Tag Archives: career

Veterinary Academia in a Time of Uncertainty: COVID-19 Special Blog Post

I have to admit, almost all of the reading I have done the past week has been about the stock market and COVID-19.  I’m curious to know about what’s going on, and, although we have a lot invested in the market, I’m primarily bemused because I understand how the market works (Just stick to your pre-established investing strategy; the market goes up and down and buying as it goes up and down will work out great).  Nonetheless, the world is not business-as-usual right now. My posts here tend to ignore trends, holidays, etc., but I thought a post addressing the epidemic was relevant for my readers. How do you handle your professional progression in the face of COVID-19?

  • Don’t panic. “That’s easy for YOU to say, you have a job and aren’t worried about graduation or getting into vet school or an internship!”  I’m not saying not to worry- these are scary times. Having an emotional response is perfectly fine. I’m saying not to PANIC. You can make good, healthy, important decisions for your life and career, but not if you’re panicking.  So, step one is: don’t panic.
  • Be an RFHB.  Don’t yell at the airline counter agent about a cancelled flight.  Don’t yell at your physician or veterinarian for not being able to see you RIGHT NOW.  Don’t yell at your pharmacist for following insurance company regulations. Don’t yell at the admissions counsellor at the vet school.  Treat people with respect. We ALL have challenges right now.
  • Get information.  Things are in constant flux, and it’s difficult to know what will happen with the future.  The more information you can get, the more in control you will feel (even if that’s just an illusion).  A lot of information may not be available, but get what you can. Find out what the plans are for exams in your classes, when the plan is for graduation or starting an internship.  If information isn’t available, go back to step 1.
  • Go on a news diet.  I’m not suggesting cut off all news, but a lot of the news is repetitive or filled with unhelpful, fear-inducing information.  Unless you can look at the news with bemused wonder (as I do), I suggest dramatically reducing your input. Maybe check things out once a day. The Up First podcast by NPR gives news highlights in about 15 minutes, so it’s a great way to accomplish that. 
  • Reach out to others, even remotely.  Sometimes sharing our fears and concerns with friends, colleagues, and even strangers can help.  Reach out to friends and family. Ask questions on internet forums and Facebook groups. We are all going through this together- sometimes just knowing someone else is facing your troubles can help.
  • Focus on your circle of control.  What CAN you control? You can’t control if graduation will happen.  You can’t control students being dismissed from clinic rotations. You can’t control the epidemic.  You CAN control your emotional response. You CAN control your planning. You CAN control your own social interactions to minimize spread of infection.  When faced with a troubling obstacle, ask yourself what you can do about it. If the answer is, “Not much”, then shrug and move on.
  • Try not to worry.  We’re all fairly reasonable people in veterinary medicine.  We want the students to succeed. We want the best candidates for vet school, internship, and residency.  We want to support our students and colleagues. WE WILL FIGURE IT OUT TOGETHER. Believe that the people and institutions want what’s best for you and them, and we will come up with reasonable, balanced solutions.  If a school you applied to isn’t doing interviews now, try not to worry that they’ll overlook your application. They will figure out a fair system. If you got admitted to an internship in the US and live in an infected country, we will figure it out.
  • Life has challenges and isn’t fair. Although we are going to figure things out together, sometimes the outcome may not be what you wanted.  Maybe you don’t look good on paper but interview amazingly well, so missing an interview opportunity means you don’t get into vet school.  What’s the alternative- to maybe infect dozens of interviewers and other staff for your benefit? Maybe the internship in the US you got says they won’t take any students from highly infected countries.  What’s the alternative- to maybe infect the whole hospital for your benefit? Sometimes decisions made are not in your personal best interests. So, you need to consider: what do you do if the worst professional outcome happens?  Do you rend your clothes and curse the world or do you get back up and try again? This could be an opportunity for learning more about yourself and personal growth. “In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.”Albert Einstein
  • Keep your health.“Get some rest. If you haven’t got your health, then you haven’t got anything.” – Count Rugen.  As long as you have your health, your friends and family, and your basic finances, you will be in a much better place to succeed.  If you let stress get to you, and this compromises your immune system, you will be in a much worse place and have further to go. Try to relax, follow social distancing, eat well, and take care of your mental and emotional health.

