Tag Archives: application

Mastering the Internship Application Timeline

The process to make your application most competitive for an internship starts long before your senior year.  Each step along the way is important, and poor decisions can make it progressively harder to be an excellent candidate.  Here is a timeline to help you be the best internship applicant you can be.

First Year – Get involved in at least one vet school club.  Work hard so you are a shoo-in for an officer position next year.

First Summer – Participate in a summer research scholars program or equivalent professional experience.  This does not mean going back to the clinic you worked at growing up. That does not add to your CV.

Second Year – Be a leader in your club(s).  Now that you have the hang of vet school, make sure you have at least one extracurricular activity you could put on your CV in addition to the club responsibility.

Second Summer – If you didn’t do a summer research program last year, do one this year.  If you already did one, try to get some professional-adjacent experience, ideally overseas or with under-served and/or marginalized and/or low SES populations.

Choosing Rotations – This may happen in your second or third year.  See the post on maximizing your senior year for internship success when choosing rotations.

Third Year – Study study, pay attention, show up, and do the work.  These classes are often the most clinically applicable. If you can get a handle on the material now, you will be a more competent senior student.  If possible, wrap up any lingering projects from earlier in vet school- you may not have time during senior year.

Fourth Year – At the start of each rotation, let the faculty know you are interested in an internship.  If you did well, at the end of the rotation, ask if they would be willing to write a good letter of recommendation for you.

  • September – Begin working on your letter of intent and CV.  You want lots of input from mentors and friends on this- give them time to give it to you.  Begin to research prospective programs.
  • October – You should have most of your letters of recommendation requested by now.  If you have a rotation in November, you may wait for one of them. If you didn’t ask your potential letter writer at the end of the rotation, ask them now.  Do not wait. Your letter of intent and CV should be in near final form.
  • November – Make the last tweaks on your letter of intent and CV.  All of your letters of recommendation should have been requested by now.  Narrow down your list of programs to which you want to apply and rank.
  • December – Match applications are due.  After submission, some programs may want to do phone or video or even in-person interviews.
  • January – Your rank order is due and the programs submit their rank order later in the month.
  • February – Match results come out!  The Scramble happens in the event you didn’t match.  Hopefully, you have a position now and can cruise until graduation.

If you aren’t sure if you want to do an internship, that is just fine.  I advise any students who are on the fence to proceed as if they will apply for an internship.  If they decide not to, no worries. But if they did not prepare and decide they do want to apply later, it can be an uphill battle.  Start early and be prepared. Have any questions about how to prepare? Post in the comments!

Dr. Coretta Patterson Vetducator Podcast Image

Podcast Episode 4 – Dr. Coretta Patterson

Dr. Patterson was my supervisor at one of my academic positions, and she was a very inspiring, positive, wonderful boss. She has a massive wealth of experience in academic veterinary medicine and mentoring students and faculty. She is compassionate and will also tell you what you Need To Hear in a positive way to make you a better veterinarian. Dr. Patterson talks about raising a family during training, how to progress successfully through an academic career, and what is great about internal medicine.

Links to topics brought up in this episode:

What to Get Out of Doing Research Work as an Undergrad

There is No Ideal Applicant

Words of Caution for the Aspiring Vet Student

What to Get Out of Doing Research Work as an Undergrad

You want to go to vet school, you want to maximize your chances, and doing research may help your application.  It isn’t the research, per se, which will help. It is the relationships- mostly with your mentor- and the demonstration of grit that doing research highlights.

Participating in research while an undergrad is a wonderful activity.  You get exposed to the process of scientific inquiry, and maybe that becomes exciting for you.  You get to work one-on-one with a faculty member who can write an excellent letter of recommendation. And you get to demonstrate your willingness to stick to a project to the end- an essential characteristic of any vet student.  Let’s break them down.

1) You get exposed to research.  Hey, you know what? Vet school isn’t for everyone.  Maybe you would be equally fulfilled doing a PhD in biochemistry, and avoiding the mountain of student debt that awaits veterinarians.  Maybe you enjoy doing research but still want to be a vet- so maybe academia would be a good fit for you. Maybe you have a bad experience and decide research sucks.  In any event, getting exposure to this essential domain of veterinary medicine will benefit you.

