Those who do not endure it cannot truly comprehend the stress and intense commitment that is veterinary school. “It’s like trying to drink water from a firehose,” everyone says. “Prepare to do nothing but study all day and night.”
In an age in which “burnout” has become a commonly spoken buzzword used to represent healthcare professionals, it is necessary to create successful strategies to care for your health and wellness.
I am a strong advocate for an active lifestyle where there is a balance between education and fitness. Fitness has contributed largely to my life in and out of veterinary school. It has given me an escape from work and the chance to pursue different goals other than academic ones.
Growing up, I was rather sporty as a child and trained as an amateur boxer until I began university.
At the start of the program I didn’t do much, other than a few days at the gym without any specific goals; just recreationally. I wasn’t in clinics yet during my first summer holiday and only had non-clinical placements. Since I had some extra time on my hands, I started researching more about fitness. I became captivated with the scientific aspects of it; like the physiological and biochemical mechanism within muscle and how this allows, contraction, growth, and repair. I also thought it was so empowering—the idea of becoming strong and transforming my entire physique.
I started lifting weights seriously at the beginning of my second year of veterinary school. During a very stressful and formative time in university, the gym was just the outlet I needed. I intensely worked out and kept a consistent diet and had specific goals at this time. I had a diary with personal progression goals for my workouts and my weight, plus I had written a workout plan for each week.
All of this definitely required discipline, but I was completely unprepared for how much more it would take during my exam periods and finals. To keep on top of everything, I created a timetable for studying and my workouts that I stuck to religiously. This discipline definitely helped with other parts of my life. For example, I study more concisely. I often focus on a specific topic and give myself a time-frame to cover it, such as finishing it before going to the gym that day.
I believe the aim is to be versatile and do your best in a given situation. I enjoy working out, but I don’t have time to do it every day or on very busy days. I always give priority to getting more sleep over exercise. I make the most of my limited days off with food shopping, so I’ve got healthy options throughout the week. As for food, I try to keep it simple most of the time and I also drink a ton of water. Regular exercise and good nutrition definitely affects my mental health positively as my thoughts are clearer and I am in a more positive mood while studying. I don’t mind eating the same thing every day, which helps with food preparation. I definitely love to eat, but I try to save the treats for special occasions when I go out. However, moderation is key.
As I begin to progress further into clinical years, my schedule will start to vary widely from day to day, not to mention from rotation to rotation. I will be expected to be in clinics all day long. On top of that, most of the easily available food will be very unhealthy such as fast foods and snacks and it will be harder to cook home meals. I will need to be even more creative and determined in order to figure out a way to continue the balanced, healthy lifestyle that has become so important to me.
There are some good and helpful resources out there. I enjoy reading fitness blogs and following fitness enthusiasts’ lives, but most of them are professionals who do this full-time. They have the privilege of thinking about their goals, having full control of their diet, and exercising on their own time, all day long. Also, most blogs and fitness accounts on social media are largely irrelevant to the people who most need it. I see so many vets and students in clinics who resort to a fast-food diet on a daily basis and struggle to find time to exercise. For that reason, I want to record my efforts and share ideas to help inspire others in the same situation. I plan to do this on my Instagram page, posting my life in and beyond vet school showing people it is possible to live a balanced life, while being in the veterinary profession.
My advice for those looking to get into fitness is to just start. Some people need to set a goal, for example a half-marathon or specific personal records in the gym to make this easier. There will be days (and sometimes weeks) when you don’t have time to work out, but it’s important to do whatever you can, whenever you can.
I hope this message inspires you to follow a balanced lifestyle and see how you will gain more energy throughout the day for studying, placements, and other things, as well as use this as a way to release the stresses of veterinary medicine.