Category Archives: Intern Applicant

Behind the Scenes: How we Chose Interns

Image by Valentin Sabau from Pixabay

Before we start, you should know that every program does their intern selection process differently.  Evaluators care about different things. Some may use class rank as a cut point- they don’t evaluate anyone not in the top 25%, for example.  (You can’t do anything about this so stop worrying about it). Some may have a committee, or a single individual, or an advisory committee to a handful of decision-makers.  So, this is not universal. But I wanted to give you a peek into how I (and institutions where I have worked in the past) chose interns.

First, we would take all of the applicants and divide them according to school where they graduated.  Our committee was usually made up of 8 faculty members. Faculty would then pair up, so we had 4 pairs.  Each pair then indicated which schools they would evaluate applicants from. Usually this was based on people they knew at those schools.

Each pair then got all of the applicants from the schools they agreed to review.  The applicant pool was evenly divided among the pairs. Each pair then read all of the applications in their pool.  When I read applications, I made a spreadsheet with the applicant as a row, and then columns including letter of intent quality, references, leadership, teaching experience, research experience, class rank, CV, notes, and overall score.

I usually used a 4-point score: 4 for not-rankable, and 1-3 divided according to my estimation of them being in the top, middle, or bottom third of applicants.  Each applicant sent to the pair would be reviewed by both members of the pair. Then my partner and I would meet and discuss the applicants and agree to a score for each of our applicants.  Then each pair would send their ranking to the chair of the committee, who would organize them. We would all meet together as a committee and discuss the rankings, moving various applicants up or down according to information we had gleaned (e.g. by calling friends at institutions).

It was a huge effort and took a lot of time.  And, as it turns out, it’s probably meaningless.  In a study where we compared rank with intern performance, there was no relationship.  This is similar to interviews- they don’t really relate to the performance of a person in a position.  So we could probably accomplish this all with just randomly drawing the names out of a hat. But, like interviews, we FEEL like doing this process should improve our outcome, so we do it anyways.

Behind the Scenes: How I Read an Internship Application

Image by Alicja from Pixabay

I thought it would be helpful to share my personal process for reading an internship application.  This is a highly personalized process- please don’t assume that others go through the same process. Nonetheless, I thought it would be helpful to share what goes through my brain, so here it is:

First, the internship application through the match is organized like this: standard application information (entered when you apply through the VIRMP), letter of intent, CV, transcripts, letters of recommendation.

From the standard application, I scroll down to the veterinary education section.  I notice if they went to school at an AVMA-accredited program or an unaccredited program.  I note the class rank and graduation date. I glance at the references to get an impression of what sorts of letters they have.  Very little hard decisions are made at this step- it’s just collecting data.

The letter of intent is where I begin to apply some discrimination.  Is it more than one page? If so, I probably won’t read it unless it appears to be an _incredibly_ unusual applicant.  If it’s more than one page, I will review the rest of their materials to decide, “Is this person even worth considering?”  The vast majority of the time, the answer is “no”, so my job is done and I move onto the next. If the letter is one page or less, I skim it until I find an interesting, useful, unique piece of information, then read that segment in detail.  I also read for grammar and spelling errors. I consider how they structured concepts and what I learned about the applicant. The letter is extremely important to me and I will start to put the applicant into one of three bins- not rankable, rankable good, rankable OK.

For the CV, I check to see if they have any obvious gaps in professional progression not addressed in their letter of intent.  If so, this is a red flag. Have they done research- if so, what was their role? If they were the first author on a submitted publication, great.  Otherwise, I don’t think much of research experience. Did they have an officer role in a club? What is interesting about their experience? Did they travel?  How will I summarize this person in my Excel file where I track all applicants (see below)? The CV is not a major deciding factor for me but helps fill in the picture of the applicant.

The transcripts are fluff for me.  I skim them briefly to see if there are any “D” or “F” grades and, if so, in what subject they are.  If not, I spend no time on the transcripts unless they are from international applicants. In that case, I review them carefully to get an idea of what academic material this person has studied.

