Thursday, July 25, 2013

How to study in veterinary school

I was chatting to some first year veterinary students from the University of Queensland about a book some of them had found helpful. How to Study in Medical School, by Armin Kamyab, now in its second edition, is a lovely thin guide which can be read in a single sitting.

It contains some useful tips, the linchpin of which is taking excellent notes during lectures and then reviewing these after each day before you go to bed. The idea is that every day you spend around an hour for every lecture hour revising notes.

In principle I love this system, especially two tips:
1) Don’t just write it – ask why. For example, if intestinal biopsies are required to differentiate between inflammatory bowel disease and low grade lymphoma, knowing WHY helps you understand, facilitating learning and better recall.

2) Look up things you don’t know – it helps you understand better (it’s a more active way of learning) and facilitates better recall.

Dr Kamyab was clearly unwavering in his desire to excel in medical school. He applies a blanket “no sleeping” rule, i.e. no going to bed until you have produced excellent study notes every weeknight. Weekends are for revising one’s notes and that is all.

Don’t get me wrong. I like this book. I like the fact that he suggests we act as if there is a test on every Monday. It lends an urgency to one’s study, a knife to cut through the procrastination.

Like Kamyab I am very much of the view that time spent in the library is likely more fruitful than time spent at home.

“I always recommend studying at the library. If you go home, you will cook, watch TV, clean, lie down to rest, browse online, call family etc. Time spent on all those little things adds up. Studying at the library will avoid all those distractions.”

No argument there. But this is where my agreement ends. He goes on:

“I understand of course that certain students have families to spend time with, and important chores to take care of. The issue is simply to prioritise, and to figure out where studying falls on your list of priorities. For me it was #1.”

Number 1 it might be, but medical school and veterinary school last four to five years. The program seems very appealing and very structured, but if you keep this up for five years three things at the suggested level of intensity it is quite possible that:

a) You neglect your family, friends and companion animals who are likely supporting you and doing all those chores and earning income to keep you alive;

           b) You will excel academically but miss out on gaining any experience to round out your skills (for example, animal handling, nursing, working with wildlife and exotics);

c)   You may set yourself up for a big shock (and disappointment) upon graduation. Living in the library revising from nice neat notes is very different to dealing with real live animals in the often chaotic context of practice.

I am NOT suggesting that study is not important. But overemphasis on study, the concept of spending every day til midnight writing notes then going snorkelling for two hours on the weekend, is not my recipe for an excellent veterinarian. Ultimately, one is aiming to become a need practical skills, experience and the ability to do things (sometimes lots of things at once). With respect, I don't believe Dr Kamyab's schedule permits time enough to become a well rounded practitioner.

So what do SAT readers think? How did you survive vet school? Postgrad study?