The Start of Veterinary School
I decided to keep along the chronological order of things for my second blog. The early years of your career really shape who you are as a veterinarian, and I definitely had an interesting start.
People may or may not know this about me, but I made a very hasty decision to attend veterinary school outside the country. I originally had decided to stay in Philadelphia, retain my research position at the vet school, take some graduate courses, and apply to veterinary school 1 year later (after becoming a PA state resident). A close friend of mine was involved with St. George's University and started talking to me about their brand new veterinary program. After some research, I decided to not wait a year before applying to veterinary schools and risk not being accepted. Within a matter of weeks, I had taken my GRE, was accepted by St. George's, started my immunizations, received my passport, and shipped off to the island of Grenada.
I was going to succeed no matter where I went, but now, I was able to study on an amazing island and experience a whole new culture as well. The veterinary program started in 1999, and we entered in August 2001, their biggest class at that time. Now, SGU is accredited by the AVMA and their students do not have to worry about the foreign accreditation process.
The first few weeks of school were the most difficult. To start, we were only allowed a 70 lb bag of luggage for a 4 month stay in a foreign country. I remember carrying a small pharmacy of supplies for any gastrointestinal complication you could think of. We drank only bottled water, but failed to realize that fresh fruits and vegetables are a major source contamination. I think I had some sort of ameobic dysentery that first week, and had just gotten over a month of GI issues. Oh, side note, I almost wasn't allowed into the country of Grenada by the CDC, as I had been diagnosed with cryptosporidium about 30 days before. It can be a deadly parasite for an immune suppressed person and it can not be filtered by water treatment facility due to its small size.
We started to settle in, get adjusted to the heat, humidity and insect situation (I can't tell you how many nightmares I had about bugs.... shiver). As things calmed down, we unfortunately experienced a life-changing event. September 11, 2001. Even now as I type this, my heart starts pounding. We were in Anatomy lab when someone came into the building to tell us what happened. At that time, cell phones were not international, but a classmate had a satellite based cell phone. She let me use it, and amazingly, on the first try, I was able to call home (from that time forth, the US phone lines were giving us busy signals for hours at a time). A lot occurred in those next few days, but a family member had died in the towers. I remember wanting to quit school and come home to support my family. My parents would not allow this, so I had to learn to emotionally separate myself from my career in order to move forward. To this day, I regret not being home with my family. I have never spoken to my family about what happened, but I hope they know I wished I was there.
The ability to put emotions aside for a little while, is necessary in the field of veterinary medicine. We need to stay objective in difficult situations, but also, we need to think clearly and function at our best in emergencies. Later, we crash, cry, drink some wine, etc. to deal with the emotional stress of this job. If I don't cry during a euthanasia, please don't be offended. Sometimes I do and sometimes I don't, but I try not to. It is not easy to place an intravenous catheter with watery eyes and snot running down your face.
Sorry for the somber blog, but I felt really drawn to writing this. That event had a larger influence to my career than I ever realized.
Dr. Leah Wulforst