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Tuesday, November 13, 2012

It's been a while!

It's been a while since you've heard anything from me here, but since it is not the first time, nor will it be the last, I won't waste time apologizing and just get on writing a post!

In defense of this very long, slightly dis-jointed post --> this is the reason I haven't posted in a while.  This post HAD to be written before I could write anything else (you bloggers know what I'm talking about) and the amount of time and energy that had to be put forth to write this couldn't be justified.  Then.....well......when your car breaks an axle and you are stuck in the Fresno area getting it fixed,  the opportunity to spend 2 uninterrupted hours presents itself!!!!!

The picture I posted was me inserting an acupuncture needle into the top of my head, in a location that is suppose to be known for it's calming effect.  It worked!!!!! What does this have to do with vetmed?  Let me explain.

In the last 6-8 months I've had a bit of a crisis, similar to what I imagine people go through when they talk about a "crisis of faith" or "losing their religion" (although mine is safely intact, thank you very much).  You see, I've been a huge proponent of "evidence-based medicine" and of science, and tested hypothesis', and things that can be explained.

And then something happened.  The more I learn about medicine, which I love (or at least thought I did), the more dissolutioned I was.  The deficiency of western medicine and how much we really know, and how effective it really is, and what the majority of work and research is really focused on became more and more apparent the more I studied and the longer I stayed in school.  I started to find myself wondering what I was doing in vet school in the first place.  The areas I was the most interested in --> nutrition, behavior, and prevantative medicine --> seem to be the weakest, least understood, (yet paradoxically the most "opinionated" sectors) of vet medicine.

I've never seen myself as the physician of the sick; rather, I was the doctor that would insure that my geriatric patients lived happy, full, comfortable lives.  That through nutrition, environment, behavior, preventative medicine, and taking a whole-animal approach that included substantial owner education, my "clients" (which include both the animal and the human equally) would fulfill their purpose to the fullest, whether that was as a companion, service, performance, or food-chain animal.

However, that didn't seem to be the model that veterinary science was built on, at least, not the "evidence-based" clinical portion that is emphasized in my school curriculum. 

Anyone who knows me well, knows that I have an extremely hard time living and acting and caring about something that conflicts with what my values and core beliefs are.  I started to wonder whether vet school was actually the right decision for me and my career.  Several times over my "career life" I've switched to a different emphasis mid-stream (although always animal/agriculturally related), which always turned out for the best.  Maybe this was one of those times?  Maybe I should have gotten my PhD instead?  Maybe my calling WAS to be barefoot and pregnant and a stay-at-home mom that sent the kids to school, did housework, and didn't have to contemplate issues of life and death and health and trying to make a mark on the world through animal health?

As you might imagine it's very hard to excel in school (much less find the energy for regular blog posts) when you are reevaluating your veterinary world view (is "evidence-based" medicine the only thing there is?); whether the time, money, and frustration of going to vet school is worth it (remember, 250K debt!!!!!); and feeling trapped (I HATE feeling trapped in my career.  I like leaving lots and lots of options open, and I thought by going to vet school I would have MORE options, and feel LESS trapped).

Fortunately a couple of things have happened in the last couple weeks that have put me back on track.

1.  I've started to look into Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) as a supplement to the western style medicine being taught in school.  (Notice the word is SUPPLEMENT, not replace).  It might not be evidence based but I'm more and more impressed how well TCM explains pathologic processes that can occur in the body, how it addresses the WHOLE health of the animal, and how it focuses on maintaining health and wellness by a whole-life approach that emphasizes balance and actions and environment.  I went from total skeptic when I started vet school, to curious by the halfway point of my first year, to actually wanting to incorporate TCM into any medicine I practice in the first part of my second year.  The turning point was attending a lecture by a veterinarian on acupuncture, where I got to self-needle myself and actually spent time trying to understand the TCM approach as something beyond the "cookbook" (pain here, needle here etc.) and more a a philosophy and approach.

