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The Dog Days of Med School

Kendra_new_headshot Kendra Campbell -- I just returned from taking my two dogs to the veterinarian. These dogs were once puppies that I adopted while living in Dominica and taking my pre-clinical coursework. Over a year ago I wrote about an intensely emotional experience involving the death of another one of my puppies. Interestingly, the stress of med school had never brought me to my knees at that point, but the death of an animal, combined with other stressors really sent me on an emotional roller coaster.

As a child, I grew up on a dairy goat farm, and we had many other types of animals as well, including chickens, pigs, and many dogs and cats. I guess you could say that I grew up in a very animal-intense environment.

Okay, so now you’re thinking, “this is a blog about med school, not vet school, what does all this rambling have to do with human medicine?” Well, I actually happen to think it has a lot to do with it.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that being surrounded by animals all my life has definitely shaped my personality. I’ll even go as far as to say that it may have served to foster my compassion and ability to care for all living beings, humans included.

Kendra_and_scopeThe two puppies that I adopted in Dominica turned out to be immensely valuable to me in medical school. I have fond memories of taking short breaks from studying to pet and cuddle my pups. Cuddling with them never failed to rejuvenate me when studying had sucked all the energy and life from my body and mind. And when I was stressed out about an upcoming exam, taking my pups for a walk on the beach or rubbing their bellies was always guaranteed to provide me with much needed stress relief.

You could assert that all this psycho babble about having dogs, or any pets for that matter, is a bunch of holistic mumbo jumbo. But the existing research actually supports my anecdotal evidence. Studies have shown that owning a pet can nurture both their owners’ physical and psychological well-being. Some of the medical benefits include lowering blood pressure and cholesterol levels, improving survival rates after surgery, and decreasing the number of visits to the doctor. As for psychological health, pets can help people cope with stress, reduce rates of depression, and even reduce loneliness.

So, I guess what I'm trying to say is that while there are some disadvantages (cost, allergies, responsibilities, poop-scooping) to owning a pet, the benefits shouldn’t be underestimated. My now almost two-year-old doggies are proof enough to me that owning pets can have a myriad of wonderful rewards. And that’s exactly what I told myself when I signed the $900 credit card charge at the vet’s office tonight!

July 2, 2008 in Kendra Campbell | Permalink


I could not agree with you more. My own dog is often a pain in the arse...but nothing helps me study like the sound of her snoring on the rug next to me. Great post!

Posted by: Liz | Jul 2, 2008 7:51:10 AM

Right on! You were very fortunate to have a childhood with animals. You probably learned about life and death and all of the emotions one can experience with animals in one's life. You'll make a passionate and compassionate doctor one day!

Posted by: sam | Jul 3, 2008 8:24:31 PM

AMEN to that - I have always HAD and always will have animals - but I'm into cats. But the same applies - after a stressful day - the purring will calm me down in a heartbeat.
And yeah - vet bills - I just paid $500 to have a mammary tumor removed from one of my rats. But hey - a pet is a pet and compassion is key.
Good luck with your schooling and your mindset is what more doc's need these days!

Posted by: Kathy | Jul 8, 2008 3:43:12 PM

I'm sure it seems like a great idea when you're studying long hours, but when you are at the hospital on a 36 hour shift, who will be walking, feeding, petting your pet? When I was sitting in the class room my dog was of great comfort. On rotations she's my wife's responsibility. I'm not sure that's entirely fair.

Posted by: Seth | Jul 9, 2008 3:33:46 AM

Totally agree. I adopted both my dogs from rescues. No matter how stressed you are, no matter how tired you are, no matter how long you've been gone, your dogs are always happy to see you. I can't say the same for the human I'm living with (my hubby). :) They keep you calm, and they keep you healthy.

Posted by: Jennifer | Jul 9, 2008 6:48:06 AM

residency with dogs is do-able if you plan ahead. try to match somewhere you can live close to the hospital but can have a house w/fenced yard and a dog door. that will help with long shifts. when i run 100+ hour weeks, my dalmatian can feed herself from a timed kibble feeder, and use the basement drain for her excretory needs (i can't have a dog door bc i rent). if i don't have time or inclination to exercise her outside, she uses my treadmill (she likes 4.5 mph for about 1/2 hour at a time). when i do have the time, we dog park, walk a lot and she sees her dog buddies when i visit my friends. you won't need to dump your dogs' care on other people if you spend some time and effort preparing. when i travel, i do have to have others take care of spot, but she has a fan club and it's usually easy to have a friend move in for as long as i'm gone.

dogs are completely worth it!

