How to Choose Your Internship

The Vetducator- screen shot of the VIRMP matching program website.

Where you go to vet school does not substantively affect your internship prospects, but the institution where you do your internship may affect your future residency prospects.  Selecting the most appropriate internship position is particularly important for those bound for residencies. For those bound for private practice, the primary goal is to avoid a bad internship.  Internship programs change in quality over time, so there is not a reliable database of bad internships. These are some variables you should keep in mind as you consider your future.

First, I am very evidence-motivated and fact-oriented, so I made a table.  This table had each program as a row, and column headings for important variables, some of which are listed below.

Specialties. If you want to do an ophtho residency, of course you have to go somewhere which has ophthalmologists. Otherwise, you want to have surgery and internal medicine at a bare minimum. This is because you usually need someone within your discipline to write at least one of your letters of recommendation for a residency.

Number of interns. If you are one of two interns, you may not have as many opportunities for collaboration and support in the program. If you are part of a 28-intern mob, you may become just another faceless, poorly-paid doctor. Decide where you want to fall in this spectrum.

Amount of emergency work. Every intern’s salary is justified by the ER work they do. Some programs provide good backup for their interns on ER so that they learn quite a lot. Some leave them to sink or swim. The more time you spend on ER seeing cases, the less time you may have with specialists who are focused on teaching you. Be cautious of anything over 25% ER time.

Cost of living/Salary. Most interns get paid poorly, but being paid poorly in Athens, GA is different than being paid poorly in Philadelphia, PA. In Athens, you can get a decent duplex in a safe part of town. In Philadelphia, you’ll probably be longing for those self-defense courses you took in undergrad.

Reputation. This is only relevant if you are interested in a residency. In general, academic internships have a better reputation, mostly because their faculty are “plugged in” to the post-grad system and know people at other institutions. The reputation is not necessarily related to the actual quality of the program. If you get an internship in a small private practice with one surgeon and one internist, it may be harder to get a residency than if you get an internship at, say, the University of Tennessee.

Geography. Most people I know ignore geography, and it’s understandable as to why. It’s only a year- you can dig yourself out of snow every day for that short amount of time. For a rare few, this is an important variable. For most people, though, geography is (and should be) irrelevant.

Identifying an actively bad program is a different decision tree, and requires personal contacts at a large array of institutions.  Assuming most programs aren’t bad, the characteristics listed here are the ones I think are most useful in deciding where to go. What are other variables you think are important in internship program selection?

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