The letters of recommendation, with the letter of intent, form the greatest portion of my evaluation.  In the letters, I look at the qualifications of the letter writer, are they from the applicant’s current institution, how many interns they have worked with, and their connection with the applicant.  I then skim the ratings of clinical & technical skills and professionalism to see if there are any particularly low marks. Most of my time is spent reading the qualitative data provided in the remarks section.

In the qualitative remarks, I primarily look to see if the person is easy to work with, eager to learn and accept feedback and act in a positive, professional manner.  If the letter is not very detailed, that is also flagged as concerning. I will also look for indications of humility, eagerness to work, and emotional intelligence. It is rare to read a letter which is not laudatory, so I need to read between the lines.  Remarks which focus on the intelligence of the applicant, without mention of them being easy to work with, are flagged as problematic.

Once I have read through everything, I will go back and make notes in an Excel document which has the following column headings: name, class rank, education/experience, letter, clubs, miscellaneous, research, references, score.  I make short notes for each of these and then make a determination of placement: do not rank, rank in bottom third, rank in the middle third, rank in the top third.

So, that’s the process.  This forms the basis for some of my advice, and it may differ among evaluators.  Maybe some people care a LOT about research, maybe others ONLY consider the objective data provided in letters of recommendation.  However, in discussion with dozens of colleagues, most of them follow a similar process to that described here. So I think this is a helpful start for you to review.

Behind the Scenes Series

I was inspired to write a short series on how applications get evaluated throughout the academic process- for vet school, internship, residency, and faculty positions. Realize that these are idiosyncratic- my process is definitely different from other people’s processes. Nonetheless, I think it may be helpful/insightful. Enjoy these for the next two weeks!

Internship Letter Mistakes

This is a specialized version of a post I have about general application letter writing advice, aimed at intern applicants.

Writing an internship application letter is hard.  I’m sorry. Intern applicant evaluators are so widely varied, you can’t possibly write the ideal letter unless you happen to A) know the evaluators and B) apply to only one institution.  Fortunately, there are some “wrong” ways to write an intern letter. Let’s look at them.

First, think from the evaluator’s standpoint.  They have a monumental challenge- reviewing possibly several hundred applicants for a handful of positions.  It is a grueling, churning, time-sucking task that they get very little thanks for. If you give them the opportunity to rapidly assess your letter as not-rankable, it saves them the trouble of reading your CV and letters of recommendation and thus saves them time.

Here are the rules to keep your letter from getting tossed into the do-not-rank pile.

One page or less.  I know some evaluators read two-page letters.  I know more who use this as an instant rejection.  You should be able to express yourself succinctly.

Good grammar and spelling. This may seem obvious, but I would say a full 20% of letters I read fail this test.  Have other people read your letter _carefully_ with a fine-toothed comb and make sure they are brutally honest.

Good use of English.  This one is hard for non-native speakers, but it is very obvious when it is present.  If your English is good but not native, find several native speakers to review and correct it.  We use language in odd ways in English.  The Japanese small old car is technically correct but does not sound the same as the small old Japanese car.

Avoid a TOO-unique letter.  We will talk about injecting your own style when we discuss the DOs of letter writing, but if your letter is quirky or eccentric, this may work for some evaluators but not for others.  This is highly polarizing with people who feel very strongly on both sides. Don’t risk it.

Don’t use odd word choices or excessive Thesaurus use.  This may not get you an instant rejection, but in a study where we analyzed intern applicant letters, letters that had odd word choices and excessive Thesaurus use consistently ranked lower. Keep it simple.

Don’t be boastful or arrogant.  I think there is some advice out there on the internet that you need to be assertive and confident in your application letters.  Maybe this is true for business, but it is not true in academia. In our study, none of the evaluators indicated ‘confidence’ as an important characteristic of a letter writer.  Some people may not notice or care about this, but I know many evaluators find those who display arrogance in their letter and veto their application.

Some examples: “I am confident  about my general medical knowledge across different fields…”, “I am highly motivated, quick to understand medical topics, detail oriented and capable of multitasking. I have the ability to get along well with just about anyone.”, and “I achieved a 4.0 GPA my first semester and eventually finished my studies at Unseen University in the top 5% of my class and as a member of Phi Zeta.”

