Top ten things I wish they'd taught us in vet school

Patty Khuly, DVM
October 28, 2008
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Recent comments from pet owners, vets and vets students on Dolittler have got me thinking about vet school and all I’ve had to learn since...on my own. While the science of veterinary medicine was covered well in school, there are some basics most of us missed out on in our years in school. Here’s my top ten:


Keeping Up 101: If only someone had explained how to properly digest veterinary journals things would have gone smoother for me in the real world. As it was, it took me several years to understand the importance of grooming my curiosity and stroking my scientific side by keeping up with all the new stuff (and conferences are never enough—reading the science is where it’s at). “Journal Club,” which is now available at many veterinary institutions, would have served me well.


Fear 101: Many of you may be familiar with my trials and tribulations in surgery post-graduation: I absolutely feared surgery for three or four years after graduating. No one ever warned me of this stressful possibility or allayed my fears with what I now know: Fear is my friend. Without a healthy dose of it during each surgical procedure my patients are more at risk. In fact, extreme fear of surgery for three-plus years is nothing to worry about—it’s a valuable experience worth recalling every time we don a cap, mask, gloves and gown.


Listening 101: Yes, it’s true that my school definitely stressed the importance of taking a history (when we ask our patients’ owners about their complaints and observations). But what it didn’t teach was how to read between the lines and really listen.


Partnership 101: Vet school didn’t stress the partnership angle, either—as in, bonding with your client is among the most important elements of successful patient management. After all, who takes care of the patient after he’s out of your sight? If we vets don’t go out of our way establish a partnership our patients are often s--- out of luck. 


Staff Management 101: Amazing how important this issue is—and how incompletely it’s discussed. Working well with fellow technicians and other staff members is absolutely crucial to our success as vets. The amount of stress interpersonal collisions generates and how patient care can suffer as a result deserves a mention, at least, right?


Finance 101: My class was among the first few to see total student indebtedness swell to well over $100K. I wish someone had told me that these loans I’d taken out had the potential to color everything from my job choices to my family life—well into my fifties. (After refinancing a few years back it’s clear I won’t be done paying these off for another twenty years or so.)


Morbidity and Mortality 101: My school offered no “M&M” (morbidity and mortality) rounds. Deconstructing cases after things go wrong is an incredibly valuable learning tool I was never exposed to. Though our pathology rounds occasionally happened upon how things might have been addressed differently (and I loooved path rounds), case management was rarely treated the way they are in most M&M discussions.


Animal Welfare 101: It wasn’t often we were treated to any sort of information on animal welfare. In fact, I remember exactly ONE lecture on this—and no discussions. That’s not the case these days where the consideration of animal rights, stewardship and advocacy play a more prominent role in veterinary curricula.


Ethics 101: Sure, we had a short course. But it was a class. A series of lectures. No discussion. And taught by a lawyer. ‘Nuff said. 


Career Management 101: It was assumed that most of us would end up in veterinary practice. Our curriculum was extremely focused on this probability. The idea that many of us would shift gears later in our careers or need to redirect our focus to other aspects of vet medicine was rarely considered.

Corporate vs. private practice, industrial medicine vs. government work? None of these options ever got their due. I’m sure its different now, but I definitely feel I didn’t get the right amount of guidance in this area.

I’m not necessarily advocating that all these courses be added to an already busting curriculum—it’s inevitable that some things will have to be learned in the real world. But it’s also clear that the world has changed since my days 10-plus years ago. I can only hope veterinary schools are changing with it.

Have any coursework you'd like to add?