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I Know the Answer! A Finishing First-Year DVM Student Reflects on What She’s Learned

Sarah Blau, a member of the Class of 2017 at NC State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, is sharing some of what she learns and experiences as a first-year veterinary student with readers of the CVM News Central Blog. Watch for these postings on a monthly basis.

Nothing gets my adrenaline coursing, heart booming, and mouth dryer than dirt like the moment just before a public speaking event. Last month I had the pleasure and horror of giving just such a talk at the biennial physics department reunion at my alma mater. The topic of my talk: Fun Facts From Vet Med.

Every two years the department invites all of its alumni and current students to present on any topic from their research, job, or life. This was the first year I had actually agreed to give a presentation, and I was beyond excited to share some of what I’d learned as a first-year veterinary student at NC State University. At the same time, I knew it would be a battle between my courage and my nerves, not only because I would be speaking in public, but also because a certain physics professor would be in attendance.

This professor, who I’ll call Professor X for the sake of this blog, is a physically and mentally intimidating genius of a man. Any student speaking before him quakes at the thought of the challenging questions he will surely put forth at the end of every presentation. Professor X was one of my favorite and most supportive professors, but I too dreaded the blank ignorance his questions might evoke while all eyes were on me. This time, however, it was different. This time, I knew the answers clearer than ever before. This time, I realized just how much I’ve actually learned over the course of one year of veterinary school.

Sarah and Cheddar.


 My talk focused partly on the rabies virus (discussed in the April blog) and partly on the body’s response to parasitic infections. As I stated my conclusions and asked if there were any questions, my gut did a funny tumble when I saw Professor X raise a hand. He asked a very challenging question about how the body’s immune system knows to react to bits of parasites but not bits of the body itself.

I perspired for a moment while I thought frantically and then quickly realized that I actually knew the answer! Infection and Immunity class this year had taught me exactly how the body determines foreign invaders from itself. My next challenge of course, was translating the highly involved biologic gibberish into terms my non-medical audience could understand, but I think I pulled it off alright in the end… and eventually Professor X ran out of questions.

That day that I presented to my old physics department is just one of many, many examples over the last month where I was shocked to realize how much information my brain has soaked up since school began in August. From beginning to understand guest lecturers giving lunchtime talks on clinical cases, to recognizing nerdy references in The Big Bang Theory, all this science I’ve learned is starting to make sense!

As a student, you don’t realize it’s happening during the school year. You sit through lecture after lecture. You study in your down time. You’re perpetually cramming for a big exam or lazing in a haze of exhaustion after taking a big exam. This is veterinary school. There’s fun bits too—wet labs and lunch meetings and other little reprieves from the burden of it all—but mostly, it’s schoolwork.
You wonder how all this work will possibly make you into a doctor. But with every medical reference I start to understand, every clinical sign I recognize, every animal behavior I can advise upon, and every question from Professor X I can confidently answer, I see more and more clearly how this education will absolutely turn me into a knowledgeable and competent veterinarian.