Above all, trust that whatever happens, you will get through it.  We all will. Be excellent to each other.

One Year Anniversary!

Steady progression over the past 9 months!

A year ago, March 2019, I launched The Vetducator blog. Let’s take a look at what we’ve done in the last 12 months.

I love statistics. Numbers are so wonderfully illuminating. When I am running statistical analyses, I am in my ‘flow’ state and time just drifts by. So, the numbers first!

Visitors: 28,209

Visits: 84,979

Posts: 118

Comments: 32

Podcast Episodes: 9

Paid clients: 4

The numbers are wonderful, particularly the number of visitors and visits. I am so grateful that people are reading and, hopefully, learning. I would like to spread the message and information even more broadly, so welcome suggestions on how to reach the intern/resident-bound population. Maybe in a few more years, once the students I have advised are graduating, they will come back and read the topics on internship/residency applications.

I continue to enjoy thinking up ideas and writing posts. As of this post, I have posts pre-scheduled through June 2020, have 28 written which need to be loaded into posts, and ideas for 108 more topics. WordPress continues to tell me my posts aren’t ‘optimized’ for readability. And I know blog posts 2000-3000 words are statistically better reads than my short posts, but I like keeping things simple and know the time of my readers is incredibly valuable.

What I’ve learned this year is that those interested in getting in to vet school are the most easy-to-access demographic and possibly the most passionate. I imagine those who want a residency are also passionate, but are hard to reach. I’ve also learned that it can be challenging to find good podcast guests.

This coming year, I plan to continue to post twice a week- Monday and Thursday. I am considering doing a second podcast series, maybe focused specifically for those interested in getting in to vet school. And I’d like to do more guest posting, but there aren’t a lot of people doing anything similar to what I’m doing in veterinary medicine.

Thank you for reading and participating, and I hope you keep coming back for quality content this year!

Have a Life Mission Statement


Photo by NASA on Unsplash

Strategic planning is one of those oft-maligned phrases which stinks of corporate America.  It involves ideas like Vision and Values and all sorts of other things that companies claim to espouse but probably don’t follow in reality.  The principle of strategic planning is sitting down and figuring out what your organization is about and what it wants to do and usually includes a Mission Statement, a list of Values, and a Vision.  Mission statements are either overly long, encompassing everything an organization may do, or pithy and non-helpful, such as “We strive to be the premier provider of this service.” But are they really so unhelpful?

Strategic planning is the process of deciding what it is you want your organization to do, look like, act like, and feel like.  Theoretically, it should form the foundation for everything an entity does. When in doubt, consult the strategic plan. When a decision needs to be made, consult the strategic plan.  This simplifies decision making, makes sure everyone in the organization is on the same page, and creates a clear direction for leadership to pursue.

The problem with strategic planning isn’t the process or idea of the thing.  The problem is that it is so rarely done well. This is particularly egregious in the mission statement.

The mission statement _should_ be a concise, clear statement of the fundamental goal of the organization.  One of my favorite’s is Pepsi’s old “We sell soda”. I also like IKEA’s, “To create a better everyday life for the many people,” and TED, “Spread ideas.”

I like these because they are short, simple, and help guide the organization.  Someone pitches to Pepsi, “Hey, this whole bottled water thing is huge. What should we do?”  “Is it soda?” “No.” “Well, then we don’t sell it.” (Obviously, Pepsi changed this position later.)  IKEA wants to help EVERYDAY life for MANY people. Will they focus on luxury goods for the 1%? Of course not.  A discussion at TED, “I think we could do some really cool dynamic lighting for our next conference!” “Does it help spread ideas?”  “Well, no, but it will look amazing!” Mission statements should present a CLEAR direction.

Instead, mission statements often drone on and get endlessly bogged down and watered down.  Here are some examples of mission statements I like less:

 McDonald’s: “McDonald’s brand mission is to be our customers’ favorite place and way to eat and drink.  Our worldwide operations are aligned around a global strategy called the Plan to Win, which centers on an exceptional customer experience–People, Products, Place, Price, and Promotion.”

What are you saying?  Why tell us about your operations in your mission statement?  Maybe if they had stopped at the first sentence I would be more on board.

An undisclosed vet school: “The mission of the CVM is to improve the health of animals and people by: 1) discovering and disseminating new knowledge and skills, 2) educating current and future veterinarians and biomedical scientists, and 3) providing innovative veterinary services.”

