For many students getting into veterinarian school is the culmination of a lifelong dream, years of preparation, time, money, hopes and sacrifice. In undergrad, while your liberal arts major friends were off drinking on Thursday night, you were struggling to finish that organic chemistry lab for 8am Friday morning.
You spent all of Homecoming week cramming for the GRE and all of Thanksgiving break getting your first round of school applications completed. You spent hundreds of dollars filling out those supplemental applications and lived off Ramen noodles so you could save money to go to interviews. When all of your friends were sleeping in on Saturday morning, you were going to your weekend job at an animal hospital cleaning kennels or mucking out stalls.
It is a huge deal to get into veterinary school. It takes a strong personality, a smart mind, and perseverance. I had to apply to vet school 3 times before I got in. I cried when I got my first acceptance letter. I was so happy.
Getting in is the hardest part they said.
So imagine your surprise, when you show up for school the first day and it is really hard! Vet school is no joke, it is really, really challenging. I remember my first anatomy quiz when I realized that they literally wanted us to know EVERYTHING. Not just the highlights in the text but every single origin and insertion of every single tendon. It was daunting. Some years, we had a test per week. It was like you could never catch up.
My family would often ask, what are you doing this weekend? And I would reply studying. And then they would say, well yes of course, but what are you doing Friday night? Studying.
I started to feel like I was losing myself. I was so stressed out, all of the time. Between worrying about my studies, to paying the bills, to keeping up with my part time jobs and maintaining my relationship with my long distance boyfriend, it was all very overwhelming.
Everyone is different in how they handle veterinary school stress. For me, I started to let it get the better of me. I had always been really smart and gotten good grades and all of the sudden I was only a middle of the pack student. This started to terrify me. Was I going to be a horrible doctor? Would I be able to land a job with these mediocre grades? How will I ever pay back these loans?
During my fourth year of school I was petrified of the NAVLE. It didn’t help that my internship application was due 2 weeks prior to my test date. I had a lot of self doubt, I wasn’t sleeping well, I wasn’t eating well, I didn’t make time to exercise anymore and I was feeling guilty that my dog was so neglected. After months of preparation I still felt like I was going to fail. I had a lot of vet school stress.
In the end, I did great in my fourth year, I passed my NAVLE, and I got my first choice internship and I totally got a real paying job after that. I didn’t end up being a horrible person or a terrible doctor because I got a C in a class.
Why do I share these embarrassing stories with you? Because we care, because we’ve been there and because we understand the kind of pressure that you are under. We feel these tips can help you manage stress. By the way, we have a great free guide for the NAVLE.
Becoming a veterinarian is no overnight success story, it takes years of diligence and hard work. You will stumble, you will make mistakes, you may even fail sometimes, but you will be ok. One way to combat the pressure that you put on yourself is to practice stress relief techniques. We are a profession made up of type A personality, overachievers with so much stress almost all of us have IBS. Seriously, take a moment to manage your stress.
Stress Relief Techniques
1. Get moving
You can go with a traditional relaxation activity like Yoga or Tai Chi which incorporate mindfulness into movement. Or you can consider a repetitive endurance sport like running or cycling which allow for copious amounts of thinking time to sort out your thoughts and regroup. And for some people, group sports like volleyball, basketball, soccer or softball are more of a stress release because you are playing on a team and enjoying some camaraderie. Click here for more tips on staying healthy during school.
2. Spend time in nature
Your availability to nature varies greatly by the location of your vet school. I’ve visited most of your schools and some of them are surrounded by nothing but nature while others are in a more urban setting. Go outside for a walk, work in your garden, sit on a park bench, hike in the woods, go for a trail ride, go cross country skiing or snowshoeing, spend time at the beach. Whatever you do, wear sunblock, but enjoy the fresh air and its rejuvenating powers.
Meditation and breathing techniques can be used in the quiet of your own home or minutes before the big test. You don’t have to be a certain religion, make a vow of celibacy or wear patchouli. Using breathing techniques to nurture mindfulness can be very calming. There are great websites and even apps that you can download to help guide you through your first couple of sessions.
4. Accept the stresses you cannot change and do something about the ones that you can
Some students have an amazing amount of additional responsibilities in their lives. If you can’t study as much as you would like for that pathology quiz because your child was up all night with a fever, accept that you might not do great on that quiz and move on. If you are stressed out because the feline club needs you to work the booth at the fair next week but you really don’t have the time, then say so. Get rid of toxic people, get rid of procrastinating habits, say no to activities if you really don’t have the time. Accept that life will happen, nothing will be perfect, but that you can move forward even if the unexpected happens.
5. Keep it clean
I swear your mom did not tell me to say this. Apparently keeping a tidy environment will make your life seem more calm and organized. Clean the dishes, keep a tidy house, it will make you feel better.
6. Relax in a way that you find enjoyable
Read a book for fun, take a bath, watch a happy movie or TV show. Just take a small amount of time to treat yourself with a relaxing activity that you enjoy.
7. Seek out friendships
Join a knitting circle, meet up for coffee with friends, or play a round of golf with your buddies. You spend so much time with your books, it is a great way to rejuvenate your soul by spending time with a friend. Try to go at least 15 minutes without talking about school.
8. Listen to music
Listening to your favorite jam can be a great stress release. Dancing around to your favorite song adds bonus points. I like to pretend to be Kevin Bacon in Footloose.
9. Keep a journal
Sometimes it just feels better to get your thoughts out. No judgment, just you and your journal. It can be a nice way to organize and then rationalize your feelings.
10. Go to counseling
I’m begging with you, pleading really. Please go seek professional help if you are having a hard time. You don’t have to be suicidal to see a therapist. Interventions can be made before you reach that point. I saw the counselor at my vet school and she really helped me see the big picture and worked with me on stress management techniques. I know she had a very full schedule of other vet students who needed her guidance too. If you are having dark thoughts please reach out for help. Don’t wait, don’t suffer alone. I promise you that there are people who care and there is help available. Many schools have therapists or counseling centers, you can always talk with your doctor about it, ask your friends and classmates for help, talk with a family member, talk with your professors or call an anonymous hot line. Please don’t suffer in silence. Veterinary medicine is hard. It can be so overwhelming at times that you may feel like you are drowning in your studies and the pressure to succeed, but you can get through it and it is ok to ask for help.