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Perfectionists, meet vet school: Dos and don’ts

INSTAGRAM @myveterinaryjourney   
Corinne Woodson is a third-year veterinary student at Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine. She is from Prince George's County, Maryland, and graduated a semester early from Ohio Wesleyan University in December 2017 with a B.A. in Zoology. She is interested in working with small animals, exotics, and wildlife.

The veterinary school application process has a way of selecting the high achievers, the Type A’s, the go-getters, and the perfectionists. There are very powerful qualities in these traits that make great vet students and great veterinarians. There are also qualities in these traits that can make being a veterinary student more challenging. But, it doesn’t have to be that way. Here are my Dos and Don’ts to help perfectionists adjust to vet school.

DO

Meet new people

You do NOT want to tackle vet school alone. Opening yourself up to making new friends, joining clubs, holding leadership positions, and attending school events are all fantastic was to meet new people. After all, these are all future colleagues of yours. Vet school can weigh very heavily on your mind and spirit and having a group that is going through precisely what you are can help uplift you. Meeting new people can also help you get involved in study groups. I prefer to do the vast majority of my studying independently, yet I don’t know where I’d be without our weekly study group. Asking questions, hearing what others are finding important and their interpretations can help expand your studying and knowledge in ways you just cannot do by yourself. While making new friends, don’t forget about the support of friends and family you had before vet school. They can certainly lift your spirits and help you detach from things veterinary for a little bit and remind you of the world that exists outside of school.

Take care of yourself

It is in our nature as perfectionists to sacrifice many basic needs such as sleep to accomplish the goal or task at hand. In vet school, this may inevitably happen a few times, but do not make habit of trashing your wellbeing for a grade. It is counter-intuitive to your productivity. Giving your body what it needs, whether it is rest, a good meal, some exercise, or even some social interaction, should be considered an essential part of your study routine. You can accomplish this by scheduling self-care, however that may look for you (hobby, sleep, exercise, happy-hour, etc), into your life in some capacity. Block out some time in your day or your week that you will dedicate to checking in and taking care of yourself and stick to it. For me, I don’t study on Fridays. You’ll have to find what works for you and get it into that busy schedule of yours because self-care is mandatory and non-negotiable. If you keep pushing your body so far past its limits it will not perform the way you need it to. Unapologetically prioritize your body’s needs.

Find a non-vet related hobby

Anything that can detach you from the veterinary world even for a few minutes can be very beneficial. It is easy to get bogged down with the truckloads of information on your plate and taking a few moments to step away to do something you enjoy can do a lot to lift your spirits and morale. Don’t underestimate the productivity of someone in good spirits. It can be anything like playing an instrument, yoga, dancing, lifting weights, singing, knitting, writing, or even watching your favorite movie. If you already have a hobby, bring it to vet school with you, and don’t let school cause you to lose sight of what brings you joy.

Forgive yourself

It is important to remember that you are a student. Your job is to learn and grow. During this process, you will experience growing pains. Maybe you don’t get the grade you want or didn’t pass a skills assessment or just don’t have the answer when you get called on in class. This is all part of the learning process. If you knew everything you wouldn’t need to go to vet school. You will get things wrong. You will mess up. I know these are scary things for a perfectionist and you may find this challenging, but you need to forgive yourself. You need to give yourself permission to make mistakes. Remind yourself you cannot get to your ultimate goal of being a veterinarian without error. It is NORMAL. The greats in any profession had to start from somewhere and believe me mistakes were made.

DON’T

Beat yourself up

Perfectionists tend to be their own biggest critics. There is nothing wrong with challenging yourself to be better, however, watch how you speak to yourself. Do not tear yourself down and speak negatively. You do not need to add to the weight vet school is already putting on you, help yourself out. This tends to happen most frequently when receiving criticism or when mistakes inevitably happen. Perfectionists tell themselves all kinds of lies like, “See this is why I am not going to be a good vet,” or, “Maybe I don’t belong here.” Focus on things that are true, such as, “This person critiquing me just wants me to be a great vet and this is how I get there,” “I am still learning,” or “I got this.” You need to enter a problem-solving mode instead of a self-destruct mode when things get more challenging. Examples of problem-solving would be stepping away from the issue and coming back, asking for help from friends and professors, and even expressing your frustrations. Be patient with yourself, remember that mistakes are normal and not personal. Speak kindly and positively to yourself.

Compare yourself to others

As the saying goes, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Your focus should be on how YOU are progressing and how you compare to your previous self. Everyone’s professional journey is unique therefore any comparison to someone else is setting you up to be disappointed, simply because their path is not your path. Collaborate don’t compete.

Set unrealistic goals

As perfectionists, we like setting goals for ourselves and nailing those goals. We get a lot of satisfaction from knocking those goals out of the park. This also means we can get really down if we don’t meet those goals. By setting smaller, attainable study goals for ourselves while in school, we are being kinder to ourselves. It is very tempting to set ambitious goals, such as, “I am going to look over all the notes from this week today!” And when you find yourself getting tired and worn out and you are only on Wednesday’s notes you can feel like you somehow “failed.” You didn’t fail. You just need to set better goals for yourself. Vet school can feel extremely overwhelming and instead of freaking out about all the things you have to do, break it down into smaller, manageable, not-so-massive and scary tasks. Perfectionists know how to make a functional schedule and to-do-list, which is half the battle, just make sure the plan that is working for vet school is also working for you and your wellbeing.

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