How to Intern in Veterinary Medicine

Written by michelle leach
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Veterinary medicine is one of the most challenging professions to get into. An internship is necessary if you are looking to advance in the profession, either to work as an educator or to specialise.

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    Determine if you really need an internship. You may not need to sacrifice another year with little income and lots of blood, sweat and tears. If you'd like to start in a practice right out of school and after passing boards, go for it; however, if opening your own practice isn't on your to-do list, and specialising or working at a teaching hospital is, an internship is crucial.

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    Assess your day-to-day job duties. Some clinics are such that you will see a lot of patients and basically handle cases yourself. Find out how often you'll be standing by on the sidelines as opposed to actually being in the game.

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    Ask lots of questions of the person looking to hire you. How often will I see patients? Will I be able to handle my own cases? Will I have a chance to work one-on-one with pet owners? How much time will be spent in emergency situations? This will give you a better gauge as to what your role at the facility will be and whether or not you'll get what you need out of the internship.

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    Evaluate opportunities for exposure to a desired speciality area. An internship that offers time in your preferred focus area, such as oncology, is a far better choice than a more generalised program. It's also a good idea to research the background of colleagues and see what exposure you will have to specialists in your area of interest.

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    Guide yourself using objectivity, not your pocketbook. It's rare that a vet internship pays more than £26,000 a year. If you are offered that, go with your gut and not the money. This is your time to soak in as much information and experiences as you can. Opportunities for money will come later.

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    Use input from a trusted source. Rely heavily on professional advisers and doctors you worked with in vet school. Alums tend to be biased about a school's internship program, and those in the department you are wooing, obviously, have their own motivations, even though, at heart, they are looking for the right fit as much as you are.

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    Decide between school-sponsored internships versus those at other organisations, such as animal hospitals and clinics. Again, the determining factor is your life goal. If working in a teaching hospital and a life in academia is your thing, schools are a better choice. If not, other organisations are the way to go.

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    Keep the residency in mind. What internship will best position you to obtain a residency afterward? A residency is far more competitive to obtain than an internship (which is challenging enough). Keep your long-term vision in mind when you select a program.

Tips and warnings

  • There are only so many spots to fill. If you aren't selected to this time around, there will always be a next time. In between, focus on your work at a practice and use that as yet another selling point the next time you go in search of a program.
  • An internship in this field is almost unparalleled by other fields in the challenges it provides. Expect to work more than 24 hours straight regularly, with little or no sleep. On top of sleep deprivation, you are constantly confronted with issues of mortality. That and low wages are major contributors to stress. Many turn to alcohol or other substances to deal with the stress. You must know yourself to decide if you are mentally, physically and emotionally cut out to handle such exhaustion and stress.

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