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Finding the fun outside of school

INSTAGRAM @harristfitz    
Harris Fitzgerel is a third year student in the class of 2021 at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University. He is native to Northern Virginia, but has been living in the greater Boston area for the last seven years. Aside from veterinary medicine and writing about mental well-being within the veterinary community, Harris enjoys dancing, hanging out with friends, exploring different cities, working out, and meeting every dog and cat he runs into. Harris’ professional interests are in small animal medicine, with particular interest in dermatology, internal medicine, neurology, and radiology.

Rock climbing is not my usual workout, but it is a stress reducing one nonetheless.

Veterinary school can be very difficult; filled with a seemingly endless onslaught of exams, assignments, projects, labs, and studying. And as veterinary students, we tend to be the kinds of people who are used to achieving high academic success, while also making the effort to become leaders or active members of various clubs, organizations, and sports. From afar, this combination can seem like a well-balanced meal on a perfectly sized plate. However, the stressors faced during school can often cause the plate to shrink and become filled with a surplus of food, leaving us students scrambling to make sure nothing falls on the floor.

Often, it seems like the only way to stay on top of the never ending distribution of information taught in our classes is to study from dawn to dusk. Some people do this and claim that once there’s a break in the semester, they can “be a normal person again,” or once school is done and they start working they will “have an actual life.” In my opinion, this is not the best or most effective outlook to have while in vet school. This behavior can easily lead to burnout and more importantly, to the belief that placing academic/career success above one’s mental or physical health is the best way to achieve one’s goals.

A friend of mine once told me, that as a vet student, you will always find something you need to study, which is a terrible mindset to adopt. I furthered this idea with another thought, which is you need to accept that you won’t learn everything you need to while in school. Take, for example, everyone’s favorite: the anatomy course. We love it. I mean, how could you not? It’s so cool learning what you’re palpating during an exam or what vessels you’re trying to hit when attempting to draw blood from that wiggly corgi. But we hate all the information that must be learned throughout the course. Is it really necessary to know the differences between a cat and dog humerus should some hypothetical client give you a random bone and ask you to identify the species? While anatomy is definitely a polarizing class, everyone clearly has the same thought, which is that there is always a never ending amount to learn and memorize for upcoming exams. I believe the most important thought to take to heart is that there is no way you will be able to retain every single piece of information in your head, and that is definitely ok.

Once this mindset has been adopted, find something you enjoy during school as a way to destress and bring perspective back to your life. For me, that is going to the gym. As a third year student, nearing the end of my didactic part of schooling forever, I have always held to my promise to myself that I would go to the gym at least four to five times a week. This is a way for me to unwind and help settle all of the emotions I experience during school.

Now I realize the gym is not for everyone, but the thought still holds true for every veterinary student—do something you really enjoy that is not school related; and, make a habit out of doing that activity regardless of how stressful the school week is. This builds the practice that you will not allow your career or anything else to be valued higher than your mental well-being. If this habit is not formed, then it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking everything will get better once classes are over, once school is over, or once you finally own your own practice. Therefore, you will never be able to prioritize your mental health and the only way those individuals find solace is after they have burned out and stopped practicing altogether.

Yes, vet school can be difficult. And if allowed, it can easily consume every minute of the day due to studying, class, and labs. However, finding the balance between school and life is the key to success, both academic and mental. So make sure to find a destressing activity that keeps you grounded, gives you perspective, and makes you feel complete even after the most difficult and trying days.

 

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