As noted in the introduction, evaluators are an extremely heterogeneous group, and you can’t possibly avoid all pitfalls of all evaluators.  Maybe some don’t like anything other than a five-paragraph-essay format. Maybe others will reject any letter with the word “yellow” in it. It’s impossible to predict all the things evaluators may reject you on.  However, in my experience (and our research), these were the most prominent, consistent, and important. Write your letters accordingly and, if you need help, please reach out to me.

You Must Stand Out

Photo by Rupert Britton on Unsplash

I can’t emphasize enough how much you should try to aim for zero– show up, be competent, don’t try too hard.  On the flip side, if you are forgettable, marginal, or just merely acceptable, you won’t ‘wow’ anyone and you won’t get letters of recommendation.  Obviously, you should read and adhere to all of the How to be Successful series of posts. In addition to those concepts, here are some which will help make sure you Stand Out.

1) Ask questions.  There can be a difficult balance between annoying, constantly questioning/bugging and curious, thoughtful, and engaged.  Asking thoughtful questions indicates you understand the material and are interested in learning even more. You may ask any questions you like, and this is a great way to learn, but if you haven’t done the basic reading and work to understand the foundations of the topic at hand, you probably won’t stand out when you ask your questions. Conversely, try not to ‘wow’ people with the questions you ask- esoteric data and minutia can be all well and good, but whenever a student asks me a question like this, it is obvious that they are trying to suck up or stand out.

2) Help out.  You may think faculty don’t notice all of your hard work, and maybe some of them don’t, but most of us keep a close eye on how hard working the students are.  Help your classmates out whenever they need it. Teamwork is an essential skill for veterinary medicine- demonstrate that you care more about the team than yourself.

3) Don’t be silent.  You don’t have to be the most outgoing, gregarious person but, if you are silent, you will almost surely fade into the background.  You should be engaged when things are happening and learning opportunities occur. Be prepared to answer when you are asked a question.  If you don’t know the answer for sure, you can hazard a guess. It is far preferable to make an educated guess than to be sitting in silence while the faculty waits for an answer.  Participate participate participate.

4) Be energetic.  Again, you don’t have to be an extrovert, but you DO have to look like you are happy to be working and learning.  You’re in vet school or an internship or a residency- isn’t that AWESOME?!? You can’t be excited 24/7, particularly with some of the long, mentally taxing hours we work, but you CAN do your best to express your enthusiasm as often as possible.  Students who are energetic and seem happy to be there make a far better impression than those who seem like they are just putting in their time.

5) Study.  This may seem self-evident, which is why it’s not in the How to Be Successful series, but I am often amazed when students go home and then don’t study.  Yes, you may be able to pass and do a fine job. But do you expect you will be able to excel, to stand out from the crowd? All vet students are above average and all interns much more so- if you want to stand out, you have to work, and part of this is studying when you go home or have down time.

I don’t want you to STRIVE to be outstanding or above the crowd- doing so will almost surely set you up for failure.  However, I do want you to be AWARE of what you can do to be a remarkable student/intern/resident. Find the opportunities to do these things as they arise, but don’t force it into situations.  If you had a long, tiring shift and try to force yourself to be energetic, it will come off as false and disingenuous.

These are some of the characteristics of the students whom I notice and for whom I am inclined to write positive letters of recommendation.  What are some other characteristics you believe are important?

Sample Vetducator Corrections for 2019 Letters of Intent

Image by Anne Karakash from Pixabay

I thought I would share with you the way I have worked with students in the past and the sorts of comments I provide.  In general, I try to offer the writer the perspective an evaluator will have. This sometimes comes off as blunt, but I’m trying to genuinely share what goes through my mind.  You can see that I don’t rewrite things, just offer suggestions, so it is still the original author’s work; their work with added editing and expert advice. These are all anonymous and submitted with the author’s permission.

Podcast Episode 9 – Dr. Rachael Kreisler

Dr. Kreisler and I worked together for a couple of years and did a research project and continue to collaborate in research. She is an INTJ like me! She has a fascinating perspective on veterinary medicine as she has wanted to do shelter medicine since before she got to vet school. I’m sure you’ll learn a lot- I certainly did!

