Dear veterinary class of 2017,
We, the class of the Ontario Veterinary College 2007, just celebrated our 10 year reunion. On this occasion, the start of your careers and an anniversary of ours, we compiled some thoughts as a collegial gesture. We hope to impart some of the things we’ve learned as we went from baby vets to dare we say it, “experienced” (aka old-ish). We no longer know what songs to dance to at “the Palace”, nor what the frat kids are doing these days, and we never used laptops in class. However, many of our experiences will be the same as you embark on your careers, so we’re sharing with you.
In preparation for our reunion, we did a little survey of the class. We asked for memories: the funniest, the fondest, the biggest accomplishments. And the best advice for new grads. When compiling these anecdotes and wisdom, there were some resonating themes. The same themes were echoed and achieved depth at our reunion barbeque, where we met up in Guelph with our families and old friends. You might not need this advice right now, and you might think some of it doesn’t apply. But tuck it away, and know that classes who have gone before you have surely gone through some of the tough days you may have, and we hope some of what we’ve learned can be applied.
Here’s what we know right now, 10 years out from school:
First, life is 100% not about only being a veterinarian. When reflecting on biggest personal accomplishments, almost everyone talked about the relationships they have. Whether the connection is with a partner, pet, or children, the greatest joys shared by our class involved love and connection with others. Interestingly, material things, dollars spent, awards, or medals almost never came up, although many of our classmates surely have achieved these. What a powerful, but essential thought to carry you forward as a young veterinarian. Work hard at work, but work even harder on the connections that matter to you. A classmate said it best, looking adoringly at her daughter, “You know, I realize I do what I love, but I do it all for her. And that makes all the hard days so worth it.” Choose to love deeply, and be loved. Hang on tight to everyone you care about. And do non-vet things outside of work! Even though you just lived and breathed everything veterinary medicine for the past 4 years at least, it is healthy and important to do things totally unrelated to veterinary medicine, and to learn new things. Get away from our strange tribe and find a new bunch of weirdos to learn with. Do it now! Play the tuba! Build a tiny home! Grow ornamental cabbages! Just do something different that uses another part of your brain.
Many also talked about mentorship, and the importance of finding a quality mentor. Around tables over lunch, we traded stories of crazy cat ladies, horse trainers, and dairy farm “wrecks” and the people who helped us through it. What I noticed is that what we thought we wanted from mentorship isn’t always what we needed. The people from whom we learned the most cared about us, cared about clients at the clinic, the animals, and the case outcomes. And the best teachers pushed us (that might have been Dr. Koenig screaming “For god’s sakes, just cut the testicle!!” or may have been a bit more of a gentle push.) However, getting out of your comfort zone is where you really start to learn something and grow. Watching your every move isn’t mentoring, but it is coaching you through tricky things to get you to learn, and inevitably fail, just enough. A hidden aspect of mentorship is that everyone has something to teach you. Even when you are learning what you don’t want to emulate. Keep your eyes open to possible mentor styles; you might not get what you ordered, but it might be what you needed!
While we’re talking about what you need, let’s talk about the beast of perfectionism. In the words of Elsa from Frozen (you probably haven’t seen it like 8,000 times like most of our classmates with toddlers have):“Let it go.” Anyone who remembers being young or has seen young children, knows that as soon as you exit the womb, you’re making mistakes. And certainly as soon as you leave vet school, the protective cocoon where you can sit in judgement of everyone else while not carrying any of the responsibility, you will make mistakes. Hundreds of them. So get comfortable with failing. Sit with that horrible, nasty feeling, but don’t let it turn into a cancerous growth that takes over your whole life. Examine that mistake and how you feel, take a lesson from it, make a solemn vow to never again [insert blank], and move the hell on. When you were in first year vet school, and you drank too much at [insert party here], did you stop drinking forever? Don’t be crazy. You rehashed over breakfast at Eggcetera, and then got back to studying anatomy. Life is short, mistakes are many, careers are long, but memories are short.
In the same vein as perfectionism and letting go, is the idea of planning and what to do when plans change. In looking around our class, there are very few of us who ended up exactly where we envisioned. Our class has evolved and changed, and each of us are doing so many different things than we could have ever imagined sitting in lecture hall 1714 on our first day. And it’s ok. It’s more than ok. Even if deviation from plans was forced, there were joys and new challenges waiting for us. I think all 110 of us are proof that it is more than ok to change plans. Maybe you’ll have kids and stay home. Maybe you’ll take a job in Bolivia. Maybe you’ll end up learning to slow down, or how to speak Mandarin. Who knows? Underneath it all, looking at our class, we are all the same eager vet students we once were, fresh faced and excited to be veterinarians. The same twinkle exists in people’s eyes, the quick wit, the funny laugh. No matter what changes in your life, you’re still you at your core. A ship may change course, but it doesn’t stop being a ship.
Oh and let’s not forget kindness, collegiality, and being a decent human. Many shared that they most enjoyed the collegial relationships they have with other vets, and helping others. Collegiality is a choice, just like being a jerk is. As you get older, with more of you to love, and more wrinkles than you used to have, you realize that most people are out there just doing the best they can with what they have. So, be kind, and seek first believe to the best of others.
Perhaps the most poignant lesson is about life itself. We lost one of our beloved classmates a few years after graduation after she battled with brain cancer. Dr. Erin Stewart (Leis), was a bright, sweet, and caring person. This was the first time a large part of our class had gathered since she left us. Our class dedicated a tree in the Arboretum to Erin, and together with her husband, daughter, and parents, it was a powerful ceremony. The incredible sadness of the moment when Erin’s father stood before us and spoke in front of us, with our small families, careers, and a whole life of choices ahead of us, while his own brilliant daughter was gone too soon, was at times overwhelming for us all. However, it drove home a point. Even if your career’s in the toilet, or things haven’t gone the way you thought in your job, or you’ve lost people you love, or messed up relationships, or if you feel like you’ve muffed up everything you’ve ever done, you have an incredible gift. You are here, with a thousand tomorrows stretching in front of you. Don’t ever take it for granted. No hole is too deep to climb out of. Seriously. You will find joy in the most unexpected places sometimes, just hang in there through the crazy times, they make the good times so much sweeter.
With that, we’ll let you get back to Instagram or Snapchat or whatever. Welcome to the profession. We look forward to mentoring you, to learning along with you, and to having you as colleagues. And we pass on this tradition to you!
The Ontario Veterinary College Class of 2007
Written by Melanie Barham
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