2) Develop relationships.  I have written countless letters of recommendation for my research students.  Some of them said, “Yeah, this person is fine” and some of them said, “OMG you must take this person they are the best thing since sliced bread!”  Obviously you want to be in the latter group, and working closely with a faculty member can set you up for an excellent letter of recommendation. When you decide to pursue research, make sure you aren’t working for a postdoc; you want the faculty to write you an excellent letter of recommendation.

3) Grit.  Completing a research project- even if you are a cog in the wheel of some post-doc’s 5-year project- demonstrates some level of grit.  I have had students who flamed out after a semester, having never started data collection. I have had others who have two peer-reviewed journal publications to their name.  Which do you think is a better vet school candidate? Finishing a project demonstrates that you can see a project through, which is incredibly important in vet school.

Not everyone should do research during their undergrad years.  If you are struggling academically, you need to double down on your core courses and not get sucked into a 15-hour-a-week research project.  If you’re not intellectually curious, or just want to do the bare minimum, avoid research, because your mentors will expect you to be curious and perform.  If you just want a line on your CV but don’t care about the work, please don’t burden some beleaguered faculty with your poor attitude.

If you can do research during your undergrad time, do so.  You will find out important things about yourself and maybe buff up your application.  You may develop relationships with mentors who will propel your career. Most of all, you will find out if something academic or research-oriented is a path in which you are interested.  And from there the sky’s the limit.

How to Create the Best Vet School Application CV

The Vetducator - CV image for vet school.

The vet school application CV is not a tremendous make-or-break piece of the application.  The bar is set pretty low- you’ve probably never made a CV before, and evaluators understand that.  However, if you do make a great-looking CV, it may get slightly more notice. That slight notice may be enough to bump your application into the ‘accept’ pile.  So it is worth spending some time on. Here are some guidelines which will help your CV pop.

There is no page limit. CVs do not have a page limit.  Many vet school applicants don’t understand the difference between a resume (which should be 1-2 pages) and a CV (which can be infinite) and try to cram everything on to one page.  Use some white space, include more details. The CV is an exhaustive description of every work-related thing you have done.

Judicious job descriptions.  In veterinary medicine, we generally do not include job descriptions.  I know what a technician or an animal assistant or a kennel worker does.  However, in undergrad you may have pursued some out-of-discipline activities which are valuable experiences.  For example, I don’t really know what a home healthcare provider does. In these cases, you can include a SHORT description of responsibilities.

Reverse chronological order.  Start with the most recent activities in each heading first, then work your way towards older things.  Make sure the formatting is consistent. If you have dates on the left hand for your education, use dates on the left hand throughout.

Emphasize important points.   If you have an important role in a club, like President, highlight that with italics or bold or underline or set it apart somehow.  You want to bring attention to important information. Don’t overuse this, though, or the CV will be too cluttered and difficult to track.

Order according to importance.  For vet school applicants, this will be education, experience, awards, clubs, and references.  You may also have sections for research/publications and teaching. If you have research or teaching experience- even if it is outside the domain of veterinary medicine or even academia- include it.  If you taught ballet in your high school years for 5 years, that reflects a level of maturity and responsibility, which are key qualities for a good veterinarian.

Include extracurricular activities.  For vet school applicants, I think this section is particularly important.  All of the applicants are smart, but a good veterinarian needs good communication skills.  Did you hole up in your apartment and study constantly? You may not be the best vet school material.  Demonstrate that you can relate to other human beings.

Keep it clean.  Use lots of white space.  Use clear section headings.  I use a template from Word and recommend you browse through some templates to find one you like.  Keep the dates clearly separate from the text. Examples below.

Less Clean:

2018        President, Campus Campaign to Reduce Waste in Dining Halls

Dr. Jo Smith, Veterinarian, 1033 This Place Rd, Columbus OH 43035
Dr. Harry Applegate, Owner, Best Friends Vet Clinic, Tempe AZ 85284


2018        President, Campus Campaign to Reduce Waste in Dining Halls


Dr. Jo Smith
1033 This Place Rd
Columbus, OH 43035

Dr. Harry Applegate
Best Friends Vet Clinic
Tempe, AZ 85284

Just having a nicely formatted, thorough, and easy to ready CV will not guarantee you a spot in vet school.  However, if you have qualifications identical to another applicant, and your CV looks like you have spent time on it and made it look as professional as possible, and the other applicant just slapped together a CV without doing any research, which do you think the evaluators will choose?  Me, too.