When I started vet school, as part of the orientation, my classmates and I all took the Myers-Brigg Test, which helps you understand yourself is supposed to bring greater understanding to how diversity is a good thing in groups, and to lessen the frusteration experienced in group work by understanding how your peers might be different or the same as you.

To no one's surprise (including my own --> I've taken the test several times over the years) I tested as an ISTJ.  As did most of my class.

Good!!!!!!!  Right?  I should be able to relate to the majority of my classmates, and testing the same as everyone else means that I'm in the right spot right??????????  For the first time in my life I felt like I was surrounded by people like me.

And then, as time went on, the same thing happened that always does......except for a small group of friends, I set myself apart.  I found I didn't relate well to my classmates and their attention to detail and lack of a big picture overview and attention to the body line frustrated me.  The lack of importance and meaning to anything I was doing started to wear on me.

Warning - the italicized portion below is  bit of a whiny rant.  Skip if if you would like.

While my classmates were excited about a change giving us an extra 6 months (for 18 months total) in clinics and in the VMTH, I dreaded it.  Yet more time required to be spent in the "service" of a bureaucracy in no-man's land where you are expected to act as if you have responsibility of cases while in reality you aren't an employee, are not covered by workman's comp if you get hurt, aren't getting paid (and in fact, are paying for the privilege), and get to do all the sh*t work by doing all the paperwork-records-client communications-being on call-working late etc. under some pretense that it will make me a better vet because apparently every vet student's ambition is to define their entire lives by their work, spend too many hours in the clinic, get a divorce, and work until they are in their 70's to pay off their student loans.  I'm more than happy to do sh*t work that matters, I'm just not convinced that what I'll be allowed to do in the hospital qualifies.

I already have a work ethic

I already had a job(s) that I worked every holiday and weekend

I already had a job that required me to be on call 24 hours a day.

And guess what.  In those jobs I had real responsibility.  What I did mattered.  I got paid.  I went home at night knowing that what I did made the world a better place.  I'm almost 30 and this is my second career.  I'm not going to accept a job out of college that doesn't allow me to have some sort of life outside of work, even if that means I work part time. While the actual tasks such as client communications and records and working through stress and fatigue are important skills, I'm not sure that pushing my body, mind, and spirit to the limit for 18 months is going to necessarily make me a better vet.  In fact I think that it will make me a rather unhappy person, whose family life is strained, who makes more mistakes --> something that isn't fair for the client, patient or vet. 

Not to mention that there was a little voice in the back of my head that wondered what the business decision was for this?  I'm not so niave to think that they were adding 6 months to the clinic rotations just for our benefit.  The VMTH is a business and decisions like this are often made for the benefit of the business as a whole and not necessarily for the individuals.  Cynically, I know.  But considering that my main emphasis is NOT to be a clinician, the prospect of spending 50% more time in that setting was horrifying --> not to mention "working" for an employer that I did not share many of my values and beliefs with that was going to require me to "smile and nod" --> something I do NOT do well.   

At the TCM lecture we all took a personality test that told us what our dominant "element" was.

That was the beginning of the change for me.

Turns out I tested as a "wood".  Most vet students are "metal".  There's a huge difference in those personalities and I won't go into it here, but basically it explains a LOT about my personality and how I function in groups and big corporations. The realization that there was more than one way to put people and things in this world into boxes and to be able to finally be able to point to something and say "THAT'S why I'm so different from the other ISTJ's in this class" was so relieving.  It wasn't that I didn't belong here, it was that to feel fulfilled, I needed different needs met than a lot of my classmates.

So much of of the TCM made sense, from how "wood"'s tend to be irritable and grumpy because of how they feel and interact with the world, to how they categorize different animal personalities and how they change throughout their life cycle --> that it made me willing to try and understand some of the other parts of TCM that were less intuitive.

In summary (because I could go on and on and on......) TCM gives me a concrete thing that I can hold onto as I'm learning about western medicine and being in clinics that gives me hope about medicine, clincial medicine, and my future as a vet.

