It’s that dreaded time of year again: end of year professional exams.
Having already completed our OSCEs (practical clinical exams), we now have the written exams to “look forward to”. Stress levels at vet school are sky high at the moment, and while my immediate concern is also the fast approaching exams, I have a more long-term concern playing on my mind: how reflective are the exams of our veterinary knowledge, really?
Some people can do exams and some just can’t handle the pressure. I am definitely the sort of person that can cram for an exam and then forget the majority of what I’ve learned as soon as I walk out of the exam room – I think this stems from riding and having to learn four show jumping courses a day, then immediately erasing the route of the first from memory so as to not mix it up with the next.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a complete last minute crammer – I have been working towards these exams for the best part of the last six weeks and hope I won’t forget everything immediately, but I know I can’t remember every detail from first year now. So how am I possibly going to retain everything I will need to know as a practising vet?
I have some small animal clinical EMS lined up this summer, and the staff at the practice are well aware that I’m only just finishing second year, so they won’t be expecting me to have expert knowledge on every drug in their cabinet or be a masterful surgeon. However, if I’m shown an radiograph of a limb, from first year anatomy, I should know what I’m looking at… but will I?
I suppose this reinforces the critical importance of EMS in supplementing our knowledge and allowing us to apply it in a practical situation. I can certainly appreciate the retention value of things I’ve seen or done on placements already – even from before vet school.
My first work experience placement at a vets was with a farm practice when I was 15. I remember being very cold while spending three hours pregnancy diagnosing dairy cows in February. But I also remember the three methods of correcting a left displaced abomasum that I saw that week and the unforgettable diagnostic “ping” heard through the stethoscope.
One of our practical exams last week involved the clinical examination of rumen function in the cow, and required that same diagnostic test. At this level, we were given healthy cows, and many of my friends were unaware of what exactly they were listening for. But I’m certain that even now, six years later, if I heard that ping, I’d know what it was.
Perhaps this just means that personally, I’m a practical learner – but being a vet will be a practical job, and the truth is, you can’t learn everything out of a book… and you can’t test long term retention by sitting a written exam.
The real test of whether I’ve remembered first year knowledge will be when vets start quizzing me in context.