Examples of Poor Letters of Intent

The Vetducator- Bad Apple
Photo by Maria Teneva on Unsplash

We have previously given examples of good stories in letters of intent, so I wanted to take the opportunity to show some examples of poor letters of intent.  These examples are from letters which were overall evaluated as “unrankable” for internships, but they apply to any stage of your professional progression. Although the entire letter was given a low value, I wanted to sample the specific segments I think are most illustrative.

“Whether it’s researching alternative therapies for treating an incontinent cat, working a busy ten hour shift in the ER, or consoling an upset client, I really enjoy my work. I am positive, hardworking, determined, organized, and good at working with others. I love to research and think outside the box when it comes to addressing challenging cases. I love working with cats, dogs, and pet exotics. I particularly enjoy emergency medicine, internal medicine, and companion exotic animal medicine.  Being on the verge of completing veterinary school at Unseen University in the top 10% of my class, I want to pursue further study with a one year internship followed by a residency in exotics. I am looking for a rigorous small animal internship in which I can have primary case responsibility, a heavy and varied case load, and the opportunity to continue learning under the guidance of veterinary specialists.”

As an opening paragraph, it is an abrupt start.  A little bit of a lead-in would be nice. It is highly self-promoting: telling the reader how amazing the author is.  They give some indication of what they want, but not why.

“An internship will provide me an opportunity to expand my knowledge base under the guidance of mentors and will continue to grow my veterinary school technical education. It is my desire to be trained by committed and passionate people who are experienced in helping interns to develop a good medical judgment and clinical skills. Likewise* the high volume of clinical cases in specialty practices will assist me to learn and manage multiple cases efficiently. A private practice internship will also enable me to provide optimal care for patients, learn to maximize customer service, and provide opportunities to develop interpersonal relationships with clients.”

What in the world does this entire paragraph tell me?  Of course an internship will help you grow. Everyone wants to be trained by great people.  The high volume is a good detail- I know this person would be a better fit for a busy practice than a slow, cerebral one.  I think ANY job would help you provide optimal care for patients, work on customer service, and work on interpersonal relationships.

“As there is increasing public interest in exotic and nontraditional companion animals* I have exploited every opportunity to continue my education and clinical training with species beyond those routinely presented to the Unseen University Teaching Hospital.  As a zoological and wildlife intern at numerous institutions I was responsible for patient care, heard health, public health, animal husbandry, and patient medical records. Through my direct interactions with chief veterinarians at esteemed zoological institutions I participated in numerous procedures, as listed on my C.V., and attended journal clubs and quality of life meetings.  Professional collaboration was essential in these settings as I discussed patient care and wellbeing with multiple individuals whom were all invested in the same animal, yet possessed differing degrees of medical knowledge. I have knowledge of avian, reptilian and mammalian wildlife, including proper handling and restraint through my experiences caring for these species at the Nature Center and Unseen University Wildlife Ward.”

Let’s analyze each sentence:

1 – Convoluted.  How have you exploited them?  Exploited is not a good word choice.

2 – Misspelling error in ‘heard health’.  Also, how is this different from anyone else?  Of course you’ve done medical records. What do you want, a cookie?

3 – Great, if it’s on your CV, why is it here?  I HAVE your CV, why waste valuable letter space on this?

4 – I can’t even unpack this sentence. “Whom” should be “who”.

5 – Great, you have skills.  I’m not too interested in skills- I can teach you what you need to know.  How are you to WORK with? Based on this, self-promoting and superficial.

* – Missing comma.

I know these applicants were sincere and dedicated and really wanted a position.  I do not want to dismiss their passion. Unfortunately, passion is not enough. They didn’t reach out to mentors and friends for feedback, resulting in relatively poor letters.  I hope you can learn from them, and avoid these missteps.

Effectively Manage the Transition Between Positions

Moving on from one step of your professional life to the next is exciting!  You’re going forward, pursuing your passion, hopefully at an institution you like.  There is invariably down time between positions and there are important Work and Life details you need to take care of.  We are in the middle of a move as I write this, which is both exciting and scary. Here are some suggestions to help you make these transitions less scary, specifically with regards to Time, Housing, Moving, Insurance, and Licenses.

