Vet school is difficult. By the end of four years, many people just Want Out. They want to start making money, they want to have their freedom, they don’t want to be away from their family at all hours of the day. Others want to learn more. They want to become excellent clinicians, they want to push their knowledge, and they want to focus their knowledge. Both paths are fine. You have to know yourself to decide if you should do an internship or not.
First, ask yourself how prepared you feel as a general practice clinician. Most veterinary schools are excellent at training specialists. They have tertiary care hospitals where specialists see strange cases which are good practice material for residents. This is not a good setting for training general practitioners. As a GP, you need to know how to handle common situations, not zebras. If you arranged your senior year so that you had plenty of opportunities for primary care experience, you may be ready to practice. I believe most students graduating from most programs would benefit from further training.
Second, can you afford an internship? There are opportunity costs because you will be making less than you would in practice. The actual salary is usually quite low, and supporting a family on one may be difficult. You are also delaying saving for retirement.
Finally, and, most importantly, what do you want out of your professional career? In a recent study we did, we interviewed senior students who were planning to enter an internship or enter private practice. Those pursuing an internship were more interested in competence- getting better at being a clinician. Those pursuing private practice were more interested in autonomy- getting to decide how they spend their time and money. Sit with yourself and contemplate which you want from your life.
Before I left one institution, I told students they should all do internships, because there was so much more they needed to learn to be competent practitioners. After working at another institution, I have seen a model which prepares students well for general practice, and I believe students graduating from some programs may be competent at the time of graduation. Don’t assume your first position will train you properly. Every new graduate goes to a practice which promises “great mentoring”. Maybe most of them get it, but we have all heard horror stories of starting a new job and the boss hands you the keys and takes off for Hawaii. There are bad internship programs, too, so doing an internship is no guarantee of great mentoring. But, in general, you are more likely to get great mentoring from an internship than most private practices.
Although it is not strictly true, it is generally true that, once you are ‘out’ of academia, it is harder to get back in. As with all major career decisions, talk to friends and family and mentors. Share in the comments what has factored in to your decision-making with regards to internship vs. private practice.