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Junior Surgery: My First Big League At-Bat

The third year of veterinary school is where you finally start to feel like a doctor.

After all those courses in the first two years learning the normal and abnormal, you finally get the chance to put it altogether in medicine and surgery courses. I had enjoyed my first two years, but this was the year I was most excited about (clinics aside). Entering third year, I knew it was going to be my greatest challenge to date. The class load is 50% greater than that of first and second year, and there is a significant amount of more material to study. At the same time, all that material we’re studying is our foundational knowledge of what we’ll be using for the rest of our careers. It is also the first time we get the chance to learn and perform surgery on a live animal. In my opinion, our first real test.

Now you may be thinking, “what about all those tests you’ve taken up to this point? Those are certainly real!” Yes, they are – but there are expectations set for those in the form of learning objectives, and the test is scripted. Junior surgery is a different kind of test. One that requires us to start thinking and acting like a doctor. One of the biggest pieces of advice that many veterinarians have shared with students is: be adaptable, flexible and learn to think and act on the fly. This profession will challenge you and it is important to stay calm, collected, confident and positive while you roll with the curveballs.

Waking up this past Tuesday morning, I was rested and very excited for my first surgery as lead surgeon. I was prepped, focused and ready to go. All of our junior surgery patients come from local humane societies, who are nice enough to give us the opportunity to spay and neuter their pets prior to adoption. While our staff does an excellent job finding the proper number of males and females so that each group does the same amount of each respective surgery, the patients are of all different breeds, ages, and weights. Enter my patient – Patient #14.

(The identity of the patient has been protected – her name will has been substituted with Patient #14 since our surgery group’s number is 14.)

My dad always said that life can be made into a baseball analogy and on Tuesday, I had my first big at bat. Well, sometimes that first at bat doesn’t go as you had planned it. I was expecting a fastball – a simple, straightforward pitch that I could knock out of the park for my first surgery as lead surgeon. Instead, I got the curveball. An 84-pound middle aged dog who had a Body Condition Score of 8/9 who had likely gone through a few heat cycles over her time. In laymen’s terms, she was going to have larger and fattier ovaries and uterus. Meaning that she was going to be a more difficult procedure, a curveball, and not as easy as the other pups who were younger, weighed less and would have smaller and less fatty organs. But, like a good baseball player does, they adapt to the pitch that’s thrown to them. I did just that. I adapted to my patient. I stayed calm, confident and positive. Realizing that this was my first big test, I embraced the challenge. I was up for it. The surgery went off without a hitch and Patient #14 did wonderfully. It wasn’t a fastball, but I knocked that curveball out of the park for a homerun.

This semester in junior surgery has been an amazing learning experience. I have thoroughly enjoyed learning surgery and taking on new challenges each and every week. Of course, I couldn’t have done it without my surgery teammates – Linette and Brittany. We have supported each other throughout the process, helped each other out in aspects of the course, and most of all – had fun!

Stay tuned for more junior surgery fun next semester!

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