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The Learning Train Never Stops

Updated: Sep 24, 2023

August 10, 2023

Ann Johnsen, AVC 2024, travelled to Sheshatshiu as one of the student participants on the Chinook Project. As part of the experience, the students craft various pieces of writing.

When I was in high school, I had a whacky chemistry teacher who always used to say “The learning train never stops” in reference to our many lab reports, tests, assignments, and due dates we constantly needed to balance. I often think of this quote still to this day when vet school gets busy, or I need to study for 3 midterms at the same time. After my time in Sheshatshiu however, I am realizing these words will probably echo in my head for the rest of my career and not just in reference to school related learning.

Ann with a patient.

On our first day at the Chinook project my classmate and I were working to get the very first patient we had ready for her spay, and in a split second it was decided I was going to be surgeon and she would be anesthetist. In the past, before any surgery I had done in 3rd year vet school, I had met my patient days before, had seen pre-operative blood work, obsessed over how I would do my techniques and I always felt ready to go in an perform. In this instant, I remember thinking to myself “Wow, okay here we go, this is happening, and this is happening fast”. I was so confident in my abilities as this was my 3rd big dog spay and my first two had been very successful. I was so excited!

After scrubbing and prepping I started my surgery and I was feeling so confident, I knew all my steps and knew this spay was going to be my best one yet. Well, or so I thought… I started off from the beginning with a small mistake. I made a incision in the muscle body wall about 3-4 cm away from the linea alba, the landmark I was aiming for. I thought I was confident with my visualization and palpation of the linea but I misjudged this. I was able to find the linea and make a proper incision into the abdomen. I thought I my problems were over. However, this was just the beginning. Things that had been previously easy for me were proving to be difficult today; I couldn’t locate the uterus, I couldn’t break down the suspensory ligament, I couldn’t visualize the pedicles as well I wanted to. Everything that I thought would be easy from my my past experiences, I was struggling with on that day. I was I starting to second guess each step and my confidence was plummeting as the surgery continued. We finally closed the abdomen, repaired the first incision in the muscle and finished the surgery.

Ann and Dr. Landry working on a surgery

She recovered well with no complications and went home very happy with her family. However, I was a bit disappointed with my performance because I knew I could have done better. After going over the events of the surgery over and over again, I have realized that I didn’t need to be so hard on myself. First of all, the conditions in which we were doing surgery were much different compared to how we do surgery at school. On top of making sure I was doing the procedure right, I needed to be acutely aware to not break sterility as we were not wearing gowns and our drapes were smaller than I was used to. In addition, I started realizing that I had had a bit of beginner’s luck in my first few patients. I could have easily run into the same roadblocks in my first surgeries, but I just happened not to. Finally, I came to the conclusion that I am happy I faced the challenges I did and that I had a surgery that didn’t go exactly as I planned. This was bound to happen at some point and I’m thankful that I was able to experience this with a veterinarian scrubbed in right beside me to help me and to offer the best advice.

That evening I was reflecting on the events of the day and that little quote “the learning train never stops” came to me. I know there is always something to learn- no matter how many surgeries you have done, and no matter how many years you have been in the profession. In the end, what matters is that dog went home happy and healthy, and I was able to achieve the goal of performing the spay surgery. I gained from this experience, and I’ll be able to apply what I learned in my future surgeries. However, the biggest thing I will take away from this experience is that the learning train really, truly never stops.

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