Category Archives: Resident Applicant

Doing the Best Phone Interview

The Vetducator - Michael Scott from The office talks on the phone.  Don't do it like him.

By The Pharmducator

The last time I did a phone interview I was a senior vet student applying for internships.  Therefore, I do not have the experience with this format that I do with any other. However, my significant other has been interviewing like a fiend for the past 6 months and has done numerous phone interviews.  I have called her in to offer her experience and expertise to give you, our reader, the best information available.

This is the Pharmducator. Which is my way of saying that I’m The Vetducator’s spouse and my field of expertise is pharmacy, not vet med. I was asked me to write this post because he has very little experience with phone interviews, whereas I have been interviewed by phone many times during my one-year (in total) full time job search experience.

In reading this post, it’s important to understand that I HATE speaking on the telephone. I can’t tell you exactly why, but texting/emailing/in-person conversations have always been my vast preference for communication. However, when your entire job is to find a job (or internship/residency/vet school acceptance), you put up with a lot of anxieties.  Here’s what my experiences have taught me about phone interviews:

Environment: In a lot of ways, phone interviews can be easier than video interviews. You can do them in your pajamas, without removing all of your questionable artwork from the walls, in any kind of lighting set-up. You should, however, plan to be in as quiet a space as possible. If I’m at home, I’ll usually do a phone interview in my bedroom with the door closed so the cats won’t decide that they need attention halfway through my conversation. If you schedule a time during work or school, find a similarly private space. I shared an office for my most recent position, so I couldn’t guarantee I would be alone for my interview. I wound up in my lab, since I knew no one would need that space during my scheduled time. Obviously, you should make sure your phone is fully charged or can be connected to your charger if necessary. I wouldn’t recommend using speakerphone, as the sound quality is often quite poor. If you have access to a good-quality landline, that may be your best bet.

Preparation: Phone interviews typically last around half-an-hour; I’ve only done one or two that lasted close to an hour. The institution may have a hard-and-fast time limit; that is, it’s possible your time is absolutely up once that 30 minutes elapses. Some may allow for more time, but be prepared to be concise in your questions as well as your answers. Sometimes the sound quality on the other end may be compromised, so get used to the idea that you may need to ask people to repeat themselves. If you’re provided with the names of the people who will be on the call, research them ahead of time and tailor your questions or answers accordingly.

Format: Phone interviews are usually part of the screening process for candidates. The institution usually has some set questions, either from the individuals on the call or mandated by the institution. This is why it’s important to be concise in your answers; your caller(s) may have to ask you these exact eight questions, and, if you spend five minutes on each answer, the callers may be late for their next interview or class, or you may not be asked the question that’s going to prove you’re the best candidate on their list. Listen carefully to what you’re told regarding the format and be mindful of the time you have.

Aside from that, all the same preparation rules for interviews apply: look up the institution, know as much as possible about the position, and have questions prepared. Post in the comments if you have questions that I haven’t covered here!

Should you do a Residency?

The Vetducator - deciding on doing a residency.
Photo by Paola Chaaya on Unsplash

The residency is the path to specialization.  There are a handful of veterinary specialties you can earn without a residency, but, for the vast majority, a 2-4 year residency is the only path to specialization.  So, really, the question of doing a residency is: Should you be a specialist? Obviously this is a question you need to answer for yourself, but here are some considerations which may help.

Timing.  There are many paths to being a specialist, but the most common is straight from vet school to residency (pathology, lab animal medicine specialties), or from internship to residency (for most others).  Some people may be tempted to go into practice first, and then go to a residency. While possible (and even successful for some specialties- like radiology), read the post about taking time off before deciding on this path- it will be harder than a more traditional path.

Salary.  Most, but not all, specialists make more, sometimes considerably more, than general practitioners.  If you have chronic health issues or family obligations, you may be able to take care of them more easily as a specialist.  Otherwise, the salary shouldn’t factor into your decision-making.

