My name is Neda Othman and I am a UC Davis veterinary medical student in the Class of 2020. This blog will be constantly changing as I progress through veterinary school to finally becoming a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine.
Recently I started listening to podcasts, and I am so bummed I didn't discover them sooner! I recommend them for anyone involved or who wants to become involved in the veterinary community, from pre-vets to vet students to professionals. They are an awesome way to make use of "wasted" time, such as the time you spend driving to the grocery store or folding laundry, and I've learned so much from them. Click "read more" below to see my two favorite podcast channels and a description of each!
VETgirl This podcast is hosted by Dr. Justine Lee, DVM, DACVECC, DABT. These letters mean that Dr. Lee is a double-boarded veterinarian in Emergency & Critical Care and Toxicology. She covers a variety of topics from practice ownership to novel treatments to the cure and management of diseases. One of my favorite themes on her channel is her reviews of recent publications in the veterinary medical and scientific literature, in which she’ll often interview the primary author. VETgirl podcasts range from 5 minutes to about an hour, which is suitable for any time frame— I listen to VETgirl during the 3 minutes it takes to wash some dishes, on 30-minute runs, and on 3-hour drives to the mountains. Without VETgirl, I would never have learned so early in my career about pyothorax and intravenous lipid emulsion! Listening to VETgirl will certainly put you ahead of the game. Note: Just because it's called "VETgirl" doesn't mean it excludes the male members of the veterinary community! Learn more at vetgirlontherun.com
The Uncommon Veterinarian This podcast is hosted by Captain Dr. Elliot Garber, DVM. He is an Army Active Duty veterinarian, or as we call them in the Army, a VCO (Veterinary Corps Officer). His podcasts feature interviews with "uncommon veterinarians", that is, veterinarians who pursue careers other than the typical companion animal or equine track. Some examples are public health veterinarians, wildlife veterinarians, and food safety veterinarians. It is a great way to learn about the infinite and diverse array of opportunities there are in veterinary medicine. I have learned about several interesting opportunities through his podcast, such as the Smith-Kilborne program. Learn more about Dr. Garber at www.elliotgarber.com
The phrase "work smarter, not harder" certainly applies to studying. The popular triangle pictured on the left to describe college life does not have to be reality if you practice smart studying. Here are a few study techniques for you to try out that I have used during college and vet school. These study techniques are active studying, essentially mental exercises that build neural patterns to reinforce learning, and are much less boring than just skimming your notes over and over, which is more of a passive form of studying that promotes short term memory.
If studying is done in an active and focused manner, you may even find that your overall time spent studying is less, while you achieve the same or better grades, and have good grades AND a social life AND adequate sleep as I have been able to enjoy from college and even in veterinary school.
1. Notes Summary: I highly recommend that for all your important classes you take your in-class notes and re-write them into a detailed but summarized, organized, and clearly worded form. Include answers to your questions in your summary, visual diagrams, potential test questions, and additional information that you may have pulled from outside sources. For my notes summaries in undergrad, I used blank white printer paper stapled together for all the lectures pertaining to one exam. In vet school, where I want to be able to consult my notes for years down the road, I am writing my notes summaries in pen in a hard-bound sketchbook with more sturdy pages.
2. THMs (take-home messages): Read through your notes summary and get an idea of the take-home points, or the important messages from the lecture. Then, write out a sentence or two for each of the take-home points. Afterwards, compare your THM list to the "learning objectives/outcomes (LOs)" that your professor lists, if that is something they provide. Pay extra attention to the THMs or LOs that you missed.
3. Deconstruction/Reconstruction: Your notes summary forms the fully constructed document. Take another piece of paper and write a 50% simplified version of your notes summary. Now we take it a step further. Put away your original notes summary. Take another piece of paper and simplify the simplified version by 50%. Your doubly deconstructed notes should be less than half as long as your original notes summary. Later, take your super simplified version and reconstruct the topic to the best of your ability. Check your reconstructed version against your original notes summary and spend extra time going any details that you missed in your reconstruction.
