As the Doctor of Veterinary Medicine Class of 2022 approaches the crossroads that transforms its members from students to doctors, Timothy Bolton, clinical assistant professor in the Veterinary Teaching Hospital’s Small Animal Internal Medicine service, will address graduates during the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine commencement — a celebratory but also apprehensive transition.
“Every student and every graduate inherently knows that they haven’t and cannot learn everything they need to know yet. But — especially where so many of us have type-A personalities — sometimes we need a reminder,” Bolton said. “The real world is not an exam where you can get a 100, and a career in veterinary medicine isn’t either.”
The Doctor of Veterinary Medicine commencement will be Friday, May 13, at 7 pm at the Moss Arts Center. Bolton intends to focus his speech on the importance of mental health and the need for veterinarians to support other veterinarians. In a profession where mental fatigue and burnout are common, Bolton wants to emphasize the necessity of collaboration among veterinarians. Utilizing a network can help new graduates learn from the inevitable pitfalls and setbacks that come with a successful career, he said.
As an internal medicine practitioner, he and his students deal with diseases of organ systems that don’t fall into a specialty category such as neurology or cardiology. “Our training prepares students to manage multiple diseases all together, which means asking questions such as, ‘How does one disease affect another? How do we manage a dog with multiple chronic illnesses?’ I like making complex concepts make sense for people.”
As a testament to Bolton’s commitment to teaching, Bolton was named the Outstanding Instructor Award recipient for both third- and four-year veterinary students in 2020 and 2021.
Bolton is open about his experiences as both a student and a practitioner, including the difficulties he faced in school and the mistakes he’s made with patients and clients. “It’s important to me to tell students the mistakes I’ve made and how I worked through them. I was very hard on myself,” he said.
Bolton turns his experiences into an opportunity for student growth. “If there’s one thing that I would have wanted someone to say to me it was, ‘When you don’t know what to do, pick up a phone and call a friend or a colleague. It’s OK to not know. Either someone will help you or you’ll figure it out yourself. That’s the normal next step in progressing through your veterinary career,” he said.
“We need to be a profession that teaches each other when we make a mistake, there’s a way to learn from it together. I’m here to tell students, ‘Hey, you’re about to be in the throes of it. This profession is tough. You’re going to be the newest veterinarian and you will have to go through a whole learning curve.’ I’m hoping I can give students some encouraging pieces of information to help get them through it,” he said. “I wouldn’t give up doing clinical teaching or classroom teaching for anything.”