Academia.  Although some universities are figuring out they should hire general practice vets to train general practice-bound students, the vast, vast majority of faculty are still specialists.  If you want to go into academic veterinary medicine, becoming a specialist is really your best bet. And academia is pretty great!

Expertise.  In a study we did interviewing senior veterinary students, those interested in specializing expressed the desire to be considered experts and sought after for their knowledge.  As a general practitioner, you become more knowledgeable and proficient in a wide variety of domains. As a specialist, you become an expert in a single field. Both can be intellectually rewarding, but if you want the social status that comes with being The Expert, becoming a specialist is an easy path to that regard.

Time.  Do you want to spend 2-4 more years of your life on your education?  Or do you need to get on with things? This depends on your own life situation, probably largely determined by your family life.  Along with this is the reduced income you will have as a resident relative to entering general practice. This is only relevant during the residency, though, as your salary will be much higher once you are done.

Flexibility.  As a specialist, there will be fewer places in the country you can work.  General practitioners are needed even in very small towns, but Americus, GA, does not need a board-certified veterinary surgeon.  In general, as a specialist, you will work at a university or in a private practice in at least a small city.

Dedication.  As a resident you will work long hours for little thanks and little pay.  Can you suffer through that? Are you OK being treated as a minion for more time in your life?  It is physically and psychologically tiring, so you have to be dedicated to the pursuit or you will be miserable.

There are a lot of great reasons to do a residency, but it is not without cost, and it is absolutely not for everyone.  Talk to your friends, your family, and your mentors. It’s a difficult, but important, decision.

How to Successfully Seek Assistance

The Vetducator - Be smart enough to know when you need help and brave enough to ask for it.

Do you have a hard time asking for help?  Talking to people? There are a lot of veterinary professionals out there who have a hard time with both of these.  Veterinarians are notoriously self-reliant and independent. Imagine the early days with the lone vet out there on house calls- you didn’t have a cell phone to call for a consult, you had to Figure It Out.  It’s built into the very bones of our profession. I think this must be why I see so many applications and interviews where the individual clearly didn’t ask for help, and it reflects in their work. Faculty are easy resources- they are being paid to teach you, after all.  You must ask for help. We’ll see why and how in this post.

Why you need help

1) This is a high-stakes event.  If you are applying to vet school, internships, or residencies, there are MANY others also applying for these positions.  At UGA we would routinely have 200 applicants for six intern positions, and I heard from a friend this year they had 190 applicants for a one surgery residency position.  You need the best possible application and interview in order to stand out from the crowd and secure a position.

2) You are not an expert at career progression through veterinary academia.  Heck, you’re barely a novice. It would be like someone with no training getting into a boxing ring- you’re going to get hurt.  You haven’t been through this process, so you don’t have the experience. You haven’t mentored others, so you don’t have the perspective.  Mentors and even peers can provide this experience and perspective.

3) I have evidence you need help.  I read materials all the time and think, “Did they even show this to their mother?!?”  Simple typos, bizarre sentences, odd flows of logic- all of these would be identified and helped by an outside observer.  Many applicants could dramatically improve their application and interview skills by working with mentors.

How to ask for help

First of all, don’t just limit your editors to faculty with whom you have had a long-standing relationship.  If they have supervised you on a clinical rotation, or even in a didactic course, you can ask for their help.  It’s possible you won’t get a response or will get a ‘no’, but remember: most faculty are there because of the students.  They WANT to help you, you just have to ask!

1) Ask in person.  This is usually whenever you see or interact with the faculty member.  You can also swing by their office. It’s not hard, just say, “Hey Dr. X, I’m applying for ThisKindOfPosition, would you be able and willing to give me some help with my application?”  That’s it! So simple! As always, if you get a ‘yes’, follow up with email.

2) Ask by email.  This requires less timing to figure out- you can send it at any time.  It is slightly less personal, though. Particularly if you don’t have a strong relationship with your mentor, email may be a little too impersonal.  They may not remember working with you and you may get somewhat tepid assistance if they don’t know you well. If you choose to email, take a similar tack to in-person: a short email along the lines of, “Hello Dr. X, I am applying for ThisKindOfPosition this <timeframe> and was wondering if you would be able and willing to provide advice on the process and look over my materials?  Any help you can give would be appreciated. Please let me know what you think. Thank you so much!”

