Life as a veterinary student comes with its own highs and lows. One person who has experienced them and is dedicated to spreading the word on what veterinary school entails, is veterinary student and Youtuber, Jess Cliffe.
In this article, we interview Jess, find out what life as a veterinary student in New Zealand is like, how the pandemic affected her, and Jess offers up her own advice to fellow veterinary (and prospective) students.
Hi Jess, for those who are unfamiliar with you, could you just introduce yourself and tell us a bit about your background?
Hi! I’m Jess, and I’m a final year veterinary student here in New Zealand completing my clinical rotations currently. I came straight out of high school, moving up to Massey University in 2018, where I was fortunate enough to gain entry into vet school on my first try after the pre-selection phase. When I started vet school, I really wished I’d had someone to watch content from to learn more about what vet school entailed – because I really had no idea what it was all about. So in 2020, I started my YouTube channel after pure pandemic boredom, and to fill this gap. Now I have over 8.5K subscribers, and I’ve been sharing my journey online with people from all around the world. I’ve also been lucky enough to get some incredible opportunities in the process – like writing this for VetXInternational!
What’s it currently like being a vet student in New Zealand?
I have absolutely no experience of what it’s like studying anywhere other than New Zealand, but it has been the most incredible thing I’ve ever done. I love vet school here. New Zealand is great because you get to experience all different forms of veterinary medicine throughout your degree – small animal, large animal, mixed practice, equine medicine, exotics, and native wildlife. Because of the rural nature of many towns in New Zealand, you really do get to experience mixed practice if you want it – you can go from treating dairy cows, a pet budgie with a sore foot, a dog that’s been hit by a car and taking blood samples from miniature ponies all in a single day (true story).
Massey University, where I study, is the only veterinary school in the whole country, and so you become incredibly bonded to your classmates and quickly find connections and contacts within the profession. My vet class is fantastic, we’ve grown together – 120 of us. Everyone is so supportive, kind and I can’t wait to see what my peers do with this degree. We’ve not only been able to experience vet school together, but many parties, pub quizzes, sports events, pot-luck dinners, and even sky-diving and white-water rafting.
You were one of the many students who were impacted by the pandemic. How did studying remotely affect you and your peers?
The pandemic certainly affected everyone around the world in different ways, and here it was no different. In terms of how it affected me, I really struggled with not going to class. I feel like I learn so much better in a classroom or lecture theatre. I need the encouragement of leaving my space to focus. I’ve never been very good at learning from home, I always used to study at the library or someone else’s house because when I’m home it’s my place of relaxation. That’s what I found the most challenging about the pandemic, creating that separation so I don’t go stir crazy. It really impacted my mental health because I felt my lack of ability to concentrate at home was a reflection of how good I was as a student. But at the same time, I realized how important it is to be kind to yourself, especially in such a crazy time in our lives.
What do you love about being a vet student- and what do you dislike about it the most?
Saying what I love is really hard to wrap up into one thing, or even a couple, because there are so many elements to it. I love the community; the friends I’ve made and those that have taught me. I love interacting with clients; educating, communicating, and working together. I love the animals; the bonds that you make with your patients. I love medicine; challenging my brain, puzzles, and learning new things. What is dislike is that sometimes it can be hard to form a good routine so that you maintain a work-life balance. I don’t dislike the hours and hard work, but I think fitting in your hobbies, passions, wellbeing, and social activities can be difficult.
What’s the singular biggest challenge you’ve faced this year as a student?
This year is my final year of vet school, and that means no more lectures and sitting in classrooms – its real world stuff. I started my clinical year back in November of 2021, and it has been a tough ride adjusting to the new schedule. When you start vet school you feel overwhelmed at how much there is to learn academically, and you’re really at the bottom of the pecking order for a while but over the next 2-4 years you gain confidence and knowledge. The final year, however, throws you back down to the bottom of the pile again, with imposter syndrome leering over your shoulder at every turn. There’s a lot more responsibility, physical effort, and mental toughness that has come so far this year. The biggest challenge is adjusting to new things all the time – I feel like I’ve just gotten used to my rotation and then I switch to the next one. It’s been a real test of my knowledge, my ability to consume enough caffeine, and increasing my speed typing on google.
What advice would you give for anyone starting vet school or at a similar stage in their veterinary journey as you?
My biggest piece of advice is that nothing is more powerful than prioritizing your mental health and wellbeing.
It’s okay to be stressed, to be sad, burnt-out, anxious, or struggling – but don’t try and push through without looking after yourself. This profession is so much fun and so incredibly rewarding, but it is hard work and constant challenges.
What I mean by prioritizing your mental health is not just coping through the bad times, I mean setting yourself up for success before the bad times even happen. For me, that is about meditation, exercise, spending time with friends, cooking, self-care, and having days where I do absolutely nothing but lie in bed and watch Netflix. I try to do these things even when my mental health is good, so they continue when I’m not feeling so great. And when my mental health isn’t so good, I add in an extra step of counseling or therapy because asking for help is not a weakness, it’s just another tool in the toolbox.
I truly believe that if your mental health is looked after consistently, you can be your brightest, bravest, and most intelligent self – and most importantly the best veterinarian or vet student you could possibly be. [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]
Jess Cliffe is a final year Veterinary Science student at Massey University specializing in small animal medicine with an interest in exploring all areas of veterinary practice. During her time at veterinary school, Jess has been utilizing her interests in video media by helping and educating prospective/current veterinary students on YouTube.