On my last day of classes of my first year of veterinary school, I bounded out of bed with only a few minutes to get ready. I had gotten about seven hours of sleep in the previous two days. I was physically and emotionally exhausted. As I pulled the door shut to my room, I couldn’t help smiling. It looked like about six different messy personalities inhabited my once thoughtfully decorated oasis.

That instant made me think: what would my neat, controlled, oh-so-confident first day of class self think about my life now? Honestly, I think she would have been terrified. But that’s okay. Throughout this journey of my first year of veterinary school, I have learned so much more than working veterinary knowledge. Here are the top ten things I’ll carry with me for the rest of my career.

1. My professional reputation starts here.

The summer before I started veterinary school, I made a habit of asking practicing veterinarians for advice. One recent grad told me that my professional reputation started as soon as I walked through the door. It’s blown my mind how right she was.

I’ve been approached by professors, clinicians, and upperclassman that I’ve never met, but they know me. The days of being “just a college kid” are gone, and I know I’m defining who I will be as a veterinarian with my every day actions.

2. I got into vet school because I had grit, and I’ll make it out of vet school because I have grit.

In a famous Ted Talk, Angela Duckworth described grit as “passion and perseverance for very long-term goals. It is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future, day in, day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years, and working really hard to make that future a reality. It is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.”

I learned a long time ago that I’m smart, but not “Doctor smart.” Before anybody panics, I also learned that’s perfectly okay. You know why? I have grit. The science shows gritty people are more likely to succeed than any other subset at long term goals. Many of my classmates and I are living examples of that.

3. It’s not a job, it’s a lifestyle.

Before starting veterinary school, some good meaning well-wishers told me “if you treat it like a job, everything will work out just fine.” They couldn’t have been more wrong. I quickly realized vet school, and the veterinary profession, is a lifestyle. Instead of being pumped to find out what’s on Netflix, I’m retraining my brain to pumped about the differences between first generation and second generation healing.

I’m not keeping up with Kardashians. I try and fail to keep up with politics. I live and breathe veterinary medicine. I try to be curious and excited about our labs and lectures. This is my life now. And you know what? Most of the time that makes me very happy.

4. BUT it’s essential to stay in touch with the outside world.

To this day, it shocks me to realize that most people could care less about my GPA. They could care less about how much I studied today. You know what I find people care about? My knowledge. My compassion. My ability to communicate effectively with them. There is something so refreshing about this!

As veterinary students, I think it’s easy to get lost in it all, but I’ve found it is important to remember that vet school isn’t your whole life. It doesn’t define you.

5. I’m not here to pass the test.

Mark Reid said “Student, you do not study to pass the test, you study to prepare for the day when you are the only thing between a patient and the grave.” A few months into vet school, my grades (and self-esteem) were lower than ever. It seemed like I was rewarded when I blindly memorized information, and I was punished for trying to understand the important concepts. Not only was this extremely taxing, it drained the joy out of learning for me.

Then something clicked. If I can go to bed at night knowing the way I studied was what would make me the most equipped to treat my patients, I should be proud. While it’s sometimes still a struggle to find a happy medium, this philosophy completely changed my outlook on my academic success. And my grades have improved!

6. Wellness is not an option or a luxury.

People wear self-abuse like a badge of honor, and there is no place like vet school to take a philosophy like that and run with it. For most of this year, I was totally into it. I lost 15 pounds from not eating. A full night’s rest rarely happened. During any free time, I’d beat myself up about not studying.

Vet school taught me there are two kinds of tired: one is a dire need of sleep, and the other is a dire need of peace. While I certainly wanted sleep, I needed peace. I made a resolution to change. I don’t have it all figured out, but I’ve added things like yoga, bonfires, spending more time outside, dance parties with friends, candles, and so many other little things to try to make peace with myself in one of the most stressful times of my life.

7. Working hard doing what I love made me appreciate the little things.

I distinctly remember waiting in line for a movie ticket a few months into vet school, and my date apologizing profusely. He felt guilty he hadn’t bought tickets ahead. He wanted the night to be perfect, and here we were, waiting in line for 30 minutes just for a lousy ticket.

I couldn’t help but giggle! This line was the best part of my whole week. I was outside on a beautiful night, hanging out with a great guy. Best of all, my heart was resting from the crazy, amazing life I called vet school. Sometimes a little perspective is all you need.

8. This profession is filled with the most amazing people. 

Half way through this semester, I was down in the dumps because I just couldn’t find a way that worked for me to study for one of our classes. Going into the exams, I never knew if I’d do amazing, or completely faceplant. It was soul crushing. On Valentine’s Day, I walked over to my desk to find a neatly folded superwoman cape with my name embroidered on it and a note that said “The veterinary profession is so lucky to have you Alli. You’ve got this!”

That moment and so many other experiences just like it taught me that’s the heart of my friends here. That’s the heart of this profession. I couldn’t be more grateful to be a part of that.

9. Keep the faith.

My parents often tease me about the “spring break incident of 2009.” I sort of… kind of… ruined an entire Caribbean vacation. Long story short, I spent the entire spring break bawling my eyes out because I got a “D” in my freshman year of high school geometry class. I was NEVER going to get into vet school. It was over.

Obviously, time passed and I realized that mistakes happen, challenges can be overcome, and most of all I remember my Christian family’s motto: “keep the faith.” There are a lot of days in vet school where I just don’t believe it’s going to happen. But for me, and for my classmates, I keep the faith.

10. There is, and always will be, so much left to learn.

A lot of our professors often tease my class by reminding us that for every one thing they teach us, there will be two things we realize we don’t (and need!) to know. At times, that drags me down. How will I ever know enough to properly serve my clients and patients one day? Then I’m reminded by those same professors and mentors it’s called practice for reason.

We go to vet school to learn to pass the NAVLE, and we will go into practice to practice the science and art of veterinary medicine. I’m so new to this profession, and I know I don’t know much, but I couldn’t be more grateful that I get to keep practicing and figuring it all out.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the DrAndyRoark.com editorial team.

Alli George is a rising second year veterinary student at Mississippi State University. In her free time, she enjoys riding horses, loving on her cat Mia, and volunteering with the many active organizations at the CVM. Alli looks forward to a summer at home working at a small animal practice she admires, and spending time with her family on their hobby farm..