2.  This post is getting WAY too long so I'm just briefly going to touch on some of the other things that have me excited about school again.  I found a subject in school I can be REALLY excited about --> reproduction.  Which is ironic because I've avoided it for a lot of years, thinking I hated it.  Yes, you still deal with dysfunction, but I think the values and goals of reproduction match my core beliefs a lot better than many of the other veterinary medicine "subcategories" and I'm having a BLAST.  It's very food animal oriented, but still technical, etc.  Don't have time to go into everything right now, but the bottom line is that I could totally be a reproduction specialist and be happy with life.

3.  I toured a food animal processing plant yesterday and it was my first time back in a plant since leaving Foster Farms a 1 1/2 years ago.  I felt good to feel comfortable again.  Really really good.  Like I was in my element.  I was interested, engaged.  I remembered how GOOD I was at my job/career before vet school.  It's been a while since I felt that COMPETENT.  That feeling that I was the best I could be and I was damn good, and other people recognized that I was good.  I'm not sure that I'll go back to that industry sector, but it was gratifying to realize that I still "have" it, that I could easily walk back into my old role and do awesome things.  The freedom and reassurance that yes, I can still be exceptional, was incredibly....I don't have the words for it.  It gave me my confidence back. I need to be careful that I don't fall back on something just because it's comfortable, but in this economy I'm still employable and I still have options.

4.  Although I've talked about getting my PhD, and doing some sort of food safety research, I wasn't super excited.  My frustration at school and seeing a PhD as the only way I could see myself being successful meant I felt trapped.......which meant I overally excited about it (Trapped = BAD for Melinda's mental health).  Much better to feel like I have options and choices and free will.  After realizing that the food processing industry is still an option, OR a western/eastern approach to clinical medicine, OR a PhD, OR reproduction......I'm much more excited about the PhD or wherever this career takes me.  :)

5.  I'm learning to be flexible.  Whether it's cancelling an endurance ride at the last minute, or deciding to go at the last minute, or being spontaneous and visiting family, or cancelling my run because I'm not feeling well, or going running just because I feel like it, or having 5 5 year plans instead of 1, or.......the point is I'm learning to have less plans, less lists, and less goals.  Since realizing that the trick to accomplishing more is to schedule less and stay flexible, rather than holding myself to a stricter and stricter standard I'm healthier, happier, and stronger.

And thus ends my rather long and rambling post.  Hopefully there's a gem or two that you can glean through this and I've introduced concepts here that will probably be brought up again.  Thank you for joining me on this journey!


  1. When I was in library school, we had to take the M-B test, and the instructor (an entrenched ISTJ) was very surprised at my ENFP results, and implied that perhaps I had accidentally wandered into the wrong career path. "Most librarians," she told us, "are ISTJ." The implication was that most GOOD librarians are ISTJ. With 20 years of library work BEFORE going to library school, I didn't buy it, and eventually discovered that there are actually two types of GOOD librarians: the ISTJs, who make outstanding catalogers because of their methodical attention to detail, and the REST OF US, who are good at solving a hugely diverse set of problems related to people of all sizes and nations and information needs. My ISTJ instructor was a terrific cataloger, a crummy instructor for people who were not like her...and she'd get eaten alive by the high school gay-straight alliance group looking for fiction book suggestions that I worked with last week.

    My point (and I do have one) is that pigeonholes are for pigeons. People don't belong in them, and that includes you. Figure out what YOU do well (which you are doing), and do more of that. Figure out what you don't do well, and practice a bit so you can gain some skills.

    And when you get stuck, call the library. Somebody there will be happy to help you!

  2. Your point on being flexible?! A-freaking-MEN.

    "Since realizing that the trick to accomplishing more is to schedule less and stay flexible, rather than holding myself to a stricter and stricter standard I'm healthier, happier, and stronger."

    TRUTH. And for that reason I have been happier in recent months that I have in ages.

  3. Schedule less is it for me, too. And I'm "wood", too, so I get what you are saying. The woman who told me so commented that it is very hard to be "wood" in today's world and particularly difficult for women.


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