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  • Writer's pictureBella Rawson

Second Year Cambridge Vet Med - What's it Really Like?

It's getting close to the end of term in Cambridge and I'm currently sat writing this in the middle of a neuroanatomy clinical lecture. Can you tell it's reached the point that we've all simply given up?

I've recently just discovered the definition of two terms that we've been using all term and have never bothered to look up (I like to pretend this is becaue I've had no time, but realistically we all know I just couldn't. bothered.) Who can even work out what ipsalatel and contralateral means?

Anyway, second year gets majorly more busy than first year does, so I just haven't had time to do weekly summaries. Instead I think I'm going to focus this blog more on general termly round ups, interesting case studies and what we're doing on the podcast instead. It's much easier than having to find an hour a week (which, believe it or not, is harder than you would expect) to sit down and write about the multiple essay crises I've had.

So, why am I so busy? In second year, we take 6 modules:


Neurobiology and Animal Behaviour


Biology of Disease


Mechanisms of Drug Action


Preparing for the Veterinary Profession


Comparative Vertebrate Biology


Veterinary Reproductive Biology (this doesn't start till our second term, also known as Lent)

This is a major step up from our 3 last year, and we regularly pull 8 hour days with contact time. Considering some people only have eight contact hours a WEEK (and some people even less than that), you can see why, in addition to all the supervisions, essays, practice questions, and that's not even including the non-academic stuff, there's not a huge amount of time to eat, sleep, and act like a functional human being.

So, what have we been studying?


This course looks most specifically at the 5 special senses in Michaelmas (winter) term. We've looked at vision, hearing, taste, smell, and touch, and I'll be honest I no longer want to be a neurobiologist. This stuff is hard. What the hell is transduction? Coding? And no, I'm not writing Python or C#, we're trying to figure out what the hell an 11-cis-retinal is and where the bloody tympanic membrane is.

We cover (or are meant to) animal behaviour in Lent term, and this is a much more vetty focused part of the module. We do very limited psychology (animal psychology is a fairly emerging field at the moment) but instead focus more on the behaviours and what we can learn from the normal and abnormal.

We write essays and Short Answer Questions in this module, mostly focusing on a general pespective of anatomy, as we share this module with the medics. It can be tedious sometimes and often leaves you wondering why you did this course because you're not treating bloody humans. However, the knowledge that Yellow Fever caused the Louisiana Purchase will now forever haunt me, so at least there's something to be said for it.


This is our Biology of Disease module, and it's by far and away my favourite. We examine

common pathogens, the diseases they cause, and how it fits into the modern world through discussions about economic, social, and cultural impacts.

More specifically, this term we've learnt about viruses in great detail, how our body responds to invasion by a pathogen (immunology), and we've just started fungal infections (gross, I know). There's more to come next term where we're going to study bacteria, parasitology and cancer in more depth.

We also do weekly practicals where we apply some of the techniques we were taught in lectures. I'll be honest, I'm not enitrely sure how much I learn from them as opposed to mess them up completely, but I think in general they're good fun and you get to meet people from your course (great considering we know absolutely no one thanks to Covid).


I HATED this course at the start of term. There was way too much maths, I could barely draw the graphs, and for the life of me I had no idea how to calculate an affinity. However, as time has drawn on, it's become much more theoretical and about drugs *themselves* as opposed to calculations. I'll still have to deal with the calculations in the exams, but I'm hoping time, practice and efficient use of holidays will help me get better with it!

I think a key thing to remember with this module is a lot of the drugs we learn about are outdated or not in clinical use. This can become quite frustrating when practising clinicians ask you in the mandatory context lectures what drugs you would use, and the drug you were taught in your lecture hasn't been seen in the veterinary world since 1982. However, learning pathways and establishing the general mechanisms is invaluable, and we do learn about the most common drugs in clinical practice so it doesn't feel completely useless.

Move over MODA, you're no longer the most hated module - that one goes to NAB!


We learn about ethics, resilience, the profession and 'hot topics' that require thinking about. It's an introduction to what we'll be doing in clinical years where we'll focus more on 'real life' veterinary medicine as opposed to theory, and aside from a three hour lecture on a Monday, we mostly don't do tonnes of work for it. It's a 'break' module that's more about common sense and critical thinking skills than anything else.


