Astraea Hong - Class of 2020 - reflects on her time as a vet student in the 4 Year Graduate Entry Programme (GEP).
As I finally receive my Bachelor of Veterinary Medicine and Surgery (BVM&S) certificate in the post, marking an official end to my four years at vet school, I can’t help but agree with what Mike (Student Relationship Manager) said during my GEP induction day – time at vet school will fly by!
I remember entering GEP feeling very excited to be in a new city, new school and finally being able to start my journey in becoming a vet, but also a bit nervous at the same time as everyone was telling me that the GEP programme is very tough. In retrospect, I think people were mainly referring to the fast-paced teaching and having to learn everything in a much shorter time than usual, (and not having Wednesday afternoons off to “do sports” – a.k.a catch up on sleep!). With classes being more packed than usual, having to do lots of studying after school and most holidays packed with EMS (Extra-Mural Studies), the only extra-curricular I joined was the vet school choir. I also started getting into fitness and a bit of resistance training after tagging along with a friend to the gym. For anyone who is in/entering vet school, I definitely recommend some sort of hobby or exercise (as I write this on my couch while eating crisps…), as it helps you keep off the “Freshers’ Fifteen”, work off some of the stress of vet school whilst giving you a chance to expand your social circle. My only non-vet school related advice for people entering GEP year is to go to at least one Fringe festival event if possible! For our year, the Fringe festival overlapped with revision week, so I pretty much spent the whole week at the library. It was a huge pity because I never actually got to see anything at the Fringe whilst I was in Edinburgh as I always went home for summer and my original plan to see the Fringe festival after graduation was scrapped because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
3rd year (i.e. 2nd year of GEP) was another new thing to get used to as that was the start of the clinical years of the programme and in my opinion, the material was more difficult. My year didn’t get off to a great start as there was a flea infestation in my flat, left from the previous tenant’s cat, but on the bright side, I know full well what it feels like to be a dog/cat/other animal who’s itching all over from flea bites! I still found time to do some extracurricular activities though, such as joining a K-pop dance class and performing with a team at a K-pop event in first term. In the second term, as a student ambassador, I also helped call prospective students to congratulate them on their vet school offers and to answer questions they may have about the school and the programme. To accommodate for the time difference with prospective students in Asia/North America, student ambassadors helping out in these telephone calls have to either go to school in the early morning or stay behind after school. However, those couple of hours are well-spent in my opinion, as you get reminded of what it’s like to be an excited high school graduate (with an equally excited parent perhaps) who has finally got a vet school offer after years of hard work. Of course, the free pizza, free taxi ride and Amazon vouchers that we get in return are also an added incentive to join these telephone campaigns.
4th year was quite a busy year for me as I started a part-time job, which took up several hours of my weekend. It was good experience in that I learnt what it is like to work in a service industry and to work in a team and under pressure. However, I would recommend either finding a vet-related part-time job during term time or to leave part-time work during the holidays as it does leave you with less time to study, relax or do other things. At the start of the school year, I also joined the committee for organising the annual Veterinary Ethics & Welfare Conference. It was great fun to help plan the conference, and it came with the perk of being able to attend the conference for free as well! Later, some committee members also branched out to set up the Animal Welfare and Ethics Society (AWES), and I served as the society’s Secretary for the year (for Pathology Club as well). My most memorable experience this year was joining a spay & neuter clinic in Thailand during Spring break with other vet students who were mostly from my year group. I got to spend time with lots of very cute (but usually semi-stray) dogs and gained lots of surgical experience and clinical skills through the programme, which increased my confidence and also made it easier for me to ask whether I could help/scrub in to surgeries in future EMS placements. It was also a great opportunity to explore Thailand with family and friends as well. Overall, it was a very rewarding experience and I would definitely recommend 4th/5th year students to find a similar programme to gain hands-on surgical experience, bearing in mind that proper research should be done beforehand to ensure the teaching, arrangement, costs, ethical side of things etc meet expectations.
Final year is the year that many people look forward to the most, as you finally start to feel like a vet. A part from rotations, final year exams, completing my Undergraduate Certificate in Veterinary Medical Education (UCVME) and starting driving lessons, my final year was also cut short abruptly due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but I’m hoping that future final years won’t have to experience that!
Looking back over the past 4 years at Dick Vet, my main piece of advice is to find a group of supportive friends and have proper time management so that you can find a balance between studying and doing other things for relaxation/stress relief. Also:
- Like I said above, find a hobby or sport that you like or something that can help you relieve stress, especially near exam time.
- Try to eat healthy and learn how to cook a few basic dishes that you can quickly make.
- Get enough sleep so you can at least stay awake in lectures!
- Freshers – drink responsibly because you’ll still need your liver in the years to come!
- Flat hunting – take the time to find a nice place you like so you can just stay in the same place for the next few years without having to go through the hassle of moving after a year.
- Studying – study small chunks of material everyday or bit by bit and don’t leave everything till exam week because you won’t have time; find a study/memorisation style that suits you (e.g. making tables, flashcards, talking through a topic with friends etc); USE TIME MANAGEMENT APPS (e.g. Self-Control or other apps to block off social media while you’re studying) and invest in a nice pair of headphones if you like listening to music while studying!