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I’m in a long distance relationship in vet school, here’s my advice

INSTAGRAM @futuredrrachel   
Rachel Dufour is a first-year student at Louisiana State University. She graduated from Loyola University in New Orleans with a B.S. in chemistry and psychology and worked at a general practice animal hospital for three years before vet school. She is currently exploring her interests within veterinary medicine but especially loves research and internal medicine. Outside of veterinary medicine she loves to read, listen to podcasts on design and social justice, and explore nature by backpacking. She currently lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana with her senior cat, Picasso.

There are few things that compare to the overwhelming joy of opening that email (or letter) of acceptance to veterinary school. It’s the culmination of years of work, months of designing the best application, and even more months of anxiety and dread as you await a decision. Once you accept your offer, it’s a rush of excitement, scheduling, moving, meeting new people, and getting all wrapped up in school itself. You will hear schools talk about self-care, wellness, and time management. They focus on how to get you through vet school, but, what is less discussed, is the ripple effect vet school has on family, friends, and loved ones.

Vet school, during normal times, is mixed with stress, floods of PowerPoints, and undulating feelings of confidence and imposter syndrome. Garnish that with a pandemic and you have a spectacular cocktail. With exams, lunch meetings, late night study sessions, and maybe even a ….job… how is one to have a life, let alone a love life? Often, it’s easy and even encouraged for students to make vet school their entire being. After all, it’s only four years, just get through it, right? But, I would argue that in order to have a successful time in school, you need support from loved ones and some non-veterinary outlets. However, since relationships are not one-way streets, but rather a team who supports one another, this task can feel daunting.

The real challenge is how do you find the time and energy to give back to a relationship, if you are constantly worried about the next exam, case, or dissection? 

 For a little background, and maybe even some credibility, I will tell you about my relationship. My partner and I started dating in undergrad. We both had heavy credit hours, I worked three jobs, and they worked for a design firm on the side. Early on scheduling dates and communication became vital to our relationship’s success. Then, I graduated and started work at a veterinary clinic. They finished their senior year and moved over a thousand miles away for a new job. We made long distance work, not without having to work through some issues first, and now we are here, five years later. I’m in vet school and they’re still working across the country. I’ll be honest, at times it was tough, but I’ve compiled some tips that worked for us over the years, and maybe they will work for you too!

1. Check-ins

Communication is the number one, hands down, most important thing to have. This is important from day one to day five-thousand. One way my partner and I keep up with communication, especially given multiple time zones, are through regular check-ins. First, we share our calendars so if I have a free moment, or a study break, I can check their schedule and see if they are free for a call. Sometimes these calls happen on grocery trips, walks, or a commute home from work. As a vet student, it’s easy to get caught up in new things and people and forget to ask how your partner is doing. Remember, your life is new and exciting, but they could feel left out. Ask about their day, their work; honestly, not talking about vet school might be refreshing for you too.

Second, we always text each other a good morning, often with a note about the day. This is normally me saying “another day to study.” We do the same ritual at night and send text updates throughout the day if it isn’t too busy. Some days are just long and exhausting and we may only say “morning” and “night.” On those days, we extend patience to one another, space if needed, and normally communicate needs by saying, “Sorry dear, it was a long day. I’ll catch you up tomorrow.” It’s simple, but rituals like this have been the glue to our relationship over the years.

2. Feels

Take it from someone who hates talking about feelings—you have to talk about feelings. Even if you think a feeling is irrational, your feeling is valid, and you can talk about it. It clears the air, prevents any souring feelings, and keeps a level of vulnerability in the relationship. For me, emotions are the most vulnerable part of a relationship. No, you don’t need to be an open book from the moment you meet. Rather, it’s like the onion metaphor in Shrek. Let yourself open in layers. It takes time and practice, and maybe even therapy, but it helps you develop a deeper relationship.

3. Time

If you’re thinking these tips sound nice and all, but I have a test next week and no free time for it, I understand. It’s challenging to prioritize across school, relationships and the other facets of life. Be honest with yourself and the other person about time expectations. If it is a new flame in your life, make sure they are aware of just how busy you are. Otherwise, they may take your overloaded schedule as disinterest. One tip is to find the small gaps in your schedule, like 15 minutes here and there between classes, to check-in with each other. Set aside the larger chunks of free time for dates.

Maybe your dates can be a quick lunch together or a phone call. Maybe they send you a letter in the mail, even if you live in the same town. You can set aside a date night every other week and use it as motivation to watch that lecture you’ve been procrastinating on! If things are really busy, you can always go to a coffee shop or library together, and just work in each other’s presence.

Making time for a relationship may mean a realignment of priorities but, at the end of the day, I love having a supportive partner to vent to, laugh with, and hold me up when I’m feeling down. As a self-proclaimed romance hater, I do admit to loving being in love.

 

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