Anyone who has been through the process of online course selection at college or university understands the frustration and subsequent cursing that can ensue. There is seemingly no predictable or logical plan of action to pick a decent schedule for classes. There are even elaborate computer programs designed to get you the schedule you want (for a fee, of course). During my undergraduate career, I vividly remember setting my alarm for quarter to six the morning of selection, logging in at precisely 6:00am, only to find that most of my required courses were already full, leaving me with the very desirable 7-10pm Friday evening chemistry class.
Luckily, in the first three years of vet school, there is no course selection, and therefore no cause to raise your blood pressure beyond the skyrocketing range because of it. Everyone is in the same classes, and labs and surgeries rotate in a reasonably fair fashion so no one is stuck with the early mornings or weekend shifts for too long.
However, the familiar agony of course selection returns during our final clinical year. After picking our ‘streams’, the area in which we want to focus (equine, food animal, mixed, or small animal) we are then assigned a certain number of core rotations that are essentially 1-2 week intensive courses on certain topics such as surgery or radiology. After the core rotations, we are allowed to select electives within the school, or electives at approved clinics throughout the world so we may focus on specialties that interest us.
It is through the elective selection that the proverbial gloves come off. On a certain day, each student puts their desired rotations into the computer system and ranks them in order of personal importance. But, just as getting up at the crack of dawn to try for that coveted class in undergrad, our preferences and careful selection are equally as futile, with the computer randomly assigning our preferences in a lottery type system. Our schedules are then delivered to us, mid-exam period, when we are all obviously well-rested and of sound mind, and chaos ensues. After years of constant studying, preparing, learning, living and breathing veterinary medicine, our clinical year feels as though it will define our ability to be the veterinarians we dream to be. Because of this, we are reduced to fractious kindergarten children, unhappy with our own lunches and trying frantically to barter for someone else’s. Instead of trying to trade a granola bar for Sallys’ pudding cup, facebook and school e-mails abound with requests to switch dentistry for a cardiology elective, or to move a fall rotation in surgery to a winter one to fit in that coveted critical care course. For those of us students hoping to pursue internships after fourth year, the situation is further complicated by the need to get to specific external clinics before the internship deadlines in late fall.
To avoid much of the fray, I will have a busy summer, booking as many external electives as allowed during the summer months to avoid the manual scheduling of the school year. Although this helps keep me out of the sandbox trading, it also means I have a fairly intense schedule that involves certain perks like driving from Wisconsin to Virginia under a timeline that essentially guarantees the need to break all highway speed limits and possibly consider some of those ‘truckers choice’ caffeine pills.
With exams finished, and most of us beginning our summer electives or clinical externships, the schedule-release pandemonium has begun to die down, and the number of frenzied e-mails is reduced. It could be that everyone has managed to beg, borrow or steal their way to the perfect schedule, or likely, we have all reached the same conclusion we did at 6:02am in undergrad, or at the lunch table in primary school. As the Rolling Stones so eloquently put it – we can’t always get what we want, but in the end we just might find we get what we need to become proficient graduating veterinarians.