Another: “The College of Veterinary Medicine is dedicated to the enhancement of the health and well-being of animals and human beings through excellence in education, research, professional practice and committed service to the State, the nation and the world.”

Okay, yes… you are a vet school.  Of course you do teaching, research, and service.  These are mission statements which are so obvious and generic that they are unhelpful for guiding the organization.

Contrast these with some mission statements from vet schools I like:

“Our mission is to advance the health of animals, people, and the environment.”

BOOM!  “Should we hire a systems engineer?” “Will it advance the health of animals, people, or environment?”  “Yes” “Then do it.” “Should we hire an astrophysicist?” “Will it advance the health of animals, people, or environment?”  “No” “Then don’t do it.”

“[Our organization’s] mission is to lead the advancement of health and science for the betterment of animals, humans, and their environment.”

LEADING the advancement, not just following.  For the BETTERMENT- this may include physical health, psychological health, or arguably life improvements.

OK, now you know what a mission statement is and my preferences, I would like you to think of a mission statement for yourself.  Here are some suggestions:

  1. Keep it short.  One sentence or less.
  2. It CAN change over time!  You don’t need to set in stone your whole purpose in life now.
  3. This may be really hard, particularly if you are early in your career.
  4. You may not be generic.  No “I want to help animals.”

What is the purpose of this exercise?  Well, like an organization’s mission statement, it may help guide your decision making.  Many veterinary professionals are familiar with the idea that they constantly get asked to do things, and if they keep saying “yes”, they will have no time for themselves or what they want to do.  If you have a mission statement, it can help guide your decision making. Let’s use mine as an example.

“I help people be better,” is my current mission statement.  It has been through a few iterations. First, it’s not perfect- it’s probably a little too simplistic.  I like it because it reminds me of some core ideas I like: Kaizen and self-determination theory. It pulls in every major thing I have done in my life: Boy Scouts, martial arts, dancing, veterinary medicine, relationships.  It’s focused on skill building and maximizing self-actualization. So now let’s put it into practice.

“Vetducator, can you help me with some statistics on this project?”  If it’s just plugging some numbers like an automaton, “no”. If it’s helping them learn a little about statistics while running some numbers, and contributing to a quality manuscript which will improve their CV or prepare them for boards, “yes”.

“Vetducator, would you like to add video and podcasts to the blog?”  Well, these things will probably help people with their career and life, so yes.

“Vetducator, do you want to write this book chapter?”  Have I written one before? If not, I might develop or learn a new skill.  If I’m not learning something, will this help others grow as people? Possibly, depending on the subject.

Your life mission statement can be general for your entire life, like mine, or you could focus it just on your professional pursuits.  It may not be for everyone, and I thought it was a bit hokey at first. The more time has passed, the more useful I have found having a life mission statement to be.  I at least recommend you work through the process to help distill what you really want to do with your life.

Post in the comments with what you think your life mission statement might be.  I will comment on the first ten to post! This is a developmental process- post an imperfect one- you can always get better!

6 Steps to Being a Professional via Email

I was talking to a surgeon friend of mine about applicants for their surgery internship program.  She told me they had three general pools- amazing, middling, and not-ranking. She emailed one applicant from each pool to set up a time to chat about the program.  Their responses fell out exactly as the group had already placed them.

The not-rankable applicant replied 4 days after the initial email, on Jan. 4th, “Hey, that sounds good.  How about 1/6 at 5pm?”

First, there was no address line.  Second, they only provided a single time.  Third, my friend had clearly instructed the applicants to schedule time the week of 1/7. Fourth, they were proposing a weekend, which is a bit of an imposition. Fifth, they only gave my friend 2 days to figure out the scheduling.  Clearly, this person does not have their act together, so will not be ranked.

The middling applicant replied within 24 hours, “Dear Dr. X, thank you for the offer.  I am available 1/7 at 11am or 1/8 at 12pm.”

This applicant included a form of address and provided two options during the week indicated.  A fairly reasonable response, so clearly a decent applicant. However, the applicant did not confirm the date once it was set or check in the day before. Furthermore, the applicant then did not answer the phone at the appointed time, moving them pretty close to the ‘not ranking’ pool.