This is our main anatomy module. This term, we've looked in detail at the head and neck, which was given its own separate course a few years back by David Bainbridge becuase, (and to be fair, he has a point) it's a lot more complex and anatomically important. So, we spend 8 weeks looking at eyes, ears, muscles and bone.

Next term we'll be moving onto the 'comparative' bit of the course, looking in detail at other, less common species. At vet school we study the 6 main 'domestic' species: pig, cow, horse, sheep, dog, cat, but we obviously have to be omnicompetent as part of our commitment to practice is that we are legally not allowed to turn any animal away from our care. So next term we'll be looking at avian species, reptiles, and more. Although, if anyone comes near me with a tarantula, I may just have to quit.


I'll chat more about this after Lent term has finished, but for now my impression is that we learn about reproduction (shocker) and its importance in veterinary medicine. Vets are very big in the meat industry, so we have to understand all aspects. There'll be a big focus on the commercial side of things as well I suspect, but time will tell!


So, that's the modules. Second year veterinary medicine/human medicine at Cambridge tends to be known as 'a year of hell', and they're not wrong. But I think some of it's overexaggerated and actually it is manageable - there's just a lot of work, and you probably shouldn't do as many extracurriculars as I do.

That being said, more than half of my lectures and practicals are currently still online due to Covid, so my experience is probably a lot less stressed than many future applicants will be. I'm able to do these lectures in my own time, which allows me to schedule a lot more 'fun' things in my first time - hence why I'm able to be Treasurer for 2 societies, work on access projects, do outreach work, tutor, and apply for a bajillion other things at the same time.


We have a supervision in MODA, BOD and NAB every week, with additional CVB and vetty MODA ones sprinkled throughout. Next term we'll probably have a VRB supo in addition to consider, but I'm just ignoring the inevitability of that one.

We use supervisions in the same way that we did last year, reviewing content we learned in lectures and practicals from the previous week, and clarifying any points that we misunderstood. I've put a screenshot of some of my notes from one supervision below so that you get an idea of what we do.


Of course, as per usual, we have our dissections, although this time we only have our dog's head to work on. Over the course of Michaelmas term, we dissect and investigate the anatomical structure of a dogs head and neck, and make comparisons with other speciments that have already been dissected for us.

This is really useful because a dog's anatomy is easily applicable to the other species, with variations usually fairly easy to understand. One of the main differences is obviously a dog is a carnivore, and a horse for example is a herbivore. Diet plays a big role in the anatomy of this region, and you'll learn more about it no matter what vet course you end up on.

We have no animal handling practicals this year, and fewer 'intro to clinical examination' sessions scheduled than last year. This is obviously because of the much more intense workload, but it does mean that feeling like a vet is even further away, and at times I find myself feeling more like a BioNatSci than a vet.

But hey, role on clinical years I guess!


This year I mostly plan on doing my final two weeks of pig animal handling. Due to Covid, the RCVS requirements dropped from 12 to 6 weeks of EMS, although Cambridge have asked us to complete 8. So far I've had 3 weeks lambing, 2 weeks horses, and 2 weeks cattle. The last category is pigs, and if I can find the time I'll aim to work in a kennels and cattery too!

The nice thing about EMS at Cambridge is preclinical EMS is much more relaxed than at other unis because you have an extra year to get all 12 weeks. I did a lot this summer because I had the time because of Covid, but actually if you space it out properly it's not intense at all and there's still plenty of time for summer jobs, holidays, and fun with friends.


Second year Vet Med is also, from what I understand, at this point in time subject to a curriculum review. What this means is that the veterinary department are examining the curriculum as a whole and deciding whether it's still relevant and provides a 'good' veterinary medicine. This could mean that, if you're sat here reading this as a prospective applicant, by the time you're here, the course may look very different.

The best way to keep an eye on this is through the university website. I've put details below and links to relevant department pages, but it'll be up to you to check whether things have changed or not.

I hope you enjoyed this little summary, and if you have any questions, feel free to drop me a message!


Veterinary Department:

Admissions Website:

Faculty of Biology: (click the course names to view more information)


Information correct at time of writing (26th November 2021)

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