Where Are They Now? ft. Dr. Shruti Madhusudan
October 26, 2020
Shruti Madhusudan is a 2020 graduate from the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies (R(D)SVS) in Edinburgh, Scotland. She completed her Bachelor’s Degree at the University of Guelph in 2015 and was an active member of the Future Vets Club. She created the Omnis Animalis (then known as The Speculum) during the 2014/2015 academic school year. We hope you enjoy reading her article as much as we did!
Over the past four years, I have had the opportunity to witness the Pentland Hills nearly every morning. On some days, they are verdant giants standing proudly ahead. Other days, I see them as snow-capped bastions peaking above the horizon while on (frequent) occasion, their view is blotted out by a thick blanket of grey cloud. Some delightful pathetic fallacy to accompany the trials and tribulations of attending veterinary school where certain moments have you wondering where you are, how you got there, and how you will ever make it out.
I started out with a similar map to many: I enjoyed time spent with dogs more than I enjoyed time spent with people and as such, I was recommended to pursue a career in veterinary medicine. The aspiration stuck and followed me through many hours spent in clinics, labs, societies (the Future Vets Club, or FVC, included), charities, and the library. While completing my bachelor’s degree at the University of Guelph, diversity was my sidekick as I delved into as many opportunities as I could. Through my zoology major, FVC activities (as a committee assistant and secretary), and volunteering activities, I developed deeper insight into the fascinating world of animals that I loved so much.
In a quest for balance, I equally splendored in the study of philosophy (an accidental minor), physics, foreign languages, international development, human rights advocacy, and music. This breadth of activity was an unplanned blessing that primed me with the ability to approach problems creatively and with some novelty. Having a respite from the pre-vet grind was also a relief in that it allowed me to find value in undergrad itself without viewing it as a mere stepping-stone towards the goal. I also feel that it may have helped me stand out (both on paper and in interview) in the vet school application process.
I graduated from Guelph in 2015 with a degree in Zoology and minors in physics and philosophy, and decided to spend the next academic year getting more research and wildlife experience before applying to vet school. I also decided to take classes in areas outside of my major for the fun of it and to make certain that veterinary medicine was definitely something I wished to do.
Pro-tip: I would recommend taking an ethics class in undergrad as it will force you to think through complex problems that you will likely face as a practicing clinician and – in the shorter term – in vet school MMIs.
Ever the nomad, I decided to pack my bags and move to a new continent to attend veterinary school at the Royal School of Veterinary Studies in Edinburgh. I had never visited the city prior to my relocation but the pictures made it look stunning, so I thought, “heck, why not?”. As is of no surprise, veterinary school admission in Canada is tough and after seeing friends apply year after year for admission into Canadian institutions with no avail, I felt it would be prudent to apply to schools out of the country as well. Aside from being nestled in an aesthetically pleasing city, the Dick Vet (as it’s so affably called in honour of its founder) also has a world-renowned reputation for its contributions to veterinary education and medicine. These qualities are well represented in its faculty (interactions with which largely swayed my final decision). The lecturers at our institution are immensely intelligent and effective communicators while being equally approachable (we are on first name basis with most). Their love for the profession and teaching are so palpable and that quality truly elevates the learning experience.
Pro-tip: If you find yourself in the position of having to choose between veterinary schools, I would highly recommend weighing your interactions with faculty highly as these individuals could prove to be future mentors that could help you shape your career. Reaching out to vets or professors within your field of interest in your undergrad can also be incredibly valuable in gaining insight into different areas of vet med and how to approach career planning and learning. Most faculty welcome this kind of initiative and find it laudable.
Another point of consideration I took into account when selecting vet schools was the case load of the hospitals at which we would be completing our clinical rotation. As I have a keen interest in wildlife medicine, the presence of a wildlife and exotic animal department at the Dick Vet was a very real draw. Additionally, I was enthusiastic about attending an institution that did not “track” students (i.e. streamline their studies based on a narrowed area of interest) as I wished to receive as much information on as many species as possible to keep all options open. Equally, the high research output at the university along with the proximity of the Roslin Institute (home to Dolly, the first cloned animal), and the Jeanne Marchig International Centre for Animal Welfare piqued my interest. Due to the close connections of these institutions, I have been able to act as a research assistant in my spare time and gain exposure to new developments in veterinary, animal science, and genetics research. I also looked for a program that integrated hands-on and problem-based learning methods, which the R(D)SVS did purport. In a nutshell, these were my main three reasons for choosing Edinburgh: Exciting location, large hospital system treating many species, and access to many research opportunities and resources. In August 2016, I was excited, I was ready, and I was in it to win it!
But real talk…
I came into veterinary school as wide-eyed and excited as the next kid with the impression that my admission was the pinnacle of my success. Except that it was not. Getting into vet school is a false summit- the time after is where the real work begins (cue “I’ll Make A Man Out of You” from Mulan). Here are some things I have learned throughout the process of riding the tumultuous waves of veterinary education:
1. You must study, but grades are of minimal consequence.
Many of us come into veterinary school with a history of grade-obsession but …they are truly of little consequence in the grand scheme of things. That said, keeping up to date with your lectures and knowledge is imperative.
The most difficult aspect of veterinary learning is the sheer volume of information with which you must contend. You are tasked to learn the anatomy, physiology, pathology, treatments, behaviour, and management of dogs, cats, horses, cows, sheep, pigs, iguanas, parrots, and even the occasional hippo. What’s more, you need an intimate understanding of the systems within which these animals live and survive. This is a gargantuan effort that requires steady and consistent study. Long gone are the days of studying for an exam the weekend before writing it and pulling all-nighters to write your final thesis (trust me, I’ve done both and it is a regrettable choice)!
