After four wonderful, engaging weeks of hands on experience at the Omaha Zoo, pretty much the last thing in the world I wanted was to sit in a classroom for two weeks. And yet, that is, indeed, what happened.
For block 4, I had “Clinical Pathology, Laboratory Medicine, and Nutrition” which we all refer to just as “Clin Path,” and which could also be named “Clinical Pathology and the Other Miscellaneous Bits of Vet Med that Don’t Fit Well Elsewhere.” Clinical Pathology is the black box of medicine. It’s the stuff that happens between when your vet says, “We’ll need to collect some samples to figure out what’s wrong with Fluffy,” and they come back, reporting, “The results of our evaluation indicate that Fluffy has <<insert disease here>>.” It is the evaluation of raw data about your pet’s blood, urine, biopsies, etc and drawing conclusions from that data. It’s hard. At one point in time, it was my lowest grade in vet school. So while I wasn’t particularly excited about seeing it again, I was eager to get the practice, since it’s likely to be something I’ll be doing every day of my career, forever.
I will start by saying that the clinicians for this course are lovely people who are skilled in their areas of specialty. Additionally, most of them had absolutely no say in the construction of the course – they showed up when they were told and lectured on the topic they were assigned. Perhaps the real problem was a disconnect between my expectations and reality. I expected to be handed some bloodwork and asked to interpret it. Not so. Instead, I was handed a presentation topic list, and informed that, throughout the two week course, each of the twelve students on the rotation would be giving three presentations.
I’m not going to argue that practicing presentation skills isn’t worthwhile, because I believe that it is. However, if you want students to practice good presentation skills, you need to give them instruction on what that looks like, even if you think they should know better by now. If you tell students to make a presentation without reminding them how to do it well, they will most likely replicate what they see most frequently, which is Death By PowerPoint, characterized by reading slides to a room full of people who have been able to read proficiently for roughly two decades. But then again, who’s to say that the instructors themselves truly understand what goes into a good presentation, since their presentations also follow the tedious, disengaging, mind-numbing format described above? The catch-22 is that everyone thinks they know how to make a presentation, and so if you try to tell them how to do it, they will almost certainly tune you out. And the cycle continues.
Before one of my former students chimes in and calls me a hypocrite, I will admit that I did ask my students to give presentations on topics of their choosing. In my defense, I provided instruction on elements of a good presentation, but in practice, it’s true that most students did not take those instructions to heart, and we spent 3+ days listening to mostly poorly-done presentations where students read their slides to the class. I could go on a rant about how classes of 32+ high school students are not conducive to individualized development of life skills, but I’ll save that for another day. For the time being I’ll argue that the expectations for a class of twelve doctoral students (who are paying for their education) should be different than those for a public school classroom.
In the end, I DID get ~15 hours of practice reading and interpreting blood smears, urinalysis, etc, which was incredibly valuable. I’m also proud of the presentation I gave on tarantula clin path, which was apparently unique and interesting enough that two extra people stopped by just to see it. Perhaps the biggest advantage of the entire block was that we reliably finished by 5pm (or even earlier) every day and had weekends completely off, giving me abundant time to write, run, cook, and be human. This proved to be all the more valuable because this block was followed by Small Animal Emergency Medicine in block 5!
This post is part of a series documenting my clinical year in veterinary school. To read more from the series, please visit the Clinic Series homepage.