Time

Between undergrad and vet school you have at least a whole summer, between vet school and internship at least a month and possibly more, between internship and residency a couple of weeks or more, and between residency and faculty position as much or as little time as you like.

Between undergrad and vet school, work or travel.  There’s not much point in trying to prepare for vet school- that’s what vet school is for.

Between vet school and internship, travel or, if they’ll have you, stay on at the institution from which you graduated.  I spent an additional 3 weeks after graduation hanging around the surgery service acting as a super senior or a junior intern, depending on your perspective.  It was a great experience and helped prepare me for my role as an intern.

Between internship and residency, study.  The more you know about your discipline before you start, the better off you will be.  Of course, they’ll teach you what you need to know during your program, but the faster you get up to speed, the more you will learn.  I read the Vet Clinics of North America issue on anesthesia as well as Physiology and Pharmacology in Anesthetic Practice and it was tremendously helpful.

Between residency and faculty, travel.  You already know enough to be an entry-level specialist, and you can’t do any meaningful work in the amount of time you have.  You will rarely be so unencumbered as you are once you finish your residency. I have _never_ been able to travel between positions and I wish that I had.

Housing

Once you know where you are going, you need to secure housing.  This can be challenging in some college towns. For example, in Athens, if you didn’t have a place secured by April, you would be getting the scraps, and people who want the best places secure their lease in February.  In contrast, in Phoenix, you can show up whenever and get almost any apartment you want. I encourage you to live within walking distance of the institution if at all possible. If you can also walk to the market and the pub, all the better.  I like using Google Maps, Apartments.com, and Zillow to find places which would be a good fit.

Hopefully the lease of your current place is ending close to when you will be moving.  If you need an extra week or two, you can always ask your landlord. In some place, such as Athens, this will be problematic- almost every lease turns over July 31st- but you can at least ask.  If you need to leave your lease early, notify them as soon as possible and just pay the fee. In the best-case scenario, your current lease ends the day after you pack everything up and move out.

Moving

Use this opportunity to REDUCE YOUR SHIT.  I am really serious about this. I showed up for my residency with two duffel bags and that is it.  When we left Athens, we gave away almost everything in our 2400-square foot house and it was WONDERFUL.  I assure you, your life will be so much better with less stuff. Particularly when you go to an internship- it’s only for a year.  Do you really want to be schlepping all of this stuff all over the country? No. Get rid of it. Donate it to friends, charity, or sell it on Craigslist.  You may NOT rent a storage unit because that is the height of ridiculousness.

Once you have less stuff, your options for moving are: DIY, hire help, or a combination of the two.  I have never heard a story of hiring a company to move things which ends well. So, in general, I would advise not hiring a moving company entirely.  To load your shipping device, you can get friends to help or hire local movers. We have had great success hiring local movers– they are relatively inexpensive, fast, and professional.

For shipping, you can rent your own truck (like a U-Haul and other competitors) or a device which someone else drives (PODS or U-Pack).  After driving a U-Haul for 2000 miles along I-40, I decided my life was worth more than I was saving by driving myself. Plus the gas cost was incredible.  Hiring U-Pack was about the same price as renting a U-Haul for a one-way trip, and was much less stressful.

Insurance

What happens if you get into a car accident when driving to your new home?  What if something catastrophic happens to your stuff in transit? How do you handle renter’s insurance?  Do you have to re-insure your car in your new state?

Let’s start with health insurance.  You should check with your current position about when your coverage ends.  Does coverage end on your last day or the end of the month? In any event, you should have an option to enroll in COBRA, which allows you to extend coverage.  This extension should be enough time to cover you until your next position coverage starts. If you can’t get COBRA, you may need to research individual coverage for the gap time.

Stuff insurance.  Why do you even have this?  Do you own something besides a house or car worth more than $1000?  Why? You already downsized your stuff, so you shouldn’t need insurance for it.  If it all goes up in a fireball, that would be sad but not catastrophic. You can pack any small, expensive items (instruments, computer, guns, etc.) in the car you personally drive.