It’s important to remember that every single thing you learn in vet school is in the aim of saving lives; as such, it’s really important to maintain your knowledge and to consistently apply it to a clinical context. This thought is also good motivation for when you’re elbow deep in notes about electrolyte filtration in the renal tubules. I spent three of my years of veterinary school as a study-skills tutor (through the Veterinary Peer Assisted Learning Program) and have learned that the best way to study is to study using as many varying methods as possible. The more varied your approach to a piece of information, the more in depth your understanding. Additionally, repetition is key to success as long term memory requires re-visitation of information to develop strong neural pathways. There are numerous free online platforms that you can access to strengthen your studying including text books, interactive apps, and open-access flashcards. My favourite thing to do is study in groups where individuals take turns explaining topics to one another or working through cases.
Pro-Tip: The Veterinary Information Network (VIN), Vetstream, and the Merck manual are great resources for students to expand their repertoire.
2. Networking is a necessary task.
Whether it’s at your local small animal practice, on farms, or at conferences, it is immensely important to build a network of mentors and peers with whom you can learn from and collaborate with in the future. Take as many advantages as you can of reduced fare conference entry for students to learn about up and coming veterinary medicine and meet experts in the field. Feel free to contact those vets you admire or whose careers parallel your ambitions. Additionally, keep in touch with the vets, nurses, ACAs, and administration at the clinics where you had an enjoyable experience for you never know if they will be hiring around the time of your graduation.
3. You will never be perfect.
At vet school, imposter syndrome is a prevalent diagnosis in a world where many highly achieving, driven, intelligent individuals are packed into a small space for 60 hours a week. You may feel that you are not enough for the profession but rest assured, you are. What may have come easily to you at one point now simply takes a bit more effort (as everything worth doing, does) and the processes of those around you need not be your own. The veterinary profession has a high suicide rate that is likely due to the incredible emotional and physical demands placed on its members. We must remember to be kind to ourselves and to one another in light of our collective goals. I’m lucky to be part of a cohort that looks to lift peers up instead of putting them down to get ahead. We share notes, we make jokes, and we check-in to ensure that people are keeping well. Our institution also seems to make mental health a priority and provides support through numerous avenues. It is extremely imperative to value your mental health and honour your process of growth to get through this program. You may not achieve 100% on every exam and you may not be able to place a catheter on your first, second, or even third try, but you will acquire these skills in time with hard work and dedication.
4. Ask early.
The vet world is small and as such, opportunities in certain areas can be few and far between. So, if you’re interested in a niche area of the profession (e.g. wildlife, equine theriogenology, or what have you), do your research early. I’d recommend making a list of clinics/organisations at which you’d like to gain experience in your first year of veterinary school and asking each of them what they require for application and when that application should be made. Many places will require you to put forth an inquiry over a year in advance. Securing these placements early not only makes life easier in the long run, but it also gives you time to raise the funds necessary to pursue them (especially if they are international programs or paid courses).
5. Be ready to be shook.
I’ve had many a moment where I’ve questioned my decision to become a vet. Is what we do truly beneficial to society or are we simply flattering the human ego by perpetuating the control of animal life? Many of my peers have not faced this conundrum and remain unjaded; but I believe that healthy reflection of the impact of your desired profession is a necessary thing . The process of acquiring this education will push you outside of your ethical comfort zone and force you to think about the mark you wish to make upon the world. I’d recommend embracing that dissidence and exploring those alternatives as coming to an informed answer will contribute to equipping you to face the difficulties of the world ahead. Question why things are done the way they are and if you have an ideas for improvement, pursue them! We go through veterinary school to learn veterinary medicine, but in reality, the reach of our education is so much greater! Keep your options open to new possibilities as your dreams at the start and end of vet school may differ greatly.
From ecstatic peaks of pure revelation to pits of pure, existential angst, veterinary school has pushed me to every limit and stretched the bounds of who I am and what I aspire to be. It is a worthy challenge to pursue and the benefits reaped have been significant! I’ve travelled across the globe, helped birth newborns, seen the slow but steady improvement of critical care cases, successfully revived crashing patients, met peers with varying experiences, and learned a lot more about myself and the world around me. For those ready for the adventure, hang tight, for it’ll be a joyous and memorable ride.
Thank you for reading, and good luck on your journey to vet school!
Shruti Madhusudan (BSc, BVM&S)
The Skinny on Attending the R(D)SVS
Length of Program: 4 years (with previous degree, Graduate Entry Program), 5 years (without previous degree)
Year 1: Animal Husbandry, Anatomy, Basic Systems Physiology, Bacteriology/Virology, Evidence Based Veterinary Medicine, and Integrated Problem Solving.
+ 12 weeks of work experience with different types of animals
Year 2: Clinical Foundation Course (Intro to surgery, oncology, pharmacology, diagnostic imaging, and evidence based veterinary medicine), Pathology, and the Dog and Cat Course.
Year 3: Farm Animal Medicine, Veterinary Public Health, Equine Medicine, and Exotics Medicine
Year 4: Clinical Rotations with Core Rotation in every department from June-December and three Selected Rotations (3 weeks each) at the university in the department of your choice.
+ 27 weeks of clinical extramural studies from years 2-4
Application: VMCAS or UCAS (Due in September/October) + GRE
Class Size: ~140 students
Extracurricular Activities: SO MANY! From vet related clubs in anatomy, surgery, ECC, etc., you also have access to societies spanning the entire university. Edinburgh is also an incredibly creative city that hosts a plethora of means to get involved in the greater artistic community if that’s your fancy. Additionally, there are plenty of opportunities to get outdoors (climbing, hiking, skiing, sailing, and even surfing are possible in Scotland) and mainland Europe is close enough to make happy weekend getaways, international work experience, and even vet school exchanges (regardless of what school you attend, be sure to check out the IVSA)!