What Ophthalmology Taught Me About Expectations [Clinics Series]

People talk, and the talk surrounding the veterinary ophthalmology rotation had me absolutely dreading it.  The dialogue was that students were swamped with cases, never got to go home, and that the clinicians were mean and regularly yelled at students for not keeping up with the demanding schedule.

I was so worked up about how terrible the rotation was going to be that I’m pretty sure I winced anytime someone spoke to me for the first two days.  I probably looked like an abused dog.  My anxiety level was close to paralyzing.  At one point, one of the (very kind) ophthalmology technicians asked if I was ok, because I was very visibly stressed.  I took a deep breath or two and responded that I was fine, I just didn’t feel like I was very good at ophthalmology.  He laughed warmly and told me it would be ok.  Something about the way he says things makes you believe that they’re true, and I’m pretty sure that it was the support of the technicians that slowly convinced me that maybe this rotation wouldn’t be so bad after all.

By the third day, no one had yelled at me, I had left at a reasonable hour each day, and I had snuggled some adorable patients.  In other words, everything had been great, and I started to relax into the rotation.  We had some late days, but we also left at 5pm some days.  It’s only fair to mention that there were three of us on the small animal side and a separate student on the equine side.  There have been rotations were there are only two students total to cover both sides, and I can see how that would be utter chaos.

My intention is not to claim that the stories from my classmates are untrue or to invalidate their experiences.  In fact, in the middle of the second week of my rotation, one of the residents yelled at one of the other students on the block.  I wasn’t there to witness it, so I don’t know exactly what was said, but I do know that the classmate at whom the resident yelled is very competent and exceedingly kind, so I can’t imagine a scenario in which yelling would be justified.  The other clinicians were mostly kind and eager to teach.  They usually gave us the benefit of the doubt and afforded us the opportunity to express what we knew before they filled in the gaps.

As it turns out, I do like ophthalmology, and I’m not bad at it either.  There’s definitely an appeal that the eyes are right there on the outside of the body, so compared to internal medicine it’s much easier to know for certain what’s wrong.  While I certainly feel more competent with eye diseases than I did before the rotation, the most important reminder I got from this rotation was that our expectations markedly shape our experience.  I’m thankful for the kind, patient members of the ophthalmology team who were able to support me while I came to this realization.  Perhaps with a few more even tempers, the hardest thing about ophthalmology would be how to spell it!

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.

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