4. Anti-fragmentation: This is probably the most important one no matter what your study technique is. Fragmentation means being distracted every few minutes during your study period. Little distractions, even for 5 minutes, can seriously prolong the amount of time you spend studying, as well as decrease your learning while studying, thus producing poor efficiency. Thus, your overall studying becomes more diffuse and takes more time. Put your phone on airplane mode or inside the closet or have a friend hide it if it's that bad. Try coldturkey or selfcontrolapp for temporarily blocking your social media. I deleted my Facebook months ago, distraction being one reason, and I have noticed I am much more focused during my study periods and during class.
While these subjects are generally not pre-requisites, taking a class will certainly help you feel very comfortable with the material you'll later learn in the didactic years of vet school. If you have any room in your undergraduate schedule, you'd be doing yourself a favor to take any of these classes, as they will significantly reduce your stress in the future (I have observed this in my classmates and in myself). Consider taking them pass/no pass, so they don't affect your GPA, but you still get the exposure! General upper-division classes are appropriate to groom you for what you'll learn later in vet school (you don't need to take the very advanced courses to get a good level or preparedness for vet school material).
Metabolism, or a Biochemistry class with a metabolism component
Exercise science (find a class that stresses muscle physiology)
On Friday, April 28, 2017, I officially commissioned into the US Army Veterinary Corps as a Second Lieutenant after a year-long application process. I was awarded the Health Professionals Scholarship, known as the HPSP (Health Professionals Scholarship Program), a 3-year full tuition professional school scholarship and career start with the Army that I have had my sights set on since high school.
My "Big Sib", Morgan, a 2nd year vet student and HPSP recipient from the year before, was my commissioning officer, which made the ceremony even more special. She led me in my oath of office (pictured above). I also did the first salute and silver dollar tradition, where as a newly commissioned officer I receive my first salute from an enlisted soldier and give them a silver dollar. I asked SSG Wesley, my main recruiter, to be my first salute, which was also very special to me since he had worked so diligently with me to prepare my application. The recruiters gifted me a bunch of Army medical swag including a brand new Littman stethoscope, trauma shears, and the patch for my uniform to indicate I am part of AMEDD. They got me a cake that said "Congratulations 2LT Othman", a bowl of fresh berries, and iced tea for everyone to enjoy after the oath, which the whole recruiting office, my mom and dad, Morgan and Bryn attended (Bryn is another second-year vet student and HPSP recipient). I cannot imagine a more wonderful and personal commissioning ceremony. I've looked forward to this day since I was a junior in high school, and the Sacramento AMEDD recruiters helped make it one of the happiest days of my life!
What is the HPSP program? Briefly, the Health Professionals Scholarship Program (HPSP) is a 3-year full-tuition scholarship for veterinary students attending an AVMA-accredited school. Awardees commission as second lieutenants (2LT), which they remain during veterinary school. HPSP also includes a $2,000/month stipend for 10.5 months of the year to cover housing and other living expenses. During school, some Active Duty Training (ADT) weeks are required, but these never conflict with the school schedule. ADTs include BOLC (basic officers leadership course), which occurs during the summer between your 2nd and 3rd year of vet school, and multiple externship options during your fourth/clinical year. During ADT weeks, you get paid 2LT active duty wage (O-1 pay grade). Upon graduation, you will be swiftly promoted to the rank of captain (CPT) and move on to a year-long internship (FYGVE; first year graduate veterinary externship) at an Army base where you get up to speed on being an Army veterinarian under supervision of a seasoned Army veterinarian. Then, you have an 8 year commitment to work for the Army, which requires a minimum of 3 years on Active Duty, which involves a 2-year domestic assignment and a 1-year international assignment. The remaining 5 years can be fulfilled by being in the Reserves, or continuing your Active Duty career.
