After the slog of fourth-year exams, the uphill struggle to graduation begins and vet school presents us with yet another challenge, this time in the form of clinical rotations. Rotations are essentially a year and a half of being thrown in at the deep end to practice all the skills, and exercise all the knowledge we (should) have learnt during the four years of lectures. We are put to the test mentally and physically by the clinicians as we get ushered between departments in the Liverpool teaching hospitals and each week we must perform well enough to pass and progress. Now, although we all feel like we’ve been hit with a substantially sized mallet due to this sudden change from the safety and familiarity of lectures, rotations are reported to be the toughest but most enjoyable part of vet school and this, I feel warrants documentation.
My first 6-week block to survive was small animal, during this time we rotate around the different disciplines in the hospital. My first challenge to face was anaesthesia. Now, this was no easy start as when giving an animal (or anyone for that matter) an anaesthetic you are essentially dancing in a narrow window between life and death, and as an anaesthetist, you are responsible for keeping this animal on the ‘alive’ side of this line. My little group of four shuffled in on the first day dressed in the hideous beige student scrubs (of which the boys were comparing levels of chest hair/ “manliness” that poked unrulily out of the unintentionally low cut v-neck). With pink hairnets donned, like rabbits caught in headlights, none of us really knew what to expect. Thankfully the anaesthetic department was a fantastic, friendly bunch. It was an intense week and I felt like I was doing two days in one with the sheer amount of work we had to do outside operating hours, but equally, we all learnt so much and had a lot of fun. It was my week to take up the sacred baton of ‘cake Friday’ a hallowed weekly event where students take it in turns to bring in treats for everyone to mark the end of a rotation. I made a damn good (if I do say so myself) lemon drizzle tray bake which went down a treat and was being stolen by the surgeons who made several, incredibly transparent excuses to enter the anaesthetist’s breakout room. I feel much more prepared to take an animal’s life into my own hands now which realistically as a vet we all need to get used to!
Our second week was behaviour and ophthalmology. The start of the week was incredibly enjoyable and fortunately quite laid back, compared to the franticness of anaesthesia. We spent the time discussing what affects animal behaviour and how as vets we can use this knowledge to improve our patient care, make animals feel more at ease in the vet clinic and how we can use it to best advise owners. This is something I feel passionately about and believe that vets should be actively involved in. That evening, there was a puppy class held at the vet school which we were all invited to attend. Now as vet students you can never do too much puppy cuddling, so it was certainly the highlight of my evening. It became very clear though, that the main purpose of puppy classes was much more to train the new owners than the dogs!
The second half of the week was spent at the Ophthalmology specialist’s practice. Our instructor was a middle-aged man with incredible wit and sarcasm who was quick to poke fun and didn’t miss a trick. He was a fantastic teacher and we laughed our way through his seminars and learnt that eyes aren’t as scary to treat as they may first appear. He also (incredibly bravely in my opinion) let us loose in his practice to play with all his equipment, which lead to us examining each other. In a moment of giddiness, we took the ophthalmic exam to greater lengths and began putting the drops and tear test strips in our own eyes (It was an interesting learning experience, but I wouldn’t particularly advise it, as I was seeing flashes of orange dye for about an hour after we’d applied it to ‘check my eyes for ulcers’), we were very committed to our learning cause! After all, I feel a lot happier doing all these many tests on animals after experiencing them myself and realising they aren’t half as uncomfortable as some of them appear!
Orthopaedics marked the official halfway point for our first lot of rotations. It was a week I was dreading as bones are not my strong suit and the idea of drilling through them frankly terrifies me (not that I’d ever be let loose on my rotations wielding a drill but I’m sure you get my point). If you liked playing with Meccano and enjoy the use of power tools then orthopaedics is for you! The surgery is fantastic and I can appreciate its complexity but I’m, though I probably shouldn’t admit it, more of a gung-ho kind of girl and find the delicacy of getting the angles right quite faffy and tedious. The aspect of orthopaedics that I did enjoy though was getting stuck into consults, I’m a bit of a chatty Cathy so put me in a room with an owner and an animal on a mission to find out information and I am one happy girl. I did have the first, I’m sure of many embarrassing moments of rotations on this particular week, which I’m not sure I will ever live down….. To analyse how the animal is walking, with dogs we ask the owners to run and walk them up and down (in a not too disimilar way to what you would do with a horse), the case I was seeing was a lovely young boxer with suspected hip dysplasia. In cases of hip dysplasia a common finding is when running they will hop on the back legs referred to as a ‘bunny hop’, this dog did a textbook presentation of this and the vet informed the owner so. The owner asked what the bunny hop looked like so the vet turned to me and said “Jess, go and show her” now…. What the vet meant was take the dog and run him so the owner could see him move, but I took this as I should depict the movement for the owner. I thought it a bit odd but who was I to argue with the clinician?! So I did my best impression of a bunny hop to which I was greeted by howling laughter from the vet. Well, all I can say is at least they’ll remember me!
