All scrubbed up ready for surgery

Amy Hoogenboom

Vet student, Massey University

You know you are a vet student when you are looking forward to the weekend. Not because you have an amazing, carefree, alcohol-fuelled, fun-packed extravaganza planned but because you have lecture notes and assignments that you are eager to get finished and on top of (the same plan as you had last weekend but sometimes it’s just easier to sleep in).

Another six months of late night study, early morning lectures, too many exams, plus a party on a hillside with a water slide in the pouring rain and many a happy hour at the Masonic have been had since I last wrote.

Fourth year is the year of vet school where it all (supposedly) starts coming together. The number of practical classes we have has greatly increased compared to earlier years of the degree which is both motivating and slightly daunting.

Amy Hoogenboom geared up to do some pregnancy testing.

The most exciting part of the year is getting to do our first live animal sterile surgeries. The critical part of sterile surgery is staying sterile (surprise) and the most difficult part of sterile surgery when you’re a green fourth year student is… staying sterile.

It all starts when you start scrubbing in; you bump the tap with your hand as you rinse the scrub solution off – start again, you drop your scrub brush part way through scrubbing – new scrub brush needed. And at the end of having your hands above your elbows trying not to touch anything while scrubbing your hands for 10 minutes till they’re almost raw you no longer need to do that arm work out you had planned at the gym this afternoon.

Then your face mask moves half a centimetre so it rests uncomfortably on your nose, there’s any eyelash in your eye and you just need to scratch behind your left ear.

Then there’s gowning and gloving; the gown must be picked up from the sterile pack and dropped to unfold without touching anything, also you can’t touch the outside surface of the gown or you’ll need a new one. I won’t explain gloving because that’s just too complicated.

Now we are ready for surgery.

Staying sterile should be easy now, all the drapes are laid out and the surgical site has been prepped. But then your face mask moves half a centimetre so it rests uncomfortably on your nose, there’s any eyelash in your eye and you just need to scratch behind your left ear.

Over the mid-semester break I spent a week at a local vet practice on placement. I really enjoy being out on placements because being in a real practice teaches you a lot of things vet school can’t.

Vet school can teach you all the theory and a lot of the practical skills necessary to remedy the sick animal or herd health problem but what it doesn’t teach you is how to confidently interact with clients, how to have a yarn with a farmer about the weather and how the family is before delving into this season’s dry cow therapy plan or why the ewes scanned poorly this year.

Don’t get me wrong, we have lectures on how to structure consults, communicate effectively and run through simulated scenarios on dealing with clients but they can’t teach you how to do it. You either have it or you don’t and ultimately the best learning experience comes from being able to observe and engage in a true consult.

July marks the beginning of my final traditional classroom semester of vet school and also the first semester in a while that I will only be studying four papers instead of the standard five per semester – what a treat. July also means year four “Spring” calving placement at the end of the month and into the beginning of August, when 96 vet students will be dotted about the country experiencing all the weird, wonderful ways a calf cannot come out and cow metabolic problems while freezing their fingers off in the icy wind and sleeting rain.

It is amazing to think that in just over four months I will be beginning the final year of my degree, that I will be on the home stretch towards the finish line of the vet school marathon. Bring on the last 8.5km of late nights, early mornings, exams, sterile surgeries and almost being a real vet.

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