Graduating DVMs write letters to the next veterinary students

Two graduating DVM students, Stacey Hunvald and Janin Post, wrote letters to the incoming class of veterinary students. Watch the video, and read their full letters below.

Letter by Dr. Stacey Hunvald

Dear Amazing Person Embarking on This New Adventure,

I have always loved working as an ambassador for the CSU veterinary program – supporting incoming classes, talking to people about their hopes and plans, advising hopefuls on applying and sharing what to expect in vet school. Everyone’s experience is a bit different, but that will not stop me from playing my wise graduate card (graduating today!) to offer a bit of advice for the journey in that folks a bit older and wiser like to do, even though it feels like only yesterday that I was in your shoes (so cliché, but absolutely true). I can honestly say I have loved 97% of the days of vet school and I hope from the bottom of my heart you will too; I hope these tips will help.

Veterinary school can be exhausting and at times a long road. And I guarantee you’re going to be walking down the hall six months or three years from now and you’re going to ask someone how it’s going and they’re going to wearily say “Livin’ the dream” in that facetious way we all do from time to time. And it is up to you to remember and sometimes remind them that we are, in fact, living the dream. We are so so lucky to have this opportunity and on the harder days we might need to remember that, be grateful, and remind others. There are over 2,000 applicants for 140 spots in this class and while you are undoubtedly highly accomplished and very deserving, you are also very very lucky; remembering this can get you through the more difficult days.

Occasionally, even on the night before an exam, you will have an opportunity to do something other than study. Maybe it will be your niece’s birthday party. Maybe it will be a cool wetlab or volunteer experience that gets you jazzed about the clinical opportunities to come. Maybe it’ll be a hike with a friend who’s only in town for the evening. Sometimes, choose the other thing. There is nothing in the vet school curriculum that you’re only going to learn once, nothing that will singly be the crucial thing you can’t miss. You are going to have to re-study things for a long time to come, so sometimes it’s OK to take the other opportunities, too.

There are so many wonderful people here to help you. Whether it’s personal or academic, there are people here truly motivated by your success and best interests who are willing to give you their time and care. Take them up on that. Accept a tutor. Talk to someone about your challenges. I have often thought that one would have to actively avoid resources to not have the support needed in this program and accepting the help available here has changed my academics as well as my heart.

I have classmates from both ends of the class rank spectrum going to the same enviable internship next year. Point – grades are certainly not everything. While I’m by no means advising apathy, I am suggesting you go a little easy on yourself sometimes. We are all going to be doctors and being ranked number 1 or number 100 has little bearing on how good of doctors at this point. There is much in the veterinary school experience that isn’t graded, and clients and classmates will remember your kindness and contributions far more readily than your ability to recite the Krebs cycle.

Be honest and vocal about your mistakes and knowledge gaps. You are not here to constantly prove how perfect you already are or how much you already know; that would be a colossal waste of time and money. In my experience being honest about your shortcomings buys you far more kindness and learning opportunities than hiding them. Plus, you never know which of your classmates also need this lesson and will themselves be braver because of your honesty.

I truly hope you love this fantastic place and her phenomenal people as much as I have.

All the best,
Stacey Hunvald

P.S. Oh, and front row, fourth seat in from the south side of the Anatomy lecture hall – well that seat has both a good vantage point and some good history. Keep it warm for me…

Letter by Dr. Janin Post

To the future veterinarians:

As I write this letter, only one week remains prior to being publicly awarded a Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine. In other words, my time as a veterinary student is rapidly coming to a close.

Ready or not, it is time to pass the torch. My hope is that you are ready to receive it with a humble heart, resolve to learn, unbreakable spirit, at least 10 pocket-sized notebooks, and most importantly, your resilience. This message represents some advice. While I may not have it all figured out (far from it, I promise), I do have some stories and recommendations from the perspective of someone who has walked the path you are about to start.

