The cover of Dr. Jamie Rothenburger's MVetSc thesis. Photo: Dr. Jamie Rothenburger.

The great defence

Dr. Jamie Rothenburger tells us more about the world of a veterinary pathology graduate student at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine.

Writing. I'm writing. The coffee jitters are nearly unbearable and they make me strike the wrong letters on the keyboard. Hour after hour, I'm at my desk with what seems like endless work and limited time. There are countless revisions, corrections and citations to make.

I've seen them before — those graduate students who say, "I'm writing," with pained expressions on their exhausted faces and a note of fear in their voices.

"This won't happen to me," I had smugly thought every time I met one of those mournful grad students. And now it is. I'm one of them — I have the same pale, sallow skin and bloodshot eyes to prove it.

Three results tables, 40 images and 35 pages later, the manuscript for my Master of Veterinary Science (MVetSc) degree is ready to send to my committee for final edits.

The Comprehensive Exam. With the manuscript complete, I begin preparing for the terrifying comprehensive oral examination. Unlike a traditional thesis-based master's degree, my program is considered to be course-based. That means anything I have learned during the past two years of my veterinary pathology training is fair game for the exam.

The research component of the exam, approximately 20 per cent, should be a breeze since I feel like I know my part of the Vancouver Rat Project inside and out. The rest of the exam brings back memories of when I prepared for the North American Veterinary Licensing Examination (NAVLE) — the test that all final-year veterinary students must pass to become licensed veterinarians.

With the endless scope of the oral exam, there's so much material to cover and so little perceived time. Needless to say, I'm worried.

My research presentation goes fairly well, and a few audience members ask some interesting questions about the project. I'm more comfortable now with oral presentations, so the session is done before I know it.

Then it's just my committee and me. There are five of them including the Vancouver Rat Project's principal investigator, Dr. Chelsea Himsworth, who joins us via a video link from Abbotsford, B.C. They take turns grilling me on the finer details of my project and veterinary pathology.

On one hand, it feels good to have a captive audience while I speak about the joys and pitfalls of my research. On the other hand, my stomach sinks each time they ask a question for which I've forgotten the answer. I'm filled with dread. This exam is forcing me to roll with the punches. Luckily, there aren't too many kidney shots.

Two hours later, I'm sitting in "the Buff" — the veterinary college's cafeteria — mindlessly filling in the squares of an easy Sudoko puzzle and waiting for my committee to give me a pass or fail.

Ten long minutes go by before my supervisor, Dr. Ted Leighton, walks up to me. "You can go ahead and plan your party," he says with a grin.

I've passed!

The Future. So now what? I begin the senior residency program in the WCVM's Department of Veterinary Pathology on August 15. As a resident, I'll be responsible for teaching and have diagnostic pathology duties. I'll also have time to prepare for the American College of Veterinary Pathologists (ACVP) board examinations that I will write in September 2014.

A year of preparation seems like a long time, but faced with the board exam's 50 per cent pass rate and many other responsibilities nibbling at my time, 12 months seems short. If the comprehensive exam had me worried, no doubt the ACVP board exam will be a challenge of endurance and preparation.

I still have work to do on my portion of the Vancouver Rat Project with manuscripts to submit for publication and collaborations to foster. I still have questions that I would like to answer such as which respiratory viruses and bacteria are responsible for the microscopic changes that I described in my MVetSc project.

And I'm employed! I've been hired for several weeks as a diagnostic pathologist for the Canadian Cooperative Wildlife Health Centre (CCWHC). It will be so exciting to see the interesting cases and work to figure out why wild animals were sick or dying.

I've wrapped up the MVetSc component of my veterinary pathology training, but I'm still immersed and have so many different activities and projects to complete before I move on.

The biggest hurdle is passing my "boards," as everyone calls them. Wish me luck.

Search "Rothenburger" to read more about Dr. Jamie Rothenburger's adventures as a graduate student at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM).
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