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7 ways I dealt with the competitive edge throughout my studies

INSTAGRAM @karenhabib   
Karen Habib is in her first year of the Doctor of Veterinary Medicine program at the University of Melbourne. Before attending UniMelb, she graduated from the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada with an honors degree in Biological Science. She is originally from Cairo, Egypt and has lived in other countries such as Dubai and Saudi Arabia before moving to Toronto in 2006. Karen has been working and volunteering in the animal healthcare field for more than seven years and has thoroughly enjoyed working in various sectors, such as small animal, large animal, wildlife, and outreach. Overall, Karen has a keen passion for the One Health initiative and looks forward to applying her veterinary knowledge and engaging in the collaborative field.

Raise your hand if a classmate you have never spoken to has asked about your marks.

Raise your hand if you have lost friends while competing to get into vet school.

Alternatively, raise your hand if you’ve ever felt like withholding information about a class exam/assignment/opportunity from peers, in order to give yourself an advantage above the rest.

If you found yourself raising your hand multiple times, I want you to know that you are not the only one. Almost everyone who tries to get into a DVM program has probably come across most, if not all, of these situations—myself included.

Although it is very tempting to adhere to the competitive “status quo” in your undergraduate and graduate studies, it is important to be aware of it so you can make the conscious decision for yourself. I have known many friends and classmates who succeeded with getting into vet school by maintaining an unapologetically fierce and competitive mindset. However, that mindset doesn’t work for everyone—at least it didn’t for me. As much as I tried to make friends with the “right people” in my class, I learnt the hard way their motives on getting into vet school would never line up with mine. This lesson came with a price in regard to my mental health and I knew there must be a healthier way for me to achieve my goal. Thus, I have put together a list of lifestyle changes I had to implement to avoid burning out before I reached the finish line. Although I could write a full article about each of these tips and how they have helped me reach my goal, I hope this brief list can be of use to you during your journey.

1. Don’t define yourself based on your “failures”

Understand that failing at something is a crucial part of life, as it sheds light on how you were able to get yourself up, as opposed to how hard you fell. Understand that everyone’s journey will be DIFFERENT, not better or worse. It may take some people one attempt to get into vet school, it may take others years. In my case, before accepting an offer at UniMelb, I had been rejected twice from vet school.

2. Let bygones be bygones

It is important to remember you cannot control the things other people do, you can only control the things YOU do. You should be able to appreciate the situation while focusing on your own healing rather than the bitterness, or else it can consume you.

3. Find hobbies unrelated to the vet profession

It is important to make time for yourself and your hobbies, as this helps you become a better-rounded person. For example, I managed to balance school and my hobbies such as going to concerts— even if it meant driving an hour each way, multiple times a semester. Additionally, a hobby always has the potential to turn into another source of income (the joys of student debt).

4. Make friends outside of the vet profession

Take advantage of the myriad of interesting classes and diverse clubs offered at your institution. Being in every single animal welfare or pre-vet club isn’t a guaranteed ticket to vet school, and might even prevent you from discovering more about yourself outside the field.  After taking a wine and oenology class in my fourth year of my undergrad, I came out of it with some great new friends and heightened taste for good quality wine (which I mostly cannot afford at this point of my life).

5. Focus on self-care

Meditate: it allows you to stay grounded. As well, it helps you realize there are a lot of things happening in the world around you that are much bigger than you. Personally, it also allows me to humble myself. Self-care takes on many different forms such as, exercising, getting a massage, hanging out with friends, etc.

6. Just put your head down and work hard and avoid comparing yourself to others

Only compare yourself to the person you were yesterday, last week, last year, and focus on how you choose to make yourself better. Don’t be intimidated by the people in class who are constantly raising their hands to answer questions or share their experiences. Remember that those people are just as passionate as you, but just choose to show it differently. Recognize your similarities before your differences.

7. Remind yourself of what the role of veterinarian is and why you chose this profession

The role of a veterinarian is multifaceted, which is a large reason as to why I chose to pursue this profession. However, at the end of the day I define it as one that works to serve and aid in the health and wellbeing of both animals and people. I love working with people in team-based settings, and I have a deep passion for helping sick animals. Thus, this journey has made it clear it is not about me, but the collective goal that all animal health workers work towards each and every day.

At the end of the day, it is not about your class ranking, or the mark you got on your metabolism midterm, or the fact that you were able to pass organic chemistry (yikes, am I right?). It is about the honor and privilege that is bestowed upon you to treat and protect the animals you will encounter, whatever your role may be in the field.

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