What is it like to be an Army veterinarian? The Army is the branch that recruits veterinarians that may be assigned to ANY branch base. Army veterinarians are responsible for the health of the military working dogs (MWDs) and also provide veterinary care to the pets of servicemembers. They train MWD handlers in basic field vet care. They inspect the dog kennels and training facilities, as well as other places animals reside such as classroom pet in the daycare and schools on Base, as well as horse stables, pens, and pastures on Base, where service members may elect to keep their horses. Depending on the branch and base, Army veterinarians may also provide veterinary care to the military's ceremonial horses and other working animals such as dolphins, sea lions, and falcons. Army veterinarians also write public health protocols for infectious and zoonotic disease control, and inspect food production facilities that the military may order from. Every day, Army veterinarians are assisted by a team of enlisted soldiers that have been trained as veterinary technicians. Some Army veterinarians work at USAMRID, a biomedical research facility in Maryland. One of the wonderful things about being an Army vet is that you can participate in humanitarian missions both national and global. Sometimes these are disaster-response missions, and sometimes they are disease eradication or spay-neuter campaigns. There are many opportunities to further your education through the Army, who will happily send you to complete certain residencies, MPH, or MPVM training. These opportunities do require additional years of service as payback.
How do you apply for the HPSP scholarship? The application is approximately a year-long process that can begin as early as the day you accept an admission offer from a veterinary school, which for many vet students, means as early as the April before you start vet school. Your application packet should be completed and submitted for review by the board by the end of December. Expect to hear back around March and commission in April if you are a lucky recipient.
Your application is handled and prepared by an AMEDD Recruiter, which is DIFFERENT from general recruiters who recruit enlisted soldiers. You'll need to locate the AMEDD recruiting office closest to you to find your recruiter, which you can do using the "locate your recruiter" function on the AMEDD website (see end of article for links).
The application process is extensive and time-consuming. The following are required: health screening through MEPS, physical fitness test (OPAT), statement of motivation (1 page personal statement essay), college and veterinary school transcripts, 3-5 letters of recommendation, character references, legal history/criminal record, rental history, work history, fingerprinting, and background checks. I can assure you that application process will be more intensive and complicated than anything else you've ever applied for!
Is it competitive? Yes. This year (2017), about 30 veterinary students in the entire country were awarded the scholarship out of over 100 applicants. The applicant pool is the best of the best-- veterinary students from around the country.
What can I do to make myself stand out? Outstanding letters of recommendation and a strong personal statement are key. Having previous experience with the military helps a lot, as does having relatives in the military, and letters of recommendation from people with military history. Get excellent grades. Get a lot of experience in leadership roles. Applying as early as possible really helps: the application process is lengthy, time consuming, and complicated. Give yourself as much time as possible to work on it.
What would disqualify me from completing an application?
Age: 42 is the cutoff age for new recruits.
Inappropriate tattoos and tattoos that will appear outside the coverage of the uniform are not permitted.
Having a criminal record may disqualify you, but you may be able to get a waiver for certain offenses.
Certain health issues may be red flags or automatic disqualify you at MEPS. There are a number of physical and mental health issues that are red flags, but may not always automatically disqualify you from joining the Army. Ask your AMEDD recruiter about any health concerns you have.
Waivers may be possible for some medical conditions. I was tentatively disqualified because I have a chest wall abnormality called pectus excavatum, which causes impaired breathing for some affected individuals, but I have had a long and intense athletic career with no breathing problems from middle school through college (track & field, volleyball, wrestling, water polo, badminton, and crew). I had to prove I was asymptomatic by taking a pulmonary flow test, which I passed, so my "condition" was waived.
Being overweight above a certain cutoff point will disqualify you. If you are overweight, your body measurements will be taken at MEPS and the physician there will determine if you can continue or not.
Ask your recruiter about ANY concerns you have regarding potential red flags and disqualifiers.
Are there any other options to be a veterinarian in the military? If you are not sure you want to go for the HPSP program, there are other options to consider. You can try to join after graduation (but note that the majority of active duty Army veterinarians come from the HPSP program). Other options are to join the Army Reserve as a veterinarian or to work as a civilian employee at a Base veterinary clinic. The Air Force also recruits veterinary students for their own public health program. They offer a scholarship similar to HPSP, but you go through the Air Force recruiters, and it is a 100% public health job. This program does NOT involve clinical medicine or hands-on-dogs.
