The Veterinary School Rite of Passage

Finding the motivation to study for the biggest examination of my life has been more difficult than I anticipated…especially in the final weeks leading up to this notorious Veterinary school rite of passage.


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The North American Veterinary Licensing Examination (NAVLE)

The NAVLE is looming in the near distance, a short 4 days away. This Friday, on April 24th 2015, I will be facing the formidable examination that most of my peers have already battled. Each and every one of my classmates who have experienced the NAVLE, had no qualms admitting to the feeling of defeat they felt as they left the Prometric testings centers. Not a single classmate said they thought they passed. There were no sugar-coated descriptions or words of encouragement for those of us yet to embark on this humbling academic endeavour. No way around it, you just have to go through it.

It’s simply 7 mandatory hours of veterinary hell, and if you’re lucky, you only have to do it once in a lifetime.


One Examination to Rule Them All

I guess I should expand a little on what exactly the NAVLE is. It is THE examination. The mother test. The Iliad of Clinical Medicine. The bane of veterinary students’ existence. According to the NBVLE,

The NAVLE is a requirement for licensure to practice veterinary medicine in all licensing jurisdictions in North America. The NAVLE consists of 360 clinically relevant multiple choice questions. The NAVLE is offered throughout North America and at certain overseas sites at computer testing centers operated by Prometric. The NAVLE is available during a four-week testing window in November-December, and a two-week window in April. “


4 Years of Study Material

The exam pretty much covers a wide range of material we learn during our four years of veterinary school. The most recent breakdown of examination contents (found on the NBVME website) is:

Questions – Species Categories
Canine: 70
Feline: 68
Pet Birds: 10
Other Small Animals: 10
Bovine: 45
Porcine: 17
Ovine/Caprine: 10
Cervidae: 2
Equine: 47
Camelidae: 2
Poultry: 6
Public Health: 10
Non-Species Specific: 3
Total: 300 items

The specific material covered by the exam is categorized by topics, as well as by species. A 2010 job analysis of the veterinarian profession found the following skills to be of great enough importance to include in the NAVLE.

I. Data Gathering and Interpretation

Obtain history, perform physical examination, and evaluate the environment. Gather information from client, trainer, herd manager, etc., by asking appropriate questions and using interpersonal skills. Determine the status (normal/abnormal) of the animal(s) and/or environment by. Record pertinent information in a legible and orderly system of medical records to promote retrieval andsharing of information. Develop a problem list, and a differential diagnosis list

  1. Correlate clinical signs or abnormalities with organ systems
  2. Formulate a complete problem list and differential diagnosis list(s), to determine the need to collect additional information
  3. Recommend relevant procedures to the client, trainer, herd manager, etc., to obtain specific information about the problem(s)
  4. Order or perform diagnostic procedures to further define the problem(s)
  5. Interpret collected information and establish a working or final diagnosis or conclusion

II. Health Maintenance and Problem Management 

  1. Identify and evaluate prevention, treatment, and management options
  2. Develop a plan of action by assessing the following outcome, feasibility, urgency, client expectations, economic considerations, humane considerations including pain management, ethical and legal implications, environmental and public health implications, professional abilities, resources, and facilities
  3. Communicate case management options and prognosis to the client, trainer, herd manager, etc.,including prevention, treatment, and husbandry alternatives
  4. Obtain assistance through information retrieval, consultation, and/or referral
  5. Implement Plan of Action
  6. Obtain informed consent as needed from client or authorized representative
  7. Protect animal and human health and the environment by doing the following:
    • order or perform indicated tests, apply epidemiological principles, comply with regulations. Perform preventive and/or therapeutic procedures
    • Perform preventive and/or therapeutic procedures
    • Communicate to the client or staff procedures that will optimize compliance with the treatment plan
    • Monitor the effectiveness of preventive and/or therapeutic measures
    • Advise the client on relevant additional issues
  1. Cases outcome
  2. Evaluate interventions by
  3. reviewing existing data
  4. collecting additional information
  5. assessing client compliance
  6. validating working diagnoses
  7. Modify therapeutic and preventative plans as needed

III. Professional Behavior, Communication, and Practice Management (20 items)
IV. Preserve and protect the human animal bond


Preparing for the NAVLE

Most of my classmates chose to study using internet-based study guides. The two big ones that come to mind are VetPrep and Zuku. I went with VetPrep because of its powerlectures and powerpages, which provide brief reviews on relevant, overly represented topics found on each year’s NAVLE examination.

My thoughts on VetPrep’s Powerpages and Powerlectures

The obvious theme for these power-resources is concise information. The powerpages are 2-6 pages long and the powerlectures are 3-20 minutes long. The lectures are given by various academia-based individuals, and are relatively easy to follow and of decent sound quality.  One aspect I have found frustrating is that while VetPrep recently renovated their mobile friendly site, I cannot simply play the videos in the Chrome app. You have to download a flash player competent web browser. Maybe its the site or perhaps its my Samsung phone, but it can take up to 10 minutes to buffer a single lecture. I would like the option to download the videos so I can listen to them in the car or on my ipod. Other than that, how the mobile friendly site.

VetPrep, one of the online NAVLE preparation resources, allows you to track your progress as you complete practice questions and work toward the examination day.

With over 3,200 practice questions, there is plenty of practice involved. I actually don’t know much about Zuku, but after polling my classmates, it appears that people feel the same way about both online study resources…they both do a great job keeping you busy, while the actual usefulness of them when it comes to the examination is debatable. Both programs are not cheap, ranging from $250 – $460. If you sign up for month-to-month, you’re looking at close to $800 if you start studying 5 months in advance. The better deal is to sign up as soon as they’re offering specials, where you can get 6 months on VetPrep for $330. Of course, the prices might change since I last purchased my subscription but you get the idea. If the NAVLE is still a ways out for you, both Zuku and Vetprep have a NAVLE question of the day e-mail that you can sign up for.

I don’t at all feel ready for this exam…and I’m crossing my fingers, being on my best behavior and really hoping I have what it takes to get my way through the examination with a passing score.

No way I want to repeat the NAVLE experience. Once is definitely enough for a lifetime.