The fourth year, our clinical year, is our time to put theory into practice –it is also fabled to be an infamous time of intense questioning by faculty clinicians. On my first surgery day, Mona, a 7-year-old female Boston Terrier was having a mammary mass removed and I was petrified to be scrubbing in next to Dr. Rose, my resident, and Dr. Seguin, my faculty clinician. Three years of preparation for this moment and my mind was blank.  What if Dr. Seguin asked me a difficult question about mammary carcinoma? Racing through a mental rolodex, I had zilch. I did not remember the median survival time. I did not remember the locations of the most common sites of metastasis. Worse yet, what if I was asked to assist during the procedure? Would I choose the correct suture material and pattern? The last thing I had sutured was a banana – it did not end well for the banana. At that moment, I felt like I would have given my left kidney to be able to travel back in time for the opportunity to study just a little bit more.

We were gowned and gloved. Mona was covered in surgical drapes. Dr. Rose had already made her incision. And then it happened. The question. Dr. Seguin looked me squarely in the eyes and asked, “So Janin, do you know…

…any good jokes?”

Thankfully, my dad and his friends had been training me throughout my entire life to handle this exact situation. So I told my joke and we all laughed! To my surprise, Dr. Seguin responded to my joke, by telling one of his own…

  • What do you call a person with no arms and no legs who is hanging on a wall –Art.

And then he told another:

  • What do you call a person with no arms and no legs who is swimming in the ocean –Bob.

And then he told another (my favorite):

  • What do you call a person with no arms and no legs who is taking a hot bath –Stew.

The man had an endless supply. He spent the *entire* surgery telling jokes. It was wonderful. Mona recovered without any complications and I had a really good time. At least until later that evening when I sat down to write the surgery report and realized I had spent all the time laughing at jokes and now could not recall the surgical protocol. I had checked out a book from the library called Veterinary Surgical Oncology and read the section about mammary carcinoma. I found it very helpful, wrote my report, and closed the book. Can you guess who wrote that book?

Dr. Bernard Seguin. [CSU Clinical Sciences Associate Professor]

I share this story for two illustrative purposes.

  1. We should not fear what we do not know. You, too, will be asked questions and you, too, will not have all the answers. View this scenario as good fortune; it means you have discovered a way to learn and grow.
  2. Always remember how lucky you are to be here. You will be surrounded by brilliant practitioners who represent the very best in veterinary medicine. They literally wrote our reference texts. We are so fortunate to have the opportunity to learn from them every single day. So make sure you do that –learn from them every…single…day.

Yes. It will be challenging. And yes, you are here to learn and make the most of your veterinary education, but do not lose sight of the other, non-academic, important aspects of your life. This experience will consume you if you allow it to have that power.

For me, writing records, reading textbooks and journal articles when preparing for cases, and studying for the NAVLE was how I lost myself. It worsened as the licensing exam date drew closer. I sacrificed sleep. I cancelled plans with friends. I skipped date night. I continued to pay for a gym membership and continued to NOT workout. Then, I learned a terrifying life lesson. My husband, the person I love most in this world, suffered from multiple massive pulmonary emboli. I know you will understand the severity of his condition when I share that he was going into shock and his hemoglobin saturation was 70% when we arrived at the emergency room. I spent the 6 days leading up to my NAVLE sleeping in a chair next to his hospital bed grateful for every one of my husband’s deep breaths and a pulse-ox reading over 95%. In hindsight, it allowed me to regain perspective and make better budget allocations with my time. We no longer skip date night.

Every once in a while, you must take a time-out to make sure that the rest of you (the part of you that is not a veterinary student) is still there and living true to your values. Examine how you spend your time; the breakdown should also reflect your values. If you find yourself out of balance, adjust accordingly. You will be a happier and healthier person (and a better classmate and veterinarian, too).

My final piece of advice is this: treasure your classmates. You might not realize it now, but they significantly contribute to your education. I did not know how much they would shape the way I care for patients and think about medicine. I am forever indebted to them. Take care of each other.

Do good work with this privilege. Live your life according to what you most value. Take care of yourself and each other. Do not park in client parking unless you know Dr. Hackett is away from the hospital. And always be ready with a good joke.

Good luck and warm wishes –I know you will wear your blue coats well!


Janin Post