Anything else I should know? While the financial incentive is very attractive, it is not the only reason you should consider applying for the HPSP scholarship. The payback is 8 years-- make sure you will be happy during those 8 years. Talk to as many military health professionals and military servicemembers as you can to get an idea of what the military lifestyle is like and if it suits you, and learn as much as you can about the roles and responsibilities of an Army veterinarian.
I'm sure you are well aware that veterinary school is going to be expensive, but you may not have realized that the costs actually start with the applications. Application cost may be constraining when trying to select how many, and which, schools to apply to. Though I only applied to four schools (UC Davis, Colorado State, Washington State, and Oregon State), I spent over $1,000 towards applying to vet school alone. The cost of applications will be slightly different for each applicant, so this post can help guide you as you budget and plan your application strategy. Click "Read More" to see the article!
VMCAS general application: $495.00 Sending transcripts: $10.00 GRE prep: $13.00 GRE exam: $195.00 Sending GRE scores: $27.00 Supplemental applications: $250.00 PPI evaluations: $0.00 Interviews: $150.00
VMCAS: You can apply to any number of schools through the Veterinary Medical College Application Service (VMCAS). It costs $195 for the first school plus $100 for each additional school you apply to (you can also think of it as $100 per school plus a one time fee of $95 for using VMCAS). Almost all AVMA accredited veterinary schools use the VMCAS. As I mentioned, I applied to four schools: UC Davis, Colorado State, Washington State, and Oregon State. Note that a some AVMA-accredited veterinary schools do not use the VMCAS system, such as Ross University in Saint Kitts (Caribbean).
Transcripts: I attended one community college and one university for college. The VMCAS requires a transcript from every single institution you have attended. You need to order two official transcripts from each school-- one to be sent to VMCAS, and one to be sent to you so that you can input courses and grades EXACTLY as they appear on the transcript. After you submit your application, VMCAS will compare your course/grade inputs to the transcripts they received for you. If they are not identical save for 5 mistakes maximum, the VMCAS will return your application for you to fix. This is another reason why it's important to submit your application several weeks before the deadline, in case you do have to fix your transcript inputs. To avoid this trouble, you might elect to use VMCAS's transcript entry service (for a fee, of course). It is vital that you check and double check and get some unbiased person to check again that your entries exactly match the transcripts. Anyways, my community college charged $5 per transcript, but UC Davis sends them for free unless you do a rush order.
GRE prep: I know other pre-vets taking Kaplan or other GRE prep programs for hundreds of dollars, but to prepare myself for the GRE, I bought the Barron's Revised GRE prep book from Amazon and worked through it with a fellow pre-vet twice a week for about a 4 month period. Note: If I had not had my fellow pre-vet studying with me, I don't think I would have been as committed to my independent study program. Shout-out to Jackie! We both ended up scoring well on our actual exams, and neither of us felt compelled to retake it. I would highly recommend at least taking a diagnostic GRE to see where you are at BEFORE signing up for an expensive program! Additionally, be aware that schools often display the admitted class statistics, including average GRE scores-- check these out for your desired schools (found on the vet school's website), and plan on scoring at or above these scores. However, keep in mind that an average is made up of some lower and some higher scores, so don't beat yourself up if you do not do exactly as well as you hoped to. Similarly, find out which portions are actually taken into account by the schools you're trying to get in to: schools While my verbal and analytical writing scores were awesome, my math score was below the UC Davis average, but I did not find the deficit to be worth another four-hours and $195 to try for a few more percentile points.
Your GRE scores are only valid for 5 years after the test date, because the percentiles (number of people scoring below a certain score) are recalculated. Your raw score corresponds to a percentile score, which you are evaluated on. The GRE exam fee has been rising, and probably will continue to rise. As of 2015, it was $195.00, so aim to get your best score on the first try!
You get to send scores to 4 institutions for free; any additional scores will cost $27.00 each. When I took the exam, I had not quite decided yet which schools I was going to apply to and sent my scores to WSU, CSU, UCD, and Cornell. Later, I realized I preferred Oregon over Cornell, and consequently I had to pay the $27 to send the score to Oregon.
