I had the pleasure of meeting Samantha Palmer at the recent AVMA Veterinary Leadership Conference (VLC). If her impressive Instagram account (nearly 5,000 followers) wasn't enough, it was inspiring to meet a young veterinary professional so enthusiastic, innovative and creative! Samantha and I had the opportunity to speak again as she was wrapping up her externship with AVMA Headquarters (Membership Division), and it's even more clear that this girl has some serious skill that will benefit her career journey as well as our profession. Be sure to follow her Instagram page at https://www.instagram.com/i.am.a.vet.student/.
--Caitlin DeWilde, DVM
“Sam, why won’t you get an Instagram, everyone has one” my friends asked me throughout my senior year of undergrad. My response was always the same, “I have a Facebook, why do I need an Instagram.”
I simply didn’t see the point of Instagram when I could just as easily post photos on my Facebook account. That was, until April of my senior year when I finally caved and started my own personal account. After following my friends, I began exploring all the other thousands maybe millions of accounts out there. I quickly realized that although there was a plethora of animal accounts, these days everyone’s family dog and cat has their own Instagram, and a few accounts specific to veterinary medicine like @vetgirlontherun and @vetsnobiety, there were not really any dedicated to veterinary school. This new found void gave me the idea to start another Instagram account that would be open to the public called @i.am.a.vet.student.
I chose the name out of simplicity-there would be no mistaking the purpose of this account by using this handle. I began my account five days before I started veterinary school at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine in August of 2015, and I have posted one photo a day of my journey since then. I haven’t missed a day yet!
At the time that I started the account, I believed that I would use this platform to increase public awareness of the vigorous and academically challenging process of becoming a veterinarian. While that mission has been a huge part of the account’s success, it was not until I got my first direct message (private correspondence) a month after starting my account from a prospective veterinary student that I realized my account could also be a resource.
Prospective pre-vet students began to ask questions about the process of applying to veterinary school, high school students interested in veterinary medicine inquired about what they could be doing now to explore this field, and current veterinary students wanted to exchange study tips especially those entering their first year. As I have watched my account grow from my first followers, my siblings, to almost 5000 followers, I am elated by comments about how my account is inspiring the next generation of veterinarians and that makes this project one of the most rewarding tasks that I have undertaken.
I have learned many lessons in communication through this project. Taking photos of animals, research or client owned, was the first obstacle, although I had anticipated this one. I spoke to my veterinary school within the first week of starting classes about their social media policy to ensure that I was not breaking any rules in the student handbook with my account. I have had to tread lightly through this process.
Although students were initially given permission to take photos with the teaching animals including dogs, cows, and horses, this rule seemed to change depending on the class. It was clear that photos from wildlife labs or anatomy dissection were not permitted and that pictures of client-owned animals could not be posted unless we asked for permission.
While some social media rules make common sense, others appear arbitrary. This inconsistency is not uncommon in veterinary schools across the country as many schools have yet to write down a clear social media policy for their students or worse, in my opinion, have decided that no photos of any animals in the veterinary school can be posted online.
To complicate veterinary school social media policies further, the veterinary teaching hospital at a veterinary school can have its own social media policy, but that policy might not extend to classes or labs. In which case, permission is often left to the discretion of the professors- who may or may not address this at all. Issues like these are part of the reason that I have begun to urge my school to clarify this policy because I am a huge advocate for social media and its benefits. I worry that veterinary schools might begin to implement a “no photos on social media policy” rather than one that clearly states what content is or is not allowed. I strongly believe that the public should be able to share in the experience that is veterinary school.
An unforeseen obstacle from this social media experience was a need to learn about all the photo apps available. In fact, there are so many editing apps to download that it was overwhelming at first. I currently have six apps that I use on a regular basis and developers are always coming out with more.
Usually I need to edit a photo to keep the whole image in the frame without it getting cropped when I upload it to Instagram, and unlike the celebrities who have every photo edited to the extreme, I mostly add a filter or change the brightness to make the image stand out. In contrast to many Instagram accounts that are about the glamorous life of the blogger, veterinary school is anything but glamorous, as you all know, and I am dedicated to posting photos that represent the truth- the good, the tiring, and the dirty!
Sometimes I find myself with a great photo opportunity and no one to act as the photographer and then I must come up with a creative solution to capture the moment. In dire situations like these, I’ve learned to rely on the good, ol’ fashioned timer setting or the modern “selfie” timer. Fortunately, I often have a friend around to take my photo. I’m well known as “InstagramSam” around the vet school.
Ultimately, this Instagram account is a lesson in the importance of marketing yourself. With photos that can be misconstrued or taken out of context, I give each a post the appropriate forethought before posting. Although this task can be tiresome, I believe that my account will make me standout. When I graduate from Cornell in 2019, I want my future employer to pick up my job application and notice me. I hope that my social media skills will provide me with a unique niche to fill as the benefits of a social media presence become more well-known over the next few years. I look forward to seeing how my account and interactions with my peers, mentors, and the public continue to evolve.
Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine
DVM Candidate, Class of 2019
Contact Information: firstname.lastname@example.org