The amazing applicant replied within 4 hours, “Dear Dr. X, thank you so much for the offer to talk.  I am very interested to hear about your program. I am available the following times: 1/7 11am, 1/8 12pm, 1/9 3pm.  Please let me know which works best for you, or if there is another time which would be better. Thank you again and I look forward to speaking with you.”

This applicant is clearly enthusiastic, appreciative, and engaged.  They had a rapid response, gave numerous options, and overall just presented a proper, professional image via email.  They also followed up 24 hours before the set time to confirm the day and time. Of COURSE they’re at the top of the applicant pile.

Responding professionally in an email does not seem particularly burdensome to me, but from this small sample, we can see that it is a skill which not everyone possesses.  And these are applicants for a surgery internship, who have done a rotating internship already, and, presumably, want an extremely exclusive position as a surgery resident.

EVERY email my surgeon friend gets from these applicants should be impeccable. How in the world do these applicants think they are ever going to get a residency position?  Okay, enough of my ranting, here’s what you have to do, Applicants of the World:

1) Respond promptly. This doesn’t necessarily mean in the same hour, but if you can respond the same day, that indicates you are enthusiastic and eager.  “But what if I’m in surgery all day!” Sure, but you do go home eventually, don’t you? When you do, send a reply.

2) Demonstrate enthusiasm.  Yes, you may be enthusiastic on the inside, but if you can’t express that, the reader does not know.  Show your enthusiasm in your word choice and what you say.

3) Be courteous. Respect the recipient’s time and energy.  If they are trying to schedule a time with you, give THEM as many options as possible and be willing to defer your time for theirs.  Don’t expect them to move their schedule for yours. Give plenty of notice.

4) Follow up.  If you have communicated about an appointment, send an email to confirm the day before.  If you have sent an email and don’t hear back, send a check-in message.

5) Use a form of address.  This one’s simple. In professional correspondence with people you do not know, address them properly in the email.  “Dear Dr. X,” or “Dear Mr./Ms. Y.” It’s not hard, it doesn’t take much time, it doesn’t cost any more. Why NOT do this?

6) Proofread.  Always proof your emails before sending them out.  I’d say a solid 10% of my own emails have some kind of typo I pick up after writing them which I would not have noticed if I hadn’t proofed them.

So, there you go.  Pretty simple steps to make sure your emails get perceived as professional.  Please share this around so that every email I get from now on will be wonderfully polished.

Why Do I Do This Blog?

Jerry feels my pain.

I was listening to The White Coat Investor’s podcast interview with Dr. Bonnie. Regarding her motivation to write a blog, she said she was “…getting tired of writing the same answers over and over again….”  This Spoke to me so strongly, it inspired me to write this entire post. THIS. This is my motivation. I want you all to Be Better, and I could only reach a handful of students at my home institution, and I got tired of giving the same advice, year after year.  These are basic, important, and fundamental principles to advancing your career. Let’s do a brief review.

1) Care about your application. THIS IS YOUR LIFE! You spent how many years and hours of sweat and tears to apply to and get through undergrad to get to vet school, and you’re just going to leave the rest to chance?  WTH? You need to care about your application for your next step at least as much as you cared about everything to GET you there! Polish your materials. Read blog posts and do your research. The amount of time you need to move from an OK application to a Good application is nominal, and I am still shocked that people don’t take this simple step.

2) Be a god-damned professional.  I didn’t think this was hard or needed to be said, but it does.  The items in the How to be Successful series are, in my mind, simple and self-evident, but I have learned this is not universally true.  If you want to get ahead, you have to be Good, not Adequate. Push ahead, never give up, and keep getting better.

3) Interview well.  I understand interviewing is challenging.  It is a rare event, so it is hard to get much skill acquisition.  There is often a lot riding on it, so it is high stakes. For these reasons, you MUST prepare and practice.  There is not an alternative if you want to advance your career.

4) Be positive. I’m not talking about bouncy-bubbly-always-on personality.  I mean: do you bring PROBLEMS or do you bring SOLUTIONS? The latter type of people get ahead, the former just makes everything worse.

I tried to think of a fifth point, and I couldn’t.  This is it. It is simple. Please, for my sake, just do a little bit of work on the culmination of your whole professional life to this point.  Help me help you.