Supplemental applications: most veterinary schools require a separate supplemental application in addition to the general VMCAS. Some of them are available throughout the application cycle on their website, and some send them to you only after your VMCAS is submitted. Colorado and Washington were $60 each, UC Davis $80, and Oregon State $50. Later, I will write a post specifically about making your supplemental app shine! (Stay tuned).
Only UC Davis and Colorado State University require Personal Potential Index (PPI) evaluations. Sending PPI evals to both those schools turned out to be free for me, so I suspect we are allowed some number of scores sent for free. However, you may have to pay $20 per institution if you are also applying to medical schools or graduate schools that also ask for PPI's.
Check the details regarding your schools of interest's interview policies. Some schools only interview resident applicants, some don't interview at all, and some interview all applicants that make past the first rounds of selection. I have yet to find out if assistance for transportation, housing, and food exist, but I will update the post around January when I do! (see blog post on 1/18/16).
After offers come in, the final pennies start adding up. Excluding interview costs, my total cost of applications came to $990. Recall I only applied to four schools- these are the results:
I interviewed and was accepted to UC Davis SVM; accepted (without an interview) to Oregon State University CVM; offered but declined my interview at Washington State University WIMU Veterinary Program; and was denied by Colorado State University CVMBS.
Luckily, I already lived in Davis (I was an undergraduate there) so it did not cost me anything to attend my UCD interview.
Oregon State does not interview its non-residents, which means I was admitted without interview. I feel incredibly fortunate and thankful to have been accepted there-- OSU has the smallest class size (~55) and only ~16 seats are open to non-residents. And since there is not an interview, OSU spared me the related expenses. Be aware of schools that have interview policies like this- it may help you decide which schools to apply to if money is a major concern for you. Also, be aware that some schools will do Skype or telephone interviews to help their applicants avoid the time and financial costs of travel. Also, be aware that schools that do NOT interview applicants may consequently place higher weights on your personal statement and letters of recommendation.
I ended up hearing the good news from UC Davis about 2 weeks before my Washington interview, so I decided to decline my interview offer to WSU. If I had pursued that interview,it would have cost me over $300, plus 2 days of missed classes and 1 missed workday. Luckily, I was almost fully refunded from my AirBnB hosts ($115 for 2 nights) all but for an $11 service fee. Unfortunately, Alaska Airlines did not refund me, so I lost $150.00 to them for that plane ticket. Also to consider is the money that I would have spent in Washington for food and ground transportation.
Take note that you may not hear back from some schools before you hear back from UC Davis; several of my friends attended their interviews at Kansas, Michigan, Ohio before hearing back from Davis, so they had to shoulder these costs.
AirBnB may be an affordable way to find lodging for your interview travels. It was very easy for me to find a student budget-friendly room close to the WSU campus-- in fact, the people offering this particular room were a couple of WSU graduate students! Which would have been awesome because I would have been able to learn so much more about the WSU lifestyle than if I had lodged somewhere else. Learning about the community you may live in for 4 years may be an important factor for choosing which school you end up attending.
All in all, I would say I saved much more money than my peers who applied to many more schools, and schools all over the country. My applications to 4 veterinary schools cost me about $1,140 altogether, and I got in to my dream school: UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. Some other things to note: OSU requires a monetary deposit after you accept your offer to hold your place. I think they do this to deter people from accepting OSU's offer only to withdraw it later after hearing back from a different school. Non-residents, take note that Colorado State doesn't let you establish in-state residency during veterinary school, meaning you will pay out-of-state tuition all four years (yikes! as a result I was not terribly sad that I didn't receive an admission offer from them). These are all things you should research in-depth before choosing which veterinary schools to apply to.
Thanks for reading, and if you have any more tips, please leave me a comment below.
It's that time of year again! As the class of 2021 students accept their admission offers, applications for the DVM class of 2022 open in May. Here is some advice for those applying to vet school this cycle!