Now you know why and how.  Go out there and get help! What obstacles do you experience in seeking out help with your career?

Making the Most of a Residency Interview

The Vetducator - residency interview image.

Your application is compelling enough for a program to spend the time interviewing you- congratulations!  Many residency programs conduct interviews, and it can be a significant variable in the decision making. Sometimes these are by phone, sometimes by video, and sometimes in person.  Obviously, you should follow the general guidelines for each of those interview types as well as prepare so you can present your best self. More specifically, here’s how to make the most of your residency interview experience.

This is not only a chance for them to learn about you but for you to learn about them.  If you get matched for a program but will be miserable, you may not finish. Every year there are residents who drop out of their long-dreamed-of specialty because the program wasn’t a good fit for them.  You need to make sure this is somewhere you can be happy for three or four years. Here are some questions to ask the program directors or existing residents to help you decide:

Both program directors and existing residents:

  • What’s it like to live here?  What do you like about it? What do you dislike about it?
  • What are the students/interns like?  What are the interaction with them and the residents?
  • What are the responsibilities of the residents?  Do they do general ER duties or call or only do specialty emergency duties?
  • What is the interaction with other specialties like?
  • What is the strategy for ensuring residents successfully complete a research project?  Are there opportunities to do more than the required project?
  • Are there opportunities or requirements to teach in lab or classroom or rounds room?  What kind of support is available to help nurture resident teaching skills?
  • If you could change anything about the program, what would it be?

Program directors:

  • What do you do to ensure resident success?
  • What are the plans for program improvements?
  • What have you learned from previous residents that has caused you to change the program?

Existing residents:

  • What have been your challenges with this program?  What did you like about it?
  • Would you have chosen this program if you knew then what you knew now?
  • What would you change about this program?

Asking incisive questions will ensure that the program knows you are serious and engaged.  What else can you do to impress them during your short interview time? Remember, their goal is to determine if you will be successful in their program.  You want to assure them you are competent, dedicated, and enthusiastic.

You need to have examples from your experience that demonstrate your best characteristics.  Are you willing to come in odd hours- tell a story during your clinical year or internship when you did and had a great time.  One of my best days in vet school was 22 hours long and started with a hemilaminectomy and ended with a GDV. The resident on duty said excitedly, “Well, what else would we be doing on a Friday night?” and I was in enthusiastic agreement.  Just saying, “Yes I work hard and I would love to be your resident” is not enough. Demonstrate you have those characteristics with stories.

Each residency program is different, but characteristics that are generally looked for include (in no particular order): curiosity, willingness to work hard and long hours (no laziness or cutting corners), detail oriented, compassionate, humble, teachable and willing to accept and use feedback/criticism, able to handle setbacks, good at managing stress, pleasant to work with/positive, ethical, good critical thinking skills, knowledgeable, effective at communication, enthusiastic, dedicated, and cooperative and helpful.

The residency interview is a difficult experience to navigate.  You need to get information to make sure you would be happy there while assuring them you would be happy there and a great catch for them in a very short amount of time.  Have a plan ahead of time. If you fumble asking questions or coming up with examples of how you’re awesome, you’re sunk. It’s a fairly high stakes experience. You spent undergrad, vet school, and maybe an internship to get here.  You can’t just hope it will work out. You must prepare.

Make Sure You Have What you Need for the On-Site Interview

Traveling is harrowing under the best of circumstances.  You may get lost, you may have flight troubles, your baggage may not make it.  This is compounded when you are traveling for an interview. Will you be well rested enough, prepared enough, and avoid getting run-down?  Some of these things you can’t control. One thing you CAN control is packing correctly. The best resource for this is a checklist.

