Earlier on this Thursday in May, they were heading into their last final as third-year veterinary students. It was a routine they had followed for years of education.
But as the clock turned to eight that evening, three now fourth-year veterinary students were faced with a whole new world.
The students had spent much of their previous three years at Iowa State in the classroom. That time was spent preparing them for what they were now experiencing and you can see the excitement and apprehension on their faces.
The three students – Austin Ashbacher, Jennifer Darchuk and Ethan Rogers – are the first members of their class to start their clinical rotations. Beginning mere hours after their last final, the fourth-year students work two-week clinical rotations in the Hixson-Lied Small Hospital and the adjoining Large Animal Hospital. Additional students take clinical rotations in the Department of Veterinary Pathology, the Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory and off-site at veterinary clinics and other animal health care facilities.
Students take a required block of courses in any number of disciplines in addition to rounding out their schedule with electives and external experiences for credit. One of the required rotations is intensive care/emergency medicine and that’s where we find Ashbacher, Darchuk and Rogers.
Since the Hixson-Lied Small Animal Hospital is open 24/7, the late night hours are typically covered by an intern, veterinary technician and fourth-year students.
The students are “eased” into their rotation. A veterinary technician instructs the students on what to expect. A quick tour is given and less than two hours later the students are on the floor. And it can be intimidating at first.
On this first overnight assignment, Ashbacher is assigned as the lone student in the Large Animal Hospital. “I don’t know what I’m doing,” he says prior to setting up shop in a rounds room and preparing for the next 12 hours.
But by the time the clock hits 8 the following morning, he is much more sure of what he’s doing.
“To start the evening I wasn’t very confident in what I was going to be asked to do,” he said. “I was sweating bullets, but then I got into a groove.”
When 8 a.m. rolled around, Darchuk and Rogers were the veterans on the ICU floor. Their classmates walked into the facility and started leaning on them for advice. On their first evening, the pair saw two late night emergencies.
Both said that, while not very confident heading into the rotation, they actually felt prepared for much of what they saw their first night.
“The first night was both overwhelming and eye-opening,” Darchuk said. “I had fun.”
Fellow classmate Taylor Malloy was also soon exposed to life as a fourth-year veterinary student. Malloy’s first rotation was in ophthalmology and by noon she had conducted her first eye exam on a patient.
The experience was made easier since, as a third-year student, she had taken an ophthalmology course late in the semester. She also prepared for her first day by going through the rotation syllabus and re-familiarizing herself with this medical specialty.
“I’ve used the instruments before so that was helpful,” Malloy said. “Having everything still fresh in my mind was definitely helpful.”
Fast forward two weeks and you will see find Ashbacher, Darchuk and Rogers in ICU with Malloy completing her ophthalmology rotation. It’s amazing what two weeks can do for a student’s confidence level.
“I’m much more confident now than I was when I started this rotation,” Darchuk said. “There’s a lot of hands-on experiences where I’ve learned by doing.”
Her two weeks on the ICU floor came with a couple of surprises for Darchuk.
“I performed a lot more CPRs than I thought I would,” she said, “and while I have no experience with cows or horses, the time I spent in the large animal hospital was enjoyable.
“I think I’ve adjusted pretty well and pretty quickly to the fourth year.”