Should you Do a 4-Year Residency?

Ridiculous switchbacks at Angel’s Landing in Zion remind me of the path to residency.

Most residencies in veterinary medicine are three years, with a handful of two-year programs out there for some specialties.  In recent years, the four-year residency has become more common. This is typically a residency in a highly competitive specialty, such as surgery.  In effect, the institution is getting you for an extra year for very little pay- they get a reasonably competent specialist for resident pay as opposed to faculty pay.  The advantage for the applicant is that a 4-year residency may be less competitive, because some applicants are not willing to sacrifice another year of their life for low pay and delaying their career.  So the rub is, should you apply for a four year program?

The principle advantage of pursuing a four-year program is that there are fewer applicants for such programs than for three-year programs.  So, you may be more likely to be accepted into one than into a three year program. The consequences are that you have another year as a resident, instead of getting to start your career as a specialist.  You delay moving to your next destination. Maybe you delay finding relationships (romantic and fraternal). You delay earning Real Money. If you are fanatically dedicated to the discipline and don’t care about the consequences to your life and career, a four-year program may be acceptable.

The disadvantage of a four-year program is primarily time.  In a three-year program, you would be done and then earning a decent salary by your ‘fourth’ year.  You would also be considered a specialist, and able to apply for private practice or university positions.  A four year position is adding 33% of your residency time to your life timeline. Another year may not seem like much now, but you will never get that year back.

Ultimately, four-year residencies are designed to take advantage of the competitiveness of some disciplines and take advantage of those applicants who are desperate.  The institutions get a year of low-cost high-skilled labor from your fourth year. You get a residency you may not have otherwise gotten. It’s a difficult balance and exemplifies the principles of capitalism: a balance between supply and demand.  What you need to ask yourself is: Are you willing to be inexpensive labor for a year in order to get a residency?

Words of Caution for the Aspiring Vet Student

The Vetducator - caution for vet school applicants and aspirants.

Being a veterinarian is a lifelong dream for many.  Animals are such an emotional part of so many lives when growing up, it’s natural that children want to get a job where they can help animals.  For many, that seed is planted deep and grows, consuming their life’s direction and passion. For others, being a vet seems like a neat idea, just one of many possible professional paths.  Your motivations for going to vet school don’t matter nearly so much as how content you will be with the decision. This is The Vetducator’s What You Should Know About Vet School Before you Apply.

  1. You will work extremely hard.  If hard work and learning isn’t your thing, find a different path.  Some students fail veterinary school. How is it possible, since we’re picking the top students?  Simple: undergrad and even grad school do not prepare you for vet school. Some people can’t handle the time and intellectual pressure.
  2. When it comes to the social dynamics of vet school, vet school is high school.  You will be with the same people all day, every day, for four years. Cliques form, relationships get made and destroyed, egos are built and crushed.  If you think it’s some enlightened bastion of higher learning, think again. It’s not a reason not to go, but you should be prepared.
  3. It is incredibly expensive.  Vet school, if you plan to be a general practice veterinarian, is not a good financial investment.  Ask yourself if you could be happy doing something else. Your instinctive answer is “No! I have to be a vet to be happy!”  I believe this is extremely naive. You don’t know what will make you happy until you get there. In fact, we have very good evidence that humans adapt amazingly well to their experience.  Imagine losing your arm, or your sight- can you imagine yourself being as happy as if you had the arm or your sight? Probably not, but in studies people who experience some ‘adverse’ life changing event are just as happy as those who do not.  Think long and hard about the return on investment. And absolutely do not go to a private school for vet school. Although some of them are fantastic, you will be so incredibly in debt your happiness will be reduced because of it. If you can’t get in to your state school, find a different career.
  4. You may not have a job.  Before 2008, it was believed veterinary medicine is recession proof.  Well, the global financial collapse proved that to be wrong. I remember many years when new graduates did not have jobs by graduation.  Veterinary schools are admitting more students, and more veterinary schools are popping up all the time. The market will be flooded again and, if that aligns with an economic downturn when you graduate, what will you do?  Particularly if you are deeply in debt from going to a private school?

