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I never truly understood academic competition until first year of vet school

INSTAGRAM @al3xxa_michelle   
Alexandra De Hoyos, B.Sc., is second-year veterinary candidate for the University of Florida’s Class of 2023. Once she graduates with their DVM, she will be able to say she is a double-gator (obtaining two degrees from University of Florida). While she does understand how important academics are, she also prioritizes her family and friends, as well as mental and physical health.

Becoming a veterinarian has been a childhood dream of mine… I know, cliché. Very cliché, but true.

With that in mind, some would think I was academically competitive throughout my undergraduate career, especially considering I attended a tough college to obtain my B.S. The truth is, I strongly valued my mental health, which at the time meant prioritizing life outside of veterinary medicine. I did so by becoming a member of a Multicultural Greek organization on campus. As I member, I was surrounded by so many driven and motivating individuals who increased my drive to be a knowledgeable and diverse applicant for veterinary school. While I cannot say I graduated with my B.S. with the highest GPA, the greatest GRE score, or an immense amount of hours dedicated to veterinary medicine, I can say that I proudly graduated with a good GPA, a good GRE score, and a great plan to enhance my application for vet school—all without feeling the pressures of academic competition.

I am what is considered a non-traditional student, in the sense that I took a couple of “gap-years” between undergrad and the start of veterinary school. Though I started vet school feeling mentally refreshed, I was extremely nervous and worried I may have forgotten what previously worked for me as a student. I worried it would take me longer to understand concepts that my colleagues, who were recent graduates, quickly understood and sometimes it did.

In veterinary school you will often hear, “Veterinary school is difficult and competitive” and “You don’t need to get all As to be an amazing veterinarian or great veterinary student.” I do agree with both statements, but unfortunately you will also hear many students proudly announce their grades on exams that you may have felt you struggled with. Because of this, I found it hard to accept that all As are not needed during the start of my first year of vet school. I expected vet school to be difficult, but I did not expect to feel a sense of failure when hearing how well others understood some concepts early on in the first semester, even during lectures, and began to feel the need to compete with classmates. I later realized the competition I felt was with myself.

It is easy to put a lot of pressure on yourself in veterinary school, whether you think you are doing so or not. You may find yourself feeling pressured to get an ‘A’ on every exam and find yourself trying to study at all hours. You may also find yourself feeling pressured to be involved in every club and stretch yourself thin, all because you see other colleagues being able to balance academics and many school involvements. Slowly, you may find vet school to be all-encompassing.

The weekend before my second anatomy exam, I found myself feeling extremely burnt out and I still had to be mentally available to do well on my exam that following week. In that moment, I realized I stretched myself thin by trying to maintain an unrealistic schedule including attending a few too many club meetings and activities, fitness, and paying too much attention to those publicizing grades. I realized it was still early enough in the semester to reestablish a schedule that worked well for me, mentally and physically.

Reestablishing a schedule always reminds me to set realistic goals. Now, that does not mean I am cutting myself short or limiting my success, but rather setting myself up for success. Many veterinary students thrive when they have a routine, but it is easy to feel on the days you experience “information overload,” life, and too many campus involvements that you have no routine at all. My saving grace was my personal planner, and not an electronic one. To me, writing down a realistic schedule simply meant recognizing everything on my “to-do” list and allocating an appropriate amount of time for each task, including meal prepping, multiple sessions at the gym, and get this… a bed time. This allowed to me to, rather than get upset with myself for not immediately understanding a concept, dedicate additional time to focus on certain topics while still having time for self care and celebrations.

As I previously mentioned, you will hear many, many times that you don’t need all As to be a great veterinary student—and that is true.

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