Posted by: anne | Jul 9, 2008 8:43:57 AM

I love your blog
I just wanted to say my dog has helped me a lot too, it's amazing how even if he is hurt, he will never show you that he is hurting.

The energy that they exert should remind us to smile when we see patients.

Posted by: Hannah | Jul 9, 2008 9:35:31 AM

Yes, being away for many hours can certainly be an issue. Luckily, I have a boyfriend who works from home, and adores the dogs, so he's able to take good care of them when I'm gone.

And Anne, thanks for the ideas! I especially love the treadmill idea! I can't wait to see if my dogs are smart enough to use one! :)

Posted by: Kendra | Jul 9, 2008 9:57:52 AM

All this doggie talk makes me miss owning one... Guess I'll have to wait till I move to a new place... I'm renting and current owner isn't a fan.

And its good to hear that owning a dog while in medical school and residency is doable!

Posted by: Jeff W | Jul 9, 2008 10:44:21 AM

hey, I couldn't agree more. Sterling has been my friend and companion through many long nights studying. All of the great walks we go on are also stress relieving and therapeutic for both our souls. By the way scope looks great, how is molls.

Posted by: Heather | Jul 9, 2008 4:49:48 PM


Molly and Scope are both doing very well. They recently had their surgical "alterations," and are recovering well! I miss big cuddly Sterling! :)

Posted by: Kendra | Jul 10, 2008 5:58:19 PM

I totally agree. I got a rescue dog in the middle of my second year and he has been great for me.
The following is my experience, I don't discourage anyone from rescuing a dog, but I think it is important for those considering getting dogs to really look down the line and determine if they will have enough time to care for the dog.
I Got Dante halfway though 2nd year. He's a 50lbs Rott-Pitt mix, and he requires daily activity. During second year he was easy to take care of, I had plenty of time to spend with him. Third year I discovered left nowhere near enough time for him(i find it cruel to leave a dog locked up for 10 hours everyday,esp larger dogs). Between ten plus hours days and studying, I started to feel bad, that I was neglecting him. Luckily, My parents live in New Orleans too, and my mother has helped me out tremendously. My parents have our other rescue dog and a bigger yard so during the long hour rotations and call nights he stays there. My mom takes them swimming, running in the park, to the vet, ect.., basically all of the things I wish so badly that I could do, but simply don't have the time for.
I now face the decision of what to do during residency. I'm planning on going into ortho, and already know that I will not have the time that he requires. It breaks my heart but if I leave New Orleans he will be staying with my parents. My point in all of this is that before you go out and get a dog, make sure that you have a good support system to help you take care of him/her. I know too many of my friends that got a dog and now have no time for it(they leave the dog locked up all day). While a Dog can be a great companion, if you cannot realistically take care of its needs than you probably shouldn't get it.

Posted by: jsaund | Jul 16, 2008 1:01:36 PM

my family is about a thousand miles away, and almost all my friends are medical (meaning no time during the day), but i've luckily been able to make it work even though some weeks i'm working 110 hours (i'm not a resident, no work hours restrictions for me!) i can't take spot to the hospital, and can't take her to freelance photo shoots, so when i've got a full schedule her fan club takes over. all the junior high kids in the neighborhood love my hound, and i arrange for one trusted kid to have a key to my place. then she organizes who gets to walk her (well, run her, she likes humans who rollerblade), which other dogs get to come over and play in the back yard, etc. if i'm gone more than 8 hours i schedule a pee break for her. also, when i leave in the morning i hide little treats (a smear of peanut butter inside a little brown paper bag, carrot slices under the floor pillows, low tech and healthy) so her first job is to run around and pick up treats. i totally agree that it might be best for the dog to park it with loved ones during residency, but if that's not an option, you can still make stuff work, you just need creativity. and a warning about breeds--those pick the breed that's right for you sites don't get residency! a friend of mine did it and got two jack russell terriers (she specified small, non-shedding, etc.). they made her completely crazy and terrified her young child. think placid temperament and lower exercise need and get a good vacuum! you might think of yourself as a high energy person, but you won't be one when you're home during residency, i promise.

Posted by: anne | Jul 17, 2008 11:08:59 AM

Stay on the get an go IT is sound advice Do your pets stay at home? My finches do and they just passed threw a mateing season what an exciting time! ^_^

email me for mo(LOL)

Posted by: christinejansson2 | Jul 23, 2008 3:42:53 PM

As a child, I grew up on a dairy goat farm, and we had many other types of animals as well, including chickens, pigs, and many dogs and cats. I guess you could say that I grew up in a very animal-intense environment.

Okay, so now you’re thinking, “this is a blog about med school, not vet school, what does all this rambling have to do with human medicine?” Well, I actually happen to think it has a lot to do with it.

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