Neurology was our next challenge. Our job for the week was to take the consults, take a history from the owners and do an initial exam which we would then report back to the clinicians. Now doing a neurological exam not only tests the reflexes of the animal in question but also your own! A neuro exam essentially tests how many times you can attempt to smack the animal in the face to elicit a blink response (A legitimate practice, not just for fun) before it gets angry enough to try and bite you….. I can safely say my own withdrawal reflex is most certainly intact! On top of consults, we take charge of our own in-patients, many of the neurology in-patients require a lot of intensive care and carrying out their checks took up a significant proportion of the day. My favourite in-patient of the week was a young bloodhound who was an absolute softy but was scared of his own shadow. He was recovering from a spinal surgery so had to be helped using slings to walk and build strength back up in his legs. Now said bloodhound weighed roughly the same as me and when anything scared him he panicked and did a superman impression throwing all his weight onto me and the nurses, it took 4 of us each day to take him out! I think I was incredibly close to being booked into the neurology department myself with a slipped disc!
It was also on this rotation where we learnt that Google is not always your friend… During the week we had several research tasks to complete and present to our lecturers. One member of my group had researched epilepsy and announced to our senior neurologist that pregnancy could cause seizures, there was a lot of eyebrow-raising and this fact was quickly dismissed as a google myth by our lecturer…. with her hefty baby bump.
I have found that being the master of life or death does not, in fact, give you a god complex, but more a sadistic sense of humour. We get as attached to your animals as you do and remember that although most of the animal population have grown to hate us, we entered into this profession for our love for our furry friends (even if they don’t see it like that!). The sense of humour is our coping mechanism as sometimes if we didn’t laugh we’d cry, I know it’s a side of us some people find insensitive and can struggle with but just think how many tragedies we see, how much heartache we’re exposed to and how many animals we’ve had to see suffering.
Our next week was one I was very much looking forward to, Small animal practice. This is the university’s own first opinion veterinary clinic where we get the opportunity to practice the things we are likely to end up doing as new graduates. This was an incredibly enjoyable week as we were all allowed to get stuck in with operations and even more so for me, there was a surprising number of exotics that week (this was alarming for everyone else in the group but as resident exotics weirdo I was loving it, I even got to take out a pair of rabbit testicles!). By far the most satisfying consult of the week was a cat which came in with a swollen cheek. Now cats, especially outdoor cats are incredibly good at getting up to mischief and this brings them into regular contact with vets (much to their disgust). This particular ginger bruiser was clearly no stranger to a few cat-on-cat brawls and as he came in, I had a very good inkling from the history we were given about what was wrong with him. After getting some more information from the owner I began to comb through the hair on the affected cheek and within minutes found what I was looking for, under the hair was a small scab which when flicked off resulted in an eruption of foul-smelling yellow pus. Now it is times like this when I am convinced I am in the right profession, as the owner recoiled in horror and amazement at the gunk coming out of her cat’s face, I let out a cry of delight and kept squeezing – there is something incredibly satisfying about bursting an abscess! After taking him through to the back to flush and bathe the area, he was returned to his owner. I love consults like that one because it’s such a quick fix, a gentle squeeze relieves all the pressure and pain the abscess was causing and once there’s a point of drainage the body is able to heal itself leaving satisfied customers all round!
Our final week was small animal out of hours. This week gave a welcome brain break as there is little new information to worry about taking on board. This week is basically all about in-patient care and as out of hours students, we are responsible for helping with the 4-hourly checks through the night. It was just our luck that every dog with diarrhoea in the North of England seemed to have descended on the Small Animal Teaching Hospital that week. I feel for parents with babies as I believe what we experienced on out of hours was very much the same thing. A few choice words to describe the experience would be sleepless nights and mountains of shit… it has definitely put me off having children for a while that’s for sure!
But that’s it! My little group fumbled our way successfully through our first lot of rotations relatively unscathed! Hopefully, there will be more tales to tell of rotation escapades shortly as I prepare to do battle in the equine department!