. That’s not to say never do work, it’s never fun having to pull all-nighters before exams because you still haven’t covered a module. It’s just important to recognise everyone needs a balance.

4. Value your EMS

For me the value of EMS only became clear as I reached my final years. In the younger years, it can seem like an arbitrary exercise and it is annoying to watch your friends go on holiday while you’re stuck working every hour god sends. However, it honestly is one of the best learning experiences you will have at university. I hung back in some earlier placements and then wondered why my classmates were doing IV catheters whilst I struggled to even see a vein. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, if a vet makes you feel stupid or is unwilling to teach then don’t return to that placement. Observe the vets as they consult and communicate with clients, you’ll be able to gauge what is well received and what perhaps you would avoid. Most importantly engage with the whole veterinary team at the practice - the nurses at my foster have been invaluable in teaching me.

I hope you enjoy your time at vet school as much as I have – make sure you make the most of it because before you know it finals are looming and soon it’ll be you EMS students are following around!

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