There is an adage in vet school that goes “see one, do one, teach one.”  This applies to the learning process and illustrates how little time we get to learn a procedure and then are expected to know it perfectly from then on out. 


And not only know it perfectly, but be able to TEACH it perfectly to the next poor ignorant soul who wanders along wondering how one goes about castrating a rabbit, or passing a nasogastric tube in a horse, or extracting an infected tooth from a German Shepherd.


I assume vet school didn’t take on this approach as a way to expedite the learning process, but rather to take advantage of the fact that sometimes there just aren’t many chances to do something (e.g., there are only so many infected teeth to pull from a single German Shepherd that walks into the small animal hospital).


This teaching method draws on one assumption: that your students are fast and efficient learners, not unlike the most absorbent sponges in the world. 


I, however, am not very spongy; I am instead more like a leaky bucket.


Fast forward to the present. I am in the real world, helping real animals, in a real job. One day a few years ago (this was soon after my graduation), I was riding along with my boss to watch her repair an umbilical hernia in a goat kid, having never performed the procedure myself. Of course everything looked marvelously simple and straightforward; just a few nips and tucks and voila — no more enormous belly button.  And wouldn’t you know it, the “see one, do one, teach one” kicked in when, a few months after I witnessed said surgery, I was called on to do another by myself.


Honestly, I balked. Nervously looking over my notes, suddenly the nip and tuck appeared as a complicated maze of suture patterns, subcutaneous undermining, and dangerous flirting with the thin and easily breached body wall. The “see one” seemed so far away that the “do one” just seemed too hypothetical, too novel, too intimidating.


Somewhat sheepishly, I declined to perform the surgery and left it for my boss, citing a shaky memory and a request to change the “see one, do one, teach one” to “see a few, do some under supervision, then in the future maybe teach one to some poor ignorant soul such as myself.”


My boss, empathetic to the woes and the stress-induced gastric ulcers of a still relatively new vet, was fine with that. Grateful, I thanked her, saying that hernias and C-sections are surgeries I’m just not yet comfortable doing on my own.


Her response? Oh, now, you’ll need to be doing C-sections on your own ASAP.


Well, she was right about that.



Dr. Anna O’Brien



Image: WilleeCole Photography / Shutterstock