Starting a new chapter in your life can be difficult, intimidating, and anxiety provoking — especially when that new chapter promises a step back from social interaction and a giant leap into the unknown land of higher level academia that is medical school. Most people imagine long nights in a cramped library cubicle studying the hours away only to return home to an empty apartment with nothing but a bowl of cereal to comfort you. You might be sitting at home months before school starts, petting your life-long friend as you have these thoughts and think, “Foofoo, what will I do without you?”
As an undergrad, my three roommates and I decided to adopt a cat. His name was Mick Jagger, and he was just as awesome as his name suggests. He was most definitely the best cat I had ever had. But, we had all decided upon adopting him that the person with the most stable life plan would get to keep him after graduation. Well, as you can imagine, the girl diving into the books and looking at long hours in a hospital for years ahead didn’t get many votes. So, I had to say goodbye to Mick Jagger and wonder what I would do without a cat to love, play with, and spill all my woes to when I returned from a hard day at school. It induced a mild panic attack, folks. There’s something priceless about having a friend waiting for you every day offering unconditional love.
The thought of finding my very own cat crossed my mind. But what would that mean? Would I be able to take care of myself during medical school, much less another living being? Would I be able to give them the attention they needed? Would I ever even see them? What if I got a cat and found that remembering to feed him and clean his litter box was just too much to add to my busy life?
So, as anyone in my generation would do, I turned to Google for some winning advice and much craved answers. I was hoping to find answers like, “Having a pet in medical school is an amazing experience that fills you with joy and contentment while simultaneously improving your sleep habits, bringing up your GPA and improving your doctor skills.” This is not exactly what I found on Google, but I have a cat named Rocky now. Obviously, the odds weighed in his favor.
There are a lot of students in our school who have pets or share pets with significant others. So, it is not impossible to have a pet during medical school, but it does add time and stress to your life. And regardless of the animal you choose, cleaning up after them can be a hassle. With a dog, you must make sure that he or she is taken outside multiple times a day to do business. Many students leave at lunch to head home and let their dogs out. We generally only get an hour for lunch, so that doesn’t leave much time for eating, digesting or relaxation – especially after a quick trip home. Dog owners must then do the same thing after class sometimes making it impossible to hit the books immediately or stay at school to study.
Thank goodness my cat box takes care of that issue with Rocky. However, the downside of a cat box is that it is incredibly easy to neglect it. I find myself saying, “Oh, it’ll be fine for another day or so. I have a test on Friday and taking five minutes out of my day to clean that stinky box is just too much.” Well, folks, Rocky happens to use his box more than any other cat on the planet. He is a litter box king. So, on a few occasions he went searching for other spots in my apartment. Once, he chose a pile of dirty clothes on the floor, which I did not discover until returning home at midnight after a particularly long study day. I regretted not cleaning his box as I sat in the middle of my bathroom floor cleaning up that mess and longing for a good night’s sleep.
A lot of students also talk about not having enough time to play with their pets. Their dogs or cats become bored and morose. My own cat seems to be getting fatter by the day. Pets need attention. They need to know that you love them. If you constantly push them away to study or fuss at them during the few hours they spend with you each day, maybe having a pet is not right for you. You must be willing to take a few seconds to simmer down and give them the attention they need.
Also, don’t forget, you become a full-time parent when your pet is sick. Once a friend’s dog ate something it shouldn’t have during the middle of the week, and he ate a lot of it. My friend called the emergency vet, who instructed her to feed him something to make him throw it up. Needless to say, she did not have a pleasant evening, had to miss the first class of the morning, and spent the rest of the day worrying that she gave her dog too much of the prescribed chemical and he was dying of a gastric bleed all alone at home. (Her dog is now fine, by the way.)
It is incredibly difficult to keep yourself healthy in medical school, much less attend to the sniffling and vomiting of an animal. Add to that the vet’s office calling to remind you about appointments for shots and checkups. You have to push aside other commitments and make time to take care of pets when they are sick or needs a checkup. Oh, and then, you have to pay for it.
Let’s be honest, you are already on a budget as a medical student. With a pet you are adding another mouth and healthcare plan on top of your own. Pets can get expensive fast, and sometimes it’s hard to consider that downside while staring at a cute, abandoned puppy at a shelter. But, honestly, I spend hundreds on my cat per semester trying to keep up with litter, food, toys, vet visits, and flea and tick medication. It really adds up.
For people accustomed to owning pets, having one in medical school will quickly ease some of your anxiety. It will feel more like home and make the transition a little easier. This is especially true if you live alone. It is comforting to have a pet around, and it is unbelievable what they do for your stress level on a normal day. Here in Greenville, our school brings in therapy dogs for us to play with the week of a test. The dogs sit in the main hallway of study rooms waiting for weary students to stumble in and pet them. It is amazing how students’ faces will light up when they come around the corner to discover that the dogs have arrived. A floor of somber faces quickly turns into laughs and smiles.
Taking care of pets is time consuming, expensive, and anxiety provoking. All of that said, if you are an animal lover, my fellow pet-owning medical student friends and I strongly support the adoption of a fluffy friend. It is amazing to come home after a long day to an animal that loves you no matter what mood you are in. They are hilarious and will make you laugh even when your busy schedule makes you want to cry. If that day of crying should come, they are always
there to listen and won’t judge you for it. Hugging a soft dog or cat will usually make you feel better, calm you down and help you realize that maybe not doing as well as you liked on a quiz won’t be the end of the world. It is also nice to have something to take care of at home. It gives you a purpose outside of academia and makes you feel important and needed.
Adopting an animal is a hard choice to make, and you have to make your own pros and cons list because everyone handles things differently. But, if you really want a pet, I wouldn’t let medical school be the deciding factor against it. Plenty of students here in Greenville have pets, and they are doing just fine. Some of them love their pets so much they wanted to share their favorite photos.
I am from North Augusta, South Carolina, and I am a born and bred Carolina girl. When it came time for college, I happily made my way to Columbia to attend the University of South Carolina (USC). I started college in Biomedical Engineering because I figured it would be an acceptable fall back plan. The only problem was, I forgot just how dismally boring the combination of calculus and physics could become. Also, all of my medical volunteering and biology classes made me realize that medicine was actually the best match for me. I loved it. So, I made one of the more difficult decisions I’ve had to make in life and switched to biology, committing myself to a medical track. Graduating from USC with a major in biology and minor in chemistry was a big moment for me, because I was among only two or three people in my uncommonly large extended family to receive a college degree. And, I was the first to be going on to further my education. I am very excited to be starting my medical education here at USC School of Medicine Greenville on behalf of my family and myself. It is going to be an adventure and it will be difficult, but my experience here so far has made me feel that I definitely made the right choice.
Copyright 2014 USC School of Medicine Greenville