What do they call the guy (or gal) who graduates last in his (or her) class in veterinary school? “Doctor!” That was an oft-repeated comment during my four challenging years in the Purdue veterinary curriculum.
The competition was fierce to gain admittance to the veterinary school; therefore, my 71 class mates and I were accustomed to working hard for good grades. We all carried heavy loads undergrad, at least 18 hours if not more. As I mentioned in Part One of this series, I contracted hepatitis A the summer before my junior year of undergrad. Although my classmates took biochemistry, I was too ill to survive any course involving laboratory work.
I had always been a very good student, and very conscientious. I had ramped up my studying efforts as I transitioned from high school to undergrad. Although I thought I had increased my study time sufficiently to keep ahead in vet school, I was wrong. VERY wrong.
I clearly remember sitting in the smelly dissection room, with fellow student Terry sitting opposite me, and a partially dissected dog between us. “I got a pink slip in Anatomy!” Terry confided. “Me TOO!” I said. “And Biochemistry too!!” A pink slip? Concrete evidence that you are in trouble in an academic course? Not me, not ever! Obviously my “ramping up” was not enough.
I redoubled (and retripled) my efforts. I studied morning, noon and night. Eating, sleeping, going to class and studying… that was my entire world. (I was also married!) My first semester grade average was about a B-. Never before had I averaged that low. By the second semester it was barely a B. Our freshman year curriculum was all “normal” animal education. Normal gross anatomy, normal microscopic anatomy, normal organ system function.
Sophomore year was “abnormal” stuff. There is a lot more that can go wrong than goes right. First semester we had at least one test or quiz every day, starting the first week and lasting the entire semester. While some of my classmates could go out and party on Friday and Saturday night, and still ace the tests, I could not. I worked my hiney off and pulled all A’s and one B. After proving to myself that I could do that if I wanted to, I realized I needed to find some balance.
I dialed it back and settled into a routine I could live with. Junior year was still some time in the classroom, but also small and large animal surgery. I had some major challenges in surgery. That might be a topic for a future blog…
Senior year was a block system. Twelve blocks, with 2 for vacation and 2 for an externship. Five were required blocks: Equine Medicine and Surgery, Food Animal Medicine and Surgery, Small Animal Medicine, Small Animal Surgery, and Radiology. Students were able to choose their remaining three blocks, depending on individual interests.
By the time I was in my senior year, I was pretty burned out. Grading for the block system was very, very subjective. If you didn’t have “Bovine Jock” imprinted on your forehead, you were going to struggle to get a good grade in Food Animal Medicine. I was frustrated.
However, I made it through. I took my board exams, landed a job, and participated in graduation ceremonies. It was the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. Although I begged for a break, my new employers needed me immediately, so I began seeing clients the Monday after my Saturday graduation.
It would be nearly two weeks before I received my last semester’s grades in the mail, along with the results of my board exams. By this time, I figured if I hadn’t passed, surely someone would have notified me by now? Do any of you folks my age remember the movie The Paper Chase? In it, a frustrated law student makes a paper airplane out of his last semester’s unopened grades and sends it flying into the ocean. I burned mine… unopened, at the clinic where I worked. I figured it would only raise my blood pressure to see someone’s highly subjective assessment of my performance.
Fast forward perhaps 25 years later… For some reason, I was at Purdue. I stopped at the Dean’s office and asked to see my grades! They were all B’s or better… It wouldn’t have raised my blood pressure at all! But I had finally learned that grades are not the only assessment of who makes a good clinician. Oh, and I graduated in the middle of my class, with the title “Doctor.”