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Do not feel guilty for the time you spend on self-care

James Mori completed his undergraduate studies (HBSc.) in Biochemistry and Biotechnology at the Wilfrid Laurier University in 2016. He decided to pursue a career in veterinary medicine in his 2nd year at Laurier while volunteering at the Kitchener-Waterloo Humane Society. He is currently a third-year student veterinarian at the Ontario Veterinary College where he will receive his DVM in 2021. James has a special interest in rabbits, clinical pathology, shelter medicine, as well as small and exotic animal emergency and critical care medicine. In his spare time, he enjoys playing soccer, hiking, cooking, and playing guitar.

Being a vet student isn’t always all it’s cut out to be. From long, exhausting days with eight hours of lectures, weekly exams, early morning surgeries, and various labs and tutorials, to balancing extracurricular activities and a social life, it’ll have anyone wondering if we actually have time to ourselves. Believe me, I think about this every day—especially in class, because let’s be real: no one is paying attention the whole time (you just can’t). In fact, according to a study done in 2011 by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, brief diversions from a task can actually dramatically improve a person’s ability to later focus for prolonged periods.

A lot of vet school is prioritizing what to study because it is virtually impossible to learn or remember everything that we’re taught (or what is “expected” to be known). Obviously, because we’ve all worked so hard to get into vet school, it’s really easy to sink down the hole of perpetually being worried about falling behind, getting low marks, and worst of all, having to retake a test (this actually happens often and is nothing to be ashamed of). With that, it is incredibly easy to start comparing yourself to others. It is human nature and our minds tend to immediately look for things that others excel at that we maybe aren’t as skilled in, which then affects our self-esteem. But remember, everyone in vet school has their own strengths, interests, and backgrounds. Somebody will always know something no one else does and that someone can and will be you at some point in your vet school career. For instance, I’m the “rabbit guy” in my class but I know next to nothing about cows compared to the foodies in my class (I’ll have to know it for the NAVLE though…).

Bottom line is: the competition is over. We’re all in this whirlwind of a program together and we should help and take care of each other. The truth is, it can be easy for anyone to burn out and lose motivation completely, something we’ve all felt at one point. Above all, I think it’s very common for vet students to neglect themselves by not doing what they love and instead trying to fulfill the impossible task of studying everything intensely. The reality is, grades aren’t nearly as important as they used to be when you first applied to vet school, so why put yourself through that stress for those couple of extra marks? It’s unlikely that you’re going to remember all that information or even need to know it in a few years down the line anyway!

As someone who balances being co-president of a club, participated in Global Vets fundraisers last year, is an executive member of the professional vet fraternity, plays intramural soccer, has a rabbit, regularly volunteers for community veterinary outreach clinics, and is in a relationship, I have come to find what works best for me. Obviously, everyone has their own unique involvements and responsibilities, but my philosophy in vet school is simple: put yourself first, study if you have the time (I recommend taking one to two nights off every week), and surround yourself with good friends. You can even skip class if you need to take the day to yourself and regroup, that is completely okay. Play video games, watch your favorite show, go for a walk or run, workout, cook a nice meal, eat your favorite food, spend time with friends and family, and most importantly, do not feel guilty that the time you spend on self-care is cutting into your studying time. Every second you spend on something, you can never get back. So, why not spend your time doing the things you enjoy most? Vet school should not be a reason for you to put your happiness on hold.

I find what works best for me is to take about 30 minutes to an hour to unwind as soon as I get home from school. A few times a week, I make sure to cook tasty, yet healthy meals, and always set aside time at night to go to the gym, or if I have a soccer/dodgeball game that night, I’ll organize my time around that. I will use the time I have left to study, watch a show or play guitar if the day was particularly taxing. I personally never really make a strict study schedule for myself, but I create a “study task checklist” where I place most urgent tasks at the top. I make these lists knowing that if I don’t get around to doing everything, it’s not a big deal and I will find time another day to complete what is left. The weekend provides a great opportunity to unwind, catch up, and get yourself organized for the following week, which is bound to be a busy one!

If you allow yourself to have time to relax, refuel, and adopt healthier habits, you will find that the seemingly endless tasks can be more manageable and less overwhelming. Even in the busiest of times, if you are well rested, fed, and take ample breaks, you will find that even your mood can improve! Having said all this, I am far from perfect and I think a lot of being a vet in training is figuring out how to optimize your schedule as you move through it. In my opinion, by focusing on self-care early on in your career, you set yourself up for success in optimizing your work-life balance and ultimately, your quality of life as a veterinarian.

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