Organization is key to completing a quality application on time. By quality application, I mean all your information is present and correct and done in such a way that makes you look like the most desirable vet student you can be. Here are 10 tips to help your application process go smoothly!
1. Get a 70-page spiral bound notebook, and use it to keep track of your application: I used one to keep track of my usernames, VMCAS ID, passwords, admissions offices contact info, transcript send-dates and receipt dates, phone calls and names of people in the admissions office, dates of materials submissions and receipt, payments and confirmation numbers, dates and scores on the GRE, and more. Using my notebook helped me have all the important information accessible at any moment and made entering information into the application go quickly and smoothly.
2. Budget time carefully. Start working on your application early and often. Aim to submit it about a month before its due-- you will really appreciate the time cushion-- I aimed to submit 1 month early, but wasn't ready to submit until 2 weeks before the deadline (of course, I was taking 8 units of summer classes, working and volunteering at the same time I was writing my application, so I really had to block my schedule to work on my application). It is ridiculously scary waiting and watching your portal and waiting for your application to become "verified". Understand that the supplemental applications take a lot of time to complete (with quality), and that some supplemental applications will not be made available to you UNTIL your VMCAS verifies your transcript. Many supplemental applications are due at the same time the VMCAS is due. Some schools, like UC Davis, will give you an extra month to work on your supplemental.
3. Budget money NOW. Application expenses add up fast. Don't underestimate the cost of travel including airfare, missed classes, missed workdays, that are associated with getting interviews. Applying to four schools cost me over $1000, which was actually much less costly in comparison to my peers' expenses. For more information, see my other posts- "Expensive begins with the application".
4. Double check, triple check, and get other people to check that your transcript entry matches your transcript EXACTLY (unless you are paying for the VMCAS transcript entry service). I probably checked mine 5 times over and found at least 2 mistakes every time until the 5th time!!!
5. Keep in contact with your letter-of-rec writers (aka "evaluators" in the VMCAS). They are likely extremely busy people themselves, who appreciate your gentle reminders to work on your evals. You are not allowed to submit your VMCAS until 3 evaluators have completed their evals. However, if you have more than 3 evaluators, note that you are allowed to submit your VMCAS for verification as soon as 3 of your recommenders submit their evals, and the rest of the recommenders can submit letters at any time after that, but before the VMCAS deadline.
6. Add the VMCAS applicant hotline number, and all of the Admissions offices' phone numbers into your contact list, and don't be afraid to call them!!!!!!!!!!! Note-- VMCAS email help requests suck!!! CALL THEM with all your questions. The email help requests just give you a canned paragraph that matches the key words in your question.
7. Pick a pre-vet friend to be your application buddy; work on your apps together; use each other as resources as you progress on your application. Me and my friend Jade texted each other all summer as we worked on our applications, running in to similar problems like "where do we find the UC Davis course equivalent codes for high school AP classes???" . (By the way, we both got in to UC Davis SVM.). ALSO: Find the VMCAS 2018 Facebook page, or start it if there isn't one yet. We had one for VMCAS 2016, which was a fantastic resource.
8. Double check that your pre-requisites are all or almost all complete; find out from each school how many you are allowed to have not completed at time of application; it may be different from school to school. Also, make sure your prerequisites meet the school's criteria-- some schools may tell you that your genetics curriculum doesn't match their genetics curriculum and thus you need to take a different genetics class.
9. Start working on your personal statement early (NOW!), and get several different kinds of people to read and comment on your personal statement. Don't necessarily take everyone's advice; hear each person's comments keeping in mind their potential individual biases. In the end, you want your statement to really come from you and sound like you, but other people's input are great to make sure you sound sincere, committed, and are answering the prompt appropriately. In my experience, veterinarians give the best suggestions and comments. Before you start writing, make a brief list of the tones you are trying to imbibe (e.g. compassion), and the main point you want to make in your essay. Take a look at my other article, "Evolution of a Personal Statement" to see what my brainstorm draft, first draft, fifth draft, and final (seventh!!) drafts looked like.
10. Making a quick tab for all my vet school application-related web pages was super helpful!
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