Classroom to Clinic: My First Appointment

For this career-switcher, going to veterinary school means being able to practice tangible kindness every day
Jessica Mintz
Jessica Mintz. Photo: Jake Belcher
March 2, 2017

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In this series, students from Cummings School’s Class of 2017 tell us about the excitement, anxiety and pride of beginning their clinical rotations.

It’s 7 a.m. on my third day of clinical rotations. I’m at Tufts at Tech, a community medicine clinic in Worcester, Massachusetts, and my white coat is heavy. This is not a metaphor. It is literally heavy, because I have crammed everything I could think of into the pockets: pens, Sharpies, three different notebooks, bandage scissors, iPhone, pen light, energy bars and two reference books that I pray will help me figure out what’s wrong with my patients. I loop my stethoscope around my neck and head to my first appointment.

Many seemingly random events have come together to pull me into this work for which I’ve geared up so thoroughly, not the least of which was the arrival of Pooka, a Rhodesian Ridgeback mix with a passion for wildlife. I adopted Pooka in Seattle, midway through my first career as a technology reporter.

One day she took herself on a walk (no doubt looking for squirrels) and was hit by a car. The time I spent afterward with emergency veterinarians, surgeons and rehab experts to help her recover sparked something for me. One day, as I was brainstorming my next move in journalism, I found myself contemplating vet school, and out of my pen came the phrase “the opportunity to practice tangible kindness every day.”

The promise of more fulfilling work offset the sadness of giving up my identity as a journalist and my status as a professional and the shock of returning to the college classroom as a 30-something, not to mention the challenges of vet school itself. Now, suddenly, that’s all over, and I am wearing this white coat and walking into this exam room.

There, a woman and her son-in-law are cradling a tiny dog in a blanket. The dog has been sick for weeks, and the family believes it’s time to say goodbye. I listen. Of course, my impulse is to try to save the patient. Surely, fluids and insulin and nutrition would help! But the medical director slows me down. I take a breath. We place a catheter. I talk with the woman about what to expect at the end, and tell her how sorry I am, and how much I know she has done for this tiny creature.

This is my first euthanasia. It’s also my first chance to allay a fear that’s been haunting me as clinics approached—that I will open my mouth to speak and not find the voice of the veterinarian I hope to be, authoritative but empathetic, science-driven yet able to explain things in ordinary terms. A veterinarian who, like those who cared for Pooka and all the others I’ve worked with since, “practices tangible kindness every day.”

To my relief, something clicks in that exam room. I do the best, kindest work I could do. And more than on any day as a writer, I am at home.

Other stories in the series:

Classroom to Clinic: Turkey Surprise,” by Adam Shoelson, V17. 

Classroom to Clinic: Happiness Upon Happiness,” by Nancy Boren, V17.

Classroom to Clinic: A Patient of One’s Own,” by Gabi Villanueva, V17.  

Classroom to Clinic: The Thrill of Competence,” by Alexa Ortiz, V17