Checklists are becoming more popular in human medicine and, trailing behind as always, in veterinary medicine.  We did a study documenting that addition of some checklist steps dramatically reduced adverse anesthesia incidents.  Checklists are effective because human brains are actually terrible at retaining 100% of the information they should retain.  This is doubly true if it is an event you rarely encounter. Traveling for an interview is probably not something you do every month, so creating a checklist is key.  Here are some suggestions:

  • Toiletries.  Although most good hotels will have the essentials, you certainly have your own things you need to bring.  On my list is a hairbrush, deodorant, toothbrush, toothpaste, razor.
  • Clothing.  Obviously you need a suit if you are doing an interview.  Make sure it is folded to minimize creases. When you arrive at your destination, hang your suit up first thing.  You may need to iron it or your shirt/blouse. On my list are undershirts, shirts, underwear, socks, pants, pajamas, tie, dress shoes.
  • Electronics.  It is one of the most frustrating experiences to get to a destination and realize you don’t have your laptop charging cord.  On my list is a phone, phone charger, power adapter, laptop.
  • Miscellaneous.  This obviously includes a wide range of items, but for me includes books and headphones.
  • International.  If you are traveling internationally, you need a separate section for this.  Hopefully you know the visa situation before you pack. On my list are passport and foreign currency.

I travel a lot, but you would not believe the number of times I have been saved by having my checklist.  Ease some of the burdens on your mind in an interview by automating the packing part of the travel. Make up a checklist ahead of time, and then you have no worries packing!  Do you use a checklist? Have you ever forgotten something critical for an interview? Share in the comments!

The Vetducator Podcast- Dr. Diehl

Podcast Episode 5 – Dr. Katie Diehl

Dr. Diehl and I worked together at the same institution and enjoyed discussing and engaging in research. Since I left, we have continued to work together and have some great collaborations. Dr. Diehl talks about the unique circumstances of finding and obtaining an ophthalmology residency as well as what she looks for in candidates and how she likes to help students be successful.

Choosing Letters of Recommendation for a Residency

The Vetducator - letters of recommendation series image.

The letters of recommendation for a residency are key.  These people will hopefully not only write you a letter but advocate for you in the residency selection process.  Fortunately, the strategy for this letter is simpler than the strategy for letters of recommendation for an internship.  I really have only two guidelines:

1) All of your letters should be from someone in the specialty to which you are applying unless it violates (2).

2) At least one of your letters MUST be from where you are currently working.  If you are doing an internship, all of your letters can’t be from your student days.  If you are doing a specialty internship, all of your letters can’t be from your student or rotating intern days.

My recommendation is therefore as follows:

At least 1 letter from a specialist in the field at your current institution.  The more the better.

If you do not have a specialist in your field at your current institution, get a recommendation from someone in a core discipline (internal medicine, surgery, emergency/critical care).

The balance of letters can be from specialists not at your current institution.

The reason you need a letter of recommendation from someone at your current institution, even if they are not in your specialty, is to demonstrate that you are not a monster.  If I were to read an application from someone from a private practice internship- which did not have an anesthesiologist- and they had 4 letters of recommendation from anesthesiologists from where they went to school, I would wonder, “Did they peak in vet school?  Is there NO ONE working with them now who can vouch for their medical competence? Anesthesia includes knowledge of information from all kinds of disciplines- if they can’t do basic medicine, will they be a competent anesthesiologist?”

In general, more letters from people in your specialty is good.  If you have your choice of specialists, those more well-known or connected may be slightly preferable.  But a great letter from just any surgeon is probably better than an OK letter from a renowned surgeon. If at all possible, those writing for you should already be boarded and have a lot of experience writing letters of recommendation. If this is not possible, unboarded people in your specialty will have to do.

Recommendation Letters Series

The Vetducator - interconnectedness image for recommendations.

Asking for letters of recommendation is hard, which we have discussed before. In addition, from whom should you get letters of recommendation? This differs depending on what position you are applying for, I have create four separate posts for each of my audiences:

Those applying for vet school.

Those applying for internships.