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!


Podcast Episode 2 – Dr. Stephanie Shaver


Dr. Shaver and I go way back to when she was an intern and we wrote a short paper published in JAVMA together. We got to work together for a couple of years recently and started a bajillion research projects as we think a lot alike. She was generous enough to offer to be our first veterinarian interviewed for the blog. Enjoy!

Links to topics brought up in this episode:

Maximize Your Senior Year for Internship Success

There is No Ideal Applicant

How to Ask for a Letter of Recommendation

The Vetducator - mentor growing pupil.

You would think this would be simple.  You need a letter of recommendation. You contact someone you think could write one for you.  You ask them to do so. Job done, right? For some reason, I continue to encounter students who do not do a good job with this step. Those students need help, and I am here to give it to you.

The academic career system is predicated on other academics vouching for you.  This process ensures that someone familiar with the position’s demands and your abilities can evaluate your preparedness for the position.  They then write an analysis of your preparedness in a letter of recommendation. Letters are ubiquitous and are variably important, depending on the position to which you are applying.  We will cover elsewhere who you approach to write for you. Here we will discuss how to approach a potential letter writer.

Once you have identified who you want to contact, you have three options: email, phone call, in person.  In all cases, the specific phrase you need to use is, “Would you be willing to write me a GOOD letter of recommendation?”  The good is important. It is often implied, but you need to make it explicit. Otherwise, you may end up with someone writing you a letter of recommendation which is not good.  It is possible even if you ask them to write a good letter that they will not. But most academics are professionals, and if they feel they cannot write you a good letter when asked explicitly, they will tell you. You have three options for initiating this request:

Email.  This is the easiest, lowest-stakes, and generally preferred method.  You have time to compose your message and consider how you want to phrase your request.  In general, you should open with the position to which you want to apply. If you have not been in contact with the person for a year or two, you may mention your current position or your interest in the new position.  The only reason not to use email is when you have an individual whom you know who does not rapidly (or ever) respond to email. Then you may need to resort to other means.

Phone Call.  This requires some preparation and timing can be problematic.  You need to reach them when they are available to listen to your spiel and are not distracted.  After the usual opening pleasantries, you can ask, “Is now a good time to chat?” If not, you may ask about a time to schedule a call.  You should have a plan for what you want to say. If it has been a while since you have been in contact, you should chit-chat about your current status and ask how things have been for them.  You can then make your request.

In Person.  This is usually done with individuals you see regularly and it is just as easy to ask in person as it is in email.  Usually you won’t need much of a lead-up, but asking, “Can I ask you something?” is a decent opener. As with other steps, explain what you are applying for and then make your ask.

For phone calls and in person asks, ALWAYS FOLLOW UP WITH EMAIL.  Send them an email reminder of your request. After you receive a “yes”, regardless of contact, make sure to send a follow up reminder a couple of weeks before the due date.  Reasonable people will find this helpful and not irritating.

What if you get a “no” response?  That’s fine, it’s better to know before they send off an unflattering letter!  Thank them and, if appropriate, you may ask their advice for whom else you could ask.  Hopefully they will give you some constructive advice and, if not, you haven’t lost anything.

Most professionals who are willing to write letters of recommendation are not scary.  It should not be an anxiety-inducing experience to ask for a letter from someone with whom you have worked.  Most professionals will be flattered. Try to be realistic about it. What’s the worst they can say? “No”, and then you know they would not be a good writer!  It’s a win-win. Be bold and respectful and everything will be fine.

Making the Best Intern/Resident CV

The Vetducator - VIRMP intern matching statistics.

The curriculum vitae is not hard to do well, and it performs an enormous job.  It has to be organized, clear, detailed, and help create a narrative of what you have done.  There is no one right way to do a CV, but here are some guidelines which will help.

There is no page limit.  Unlike resumes, which should be 1-2 pages, CVs have no page limit.  Obviously, you shouldn’t pad your CV with unnecessary or irrelevant information, but don’t worry about cutting blank space to smoosh it onto a page or two.  Let it be expansive.

