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The dangers of glamorizing burnout in vet school

INSTAGRAM @dayne_strongvet   
Dayne Ferrera, BSc, is a second-year veterinary student at the University of Florida, set to graduate in 2022. She is from Miami and finds that one of the hardest parts about vet school has been being away from her family, which is why she tries to visit as often as possible. Dayne is extremely passionate about fitness and mental health and tries to make as much of an impact as she can.

Getting into vet school is tough. Like everyone else, while preparing to get in, I maintained a high GPA and was very involved in volunteering and having diverse experiences. While this was very important to me, I never studied for crazy hours during my undergrad. I enjoyed my life with my family and friends. School was just another sector of my life, not the sole component.

When I started vet school I knew that I was going to have to study hard, but I also strived to maintain an acceptable work-life balance. At first, I managed to do this. But then I started talking to my classmates and following their social media accounts. It seemed like everyone was ALWAYS studying! People often complained about how little sleep they got and I started to feel guilty for getting a whole seven hours. Was I not doing enough? My competitive side came through, and I kept comparing my amount of studying to others. I compared many of my exam scores and felt like I didn’t stack up against my peers, only increasing my anxiety around studying. If I continued to go to the gym and watch Netflix I was surely going to fall behind my classmates. My class created this environment that painted depression, lack of sleep, no social life, and bad health as the norm. All the goals I had set for myself were thrown out the window and I was now one of them, stuck in a cycle of going to school for eight hours to then come home and study all night.

Fast forward to the end of the first semester, I was seriously home sick and burnt out. I was contemplating whether to go home one weekend before an exam. I knew I needed a change of scenery and the comfort of my family, who definitely knew I was not okay. To the surprise of my fellow study worms I actually went home and left a good chunk of my studying for the night before the exam. Turns out, I really focused for that short period of time and did very well on it. That’s when I reassessed what I was doing and regained control.

In vet school, you are surrounded by a relatively small group of people at all times and they play a big role in your everyday life. The entire class was responsible for creating an atmosphere that glamorized burnout. The endless memes of lack of sleep and stress and the constant complaining only encouraged more of that toxic behavior.

From day one we could have created a more positive environment that helped mental health and an appropriate work-life balance. Realistically, you can spend four hours studying but how much of that are you going to retain? How many of those hours were actually productive? On the contrary, you can go outside, enjoy your life and study really well for two hours. I started setting schedules for myself and prioritizing what I need in my life. If I knew I was only going to dedicate one hour to study, I really focused during that time. I started working out right before I sat down to study, it made me feel nice and awake to get the most out of my time. Most importantly, I stopped comparing myself to others and I stopped riding the “complaining bus.” When my friends asked what I did over the weekend, I’d proudly say “I took my dogs for a hike and made a delicious BBQ, oh yeah and I studied a little bit.” We can’t forget to live while we’re in vet school.

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