Those applying for residencies.

Those applying for faculty positions.

I will be posting one a day this week to have them consolidated all in one spot. I hope they are helpful to you!

Using Statistics to Decide Your Future

I wanted to be a surgeon.  Specifically, I loved orthopedic surgery.  I wanted to just fix something and not manage a chronic illness for years like internal medicine does.  It was not to be for me, though, and my life turned out grand. I have reviewed applications from people who have done THREE specialty surgery internships, and it makes me sad because they seem to be throwing themselves at an impenetrable wall.  Obviously, you can’t choose what you want to do for the rest of your life based purely on numbers, but let’s start by looking at the numbers.

For the 2018 Match, the specialties with the worst match rate (i.e. most competitive) that routinely participate in the match were exotic/wildlife (2.9%), zoo med (6.6%), and avian medicine (10%).  You would not believe the number of vet student applicants who have told me their life long dream is to be a zoo vet. I feel so bad for them. Their dreams will almost surely be crushed. If you plan to do zoo med, you need a backup plan.

The specialties with the best match rate were lab animal, emergency/critical care, and anesthesia.  Lab animal often pays quite well and allows you to do diverse interesting things. E/CC can be challenging and complex, but be sure to review the specialty board pass rate for the institution- some of them do not train their residents very well.  Anesthesia, of course, is great- you don’t have to talk to crazy clients or haggle over money with clients and you can do small animal, large animal, or both.

Small animal surgery is actually higher than I thought- 20%!  I have heard some programs receive 190 applications for one small animal surgery position.  But the overall statistics don’t seem terrible for small animal surgery.

Obviously, the match rate includes _every_ applicant, even those who are clearly not viable candidates.  So your odds are probably much better, assuming you are reasonably competent and pleasant to work with. You may be able to improve your odds by having a great application packet and doing an interview well, with which this blog will help you.

So what to do with this information?  Well, I would suggest analyzing your future career considering the statistics.  Are you SURE the only thing you could be happy doing would be surgery or zoo med?  A lot of other clinical specialties offer a similar quality of life, intellectual challenge, and freedom.  

The evidence indicates that people can be happy leading life one of three ways – seeking pleasure, doing your best work, or helping others.  You can do your best work doing a lot of different things in veterinary medicine.  If you don’t match the first time for a residency, maybe re-examine your future and consider other alternatives before you waste years of your life pursuing an impossible dream.

Please Use Commas

I was reading some residency application letters and my head was almost exploding.  Everyone has their “thing”, and maybe I have more than most, but I am passionate about appropriate comma placement.  I wouldn’t sink an application for poor comma use, but it just grates on me, and why would you want to irritate the people who may make your professional dreams come true?  I am not a grammar nut and this is not meant to be an exhaustive list of rules- those you can find elsewhere.  

The most common error I see in letters of application is not using the comma as a pause.  The most bothersome absent comma is the one needed to create an appropriate rhythm to the sentence.  Here are some examples. Say the one without the comma out loud. When you say that sentence, isn’t there a natural pause?  That pause is where a comma goes.

No commaAppropriate comma
As a student I worked with a faculty on a special project.As a student, I worked with a faculty on a special project
No I didn’t realize that trip would change my life.No, I didn’t realize that trip would change my life.
I did some research and did a RAVS trip.I did some research, and did a RAVS trip.
When I did an externship in Costa Rica I experienced the connection between people animals and the environment.When I did an externship in Costa Rica, I experienced the connection between people, animals, and the environment.
When I saw my first case a 5-year-old GSD I realized this was real.When I saw my first case, a 5-year-old GSD, I realized this was real.
Fortunately I was able to work with great mentors.Fortunately, I was able to work with great mentors.

I could go on.  My point is you should pay attention to this.  It doesn’t mean you’re a monster, but it does make me question your attention to detail.  If your letter of intent has these kinds of simple flaws, will you have the attention to detail needed for good records or research?  Be detail-oriented in your written materials. And please, PLEASE have other people read and edit your letters!