Renter’s insurance is straight up absurd.  Why the hell should the apartment owners care if we have insurance to cover our very own stuff?  I’m not going to sue them if I get broken into. I wish I could opt out of this, but, unfortunately, in a lot of towns, this is required.  It is relatively inexpensive so, if you need to get it, find the cheapest policy that satisfies the rental company. Alternatively, several times now I have convinced the rental companies that my umbrella liability policy is sufficient.  I strongly recommend umbrella insurance for everyone so, if you have it, you may not need separate renter’s insurance.

Car insurance coverage is generally dependent on the zip code where the car is garaged.  Obviously, the insurance company doesn’t know when you move. But, if you get into an accident, they may make a fuss about it.  I would recommend talking to your insurance company/agent about this when you are researching moving.

Licenses

You will need a license to practice veterinary medicine wherever you go after graduation.  Some states have arrangements where you can get a ‘faculty license’, which has pretty minimal requirements for someone working at a university.  Many places have a single point person to help facilitate this. Figure out the license situation before you leave for your new position.

There are a lot of moving parts involved in moving to a new position.  To keep it simple, follow these rules: reduce your stuff, make a plan ahead of time, don’t leave anything to the last minute.  The sooner you figure things out, the less stressful the actual move will be.

5 Ways to Improve your Application for Internships as a Non-American

At one of my old institutions, I routinely evaluated the international batch of candidates for our internship.  This was usually a pretty sizeable group- between 40 and 50 of 200 applications. Unfortunately for the applicants, it was one of the easiest groups to evaluate.  A short skim of most applications would reveal them to be unacceptable candidates, so a thorough analysis was not needed to determine where they might rank as a candidate.  It’s harsh but true. If you are not from the United States, and you are applying for a veterinary position here, it is a steep uphill battle.* Here are five ways to improve your success.

1) Get some time working for an academic clinical specialist.  Ideally one in the United States, but a well-regarded institution in the English-speaking world or Utrecht is better than nothing.  This is the most important point because it is ESSENTIAL. No one who hasn’t been trained in the U.S. system knows the U. S. system, so any letters of recommendation you get have no bearing on how well you would do in a U. S. internship.  If you have an application with only letters of recommendation from your home country, unless it is the UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, or The Netherlands, you won’t get very far. You need AT LEAST 2 weeks, but 4 weeks is better with a single specialist.  Ideally, all of your letters of recommendation will be from specialists in the U. S.

2) Figure out the visa situation.  This has become more problematic in the current political climate.  Most private practices and many universities simply cannot accept international applicants.  This may be true even if you are from Canada or Mexico. Check with the institution unless they specify it in their program description.  If you can’t get a visa, you can’t get an internship.

3) Have a native speaker proofread your work.  I realize you may be fluent in English, but English is an incredibly ridiculous language.  I have almost never read a letter of intent from a non-native-speaker which was 100% correct.  Even professional editorial services can’t always be trusted unless they are small and personalized and feature native English speakers.

4) Apply shortly after you graduate.  I see a lot of applications from people who graduated 4-5 years ago and since then have a very strange work history.  It may be a normal work history for that country but, from a U. S. perspective, doing a 7-month internship at the school you graduated from and then doing 2 months as a food inspector and then being a small animal clinician and then working for the state is weird.  Most U. S. applicants apply straight out of vet school. You should aim to do the same. If you are reading this too late to make that decision, make your professional progression CLEAR. You did this, THEN this, THEN this. Don’t muddle up your professional responsibilities and jobs.  If you did part-time work, specify this.

5) Get some time working for a veterinary practice in a country with a strong clinical training emphasis in their veterinary education.  We took interns from some European countries which do not have a strong clinical focus and it showed, and we largely stopped taking those applicants.  You need your vet school training to be on par with vet students in the U. S. in order to be competitive. You could also spend time working as a vet in a country where clinical training is emphasized.

Essentially, you need to make your application as close to a senior veterinary student from the United States as possible.  If your application can’t indicate that you are at least as competent as an average new veterinary graduate, it won’t go anywhere.  There are plenty of more qualified applicants.

*This generally does not apply to those in Canada, the UK, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand, although you still need to look at the visa situation.