No job descriptions.  This is veterinary medicine.  I know what a technician does, I know what a rotating small animal intern does.  I know what RAVS is and what it means to be a club member or a president or a founding president.  Unless it is fairly out of the box for veterinary medicine, we don’t do job descriptions.

Reverse chronological order.  None of this narrative CV nonsense.  Make sure the formatting is consistent.  If you have dates on the left hand for your education, use dates on the left hand throughout.

Emphasize important points.  My name is underlined in all of my publications so it is easy to spot in an author order.  If you have an important role in a club, like President, highlight that with italics or bold or underline or set it apart somehow.  Imagine reading one hundred CVs. It’s easy to let your eye blur over them. Make sure there is something to bring attention to important information.  Be careful not to overuse this, as then it can make the CV look too confusing and all-over-the-place.

Structure according to importance.  Generally, this will be education, experience, research/publications, teaching, awards, associations, miscellaneous, and references.  There are a lot of different sections you can have, but for internship/residency applicants, these are the most common. I recommend putting education and experience in one, so that it is easy to track what you have done from undergrad matriculation through to your current position.

Include extracurricular activities.  Opinions may differ, but I like to know an applicant has a life other than school.  Particularly if you have some kind of leadership or teaching role in your extracurriculars, this can illustrate that skill set.

Remember that academia is about teaching, research, and service.  If you have capabilities in any of these areas, make sure they make it onto the CV.  If you have research, the general order of importance is: first author publication, second or last author publication, any-other-order author publication, manuscript accepted, manuscript submitted, research in progress.  Many many applicants have research in progress which never evolves to a submission. If at all possible, I strongly encourage you to structure your research pursuits to produce a submitted paper by December.

You should be thorough, clear, and make sure the appearance is clean.  No one wants to slog through paragraphs of text in a CV. Use white space.  Make it classy and simple.

Introducing Podcasts – An Interview with Dr. Ben Dawkins

Although my wife loves podcasts, I have never been as much of a fan. It’s hard for me to dedicate my attention to them, except when I’m walking. But they are a valuable medium, particularly for my topic. Interviewing veterinary professionals is a powerful storytelling tool to get my message across. So, introducing podcasts. Enjoy!

Links to topics brought up in this episode:

What Everyone Ought to Know About Interviews

There is No Ideal Applicant

How to be Successful: Aim For Zero

Avoiding the Most Common Mistakes on your Vet School Application

The Vetducator - misspelled Im a Profesional.

There’s a lot of moving parts when applying for vet school.  You have to get different prereqs for different schools, you have to take the GRE, you have to go through the VMCAS process, and you have to get your letter of intent, CV, and letters of recommendation all put together.  It’s understandable you may make a mistake here and there. These are some of the common or prominent ones I have encountered with vet school applications, ranked from most important to least.

1) No veterinary experience.  Even if you have a ton of animal experience, if you have not spent time working or volunteering with a veterinarian, you won’t be able to demonstrate you know what the job entails.  You’d be surprised, but I have absolutely seen applications with no vet experience. Make sure to get some.

2) Not double-checking all materials.  Just because you send a request for your transcript doesn’t mean it is actually delivered.  Trust but verify- make sure everything actually makes it to the VMCAS.

3) Having poorly-prepared materials.  This is your FUTURE. How many hours should you spend on your application materials for something you may have wanted your whole life and will be your future for decades???  I am always shocked to read letters of intent or CVs where it is clear the applicant didn’t even go to Google and type in “how to do a CV”. This reflects their lack of work ethic, curiosity, and dedication- all of which are key characteristics in a vet.  It’s not only that the materials are poor, but it’s also what it tells me about the applicant’s personal characteristics.

4) Not having someone else read your work.  I don’t care if it’s your mom and your art-history-major roommate, you MUST have others review and edit your application materials.  Typos, grammar errors, and even bizarre sentences can all be cleaned up by trusted friends and advisors.

5) Not enough advance notice.  Those writing letters of recommendation for you may feel overworked and stressed out.  Make sure you give them plenty of notice. I recommend at least a month, but more if possible.  You should check in/remind them 2 weeks before letters are due if you have not gotten a confirmation of their submission.

You would think I wouldn’t have to tell anyone these things, and you would be wrong.  I see applications all the time which make these mistakes. Fortunately, you are reading this blog so you certainly won’t make them!  Let me know if there are any mistakes you have seen or worry about in the comments.