I am tempted to end on some warm-hearted, encouraging note, but I have to be honest with you.  Veterinarians have a high rate of suicide. We work long hours and clients scream at us for being money-grubbers who don’t care about their pets.  Serious injury from being bitten or kicked is not uncommon. You can certainly make a good life being a veterinarian, but you can also make a good life doing a lot of other things.  Academic veterinary medicine has been good to me, but I think I could have been just as happy doing, say, biochemistry. Maybe you could be, too.

What is FTE and why do you Need to Know It?

This is important for anyone applying for a faculty position.  The FTE is a core part of every faculty position. It dictates how you’ll spend your time, how you will be evaluated, and what the main focus of the position is.  The FTE, or sometimes EFT, means “Full-Time Equivalent” or “Equivalent Full Time”, and is divided among teaching, research, service, and administration. The FTE always should total up to 100% for a full-time position.

Every academic position includes the classic triumvirate: teaching, research, and service.  How much you do is dictated by your FTE. Teaching includes didactic teaching and perhaps clinical teaching, depending on the institution.  Research dictates the amount of publications and extramural funding required in your position. Service is divided among clinical service and other responsibilities, such as committee work.

The service component for clinical faculty is arguably the most important variable, as that dictates how much time you spend on clinic duty.  It’s tremendously difficult to do research or didactic teaching on clinics, so the more service time you have, the less you will be able to do the other domains.  Tenure-track clinical faculty typically have approximately 50% service. Clinical-track faculty typically have approximately 66% service. Non-clinical faculty may have very low service FTE; for example, pharmacology faculty may have 5% FTE which reflects their committee responsibilities.

The research component indicates what is expected in the realm of scholarly activity.  This differs by the institution, but in general a low research FTE, such as 5-10%, usually indicates an expectation for case reports, case series, or contributing authorship on other people’s works.  A high FTE, such as over 50%, usually has the expectation of significant extramural funding. Many tenure-track clinical faculty have a research FTE between 20-30%, which indicates they should have some publications and, depending on the institution, possibly some extramural funding.

Teaching often covers the balance of the FTE, and I suspect for most institutions it is not clear what the teaching FTE translates to, with respect to the number of hours spent in the classroom.  For example, is course coordinator for a 1-credit class worth 5% FTE or 10% FTE? Or some other value? I suspect few institutions have this down to an equation, but if yours does, please share below.  As a general rule, the greater your classroom teaching time, the higher your teaching FTE, but this is relative to others in your institution and may be fairly fuzzy.

Administration FTE is typically reserved for section chiefs, directors, department chairs, and other administrative roles.  Section chiefs may have a small administrative FTE- such as 5%- whereas department chairs often have 50% or more. Most regular faculty do not have any administrative FTE.

The FTE distribution I held as an associate professor and section head was 40% instruction, 35% service, 15% research, and 10% administration.  The FTE distribution I held as a department head was 20% teaching, 35% service, 20% research, and 25% administration.

Realize that a full-time faculty position does not necessarily mean 35 hours a week, or 40 hours a week, or 60 hours a week.  Like any good workplace, academia is results-oriented. Some weeks you may work 20 hours, some 60 hours. The FTE indicates your relative distribution of your time, NOT how many hours you work.

The FTE is usually a component of the job description and should be a component of the offer letter.  You want to know what you are getting in to. The FTE may change slightly from year to year, but it shouldn’t change dramatically unless your job duties change dramatically.  You need to know what FTE you have for any faculty job to which you apply.

Should You Do an Internship?

The Vetducator two paths diverge.

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.

There is No Ideal Applicant

The Vetducator Puzzle Piece Image

Most people who apply to a position want to be the ideal candidate.  Employers want the ideal candidate, so they get a quality employee who will stay for the long term and not cause waves.  Applicants want the ideal position, to progress their career and to maximize happiness.  Sadly, there is no such thing as the ideal candidate or the ideal position.  There’s only a good fit.

This became evident to me with one of my first residents.  Our training program was designed to provide a high degree of autonomy to the residents. They chose how to spend their off-clinic time, what rotations to take, what research to pursue, how to study, etc.  This worked great when I came through the program- I did external rotations at UCD in Ireland and at Royal Perth Hospital in Australia, I got five papers submitted for publication, and I passed the written section of boards the first time.  This also worked great for the resident who came after me. But the next resident did not have a high degree of internal motivation. He needed a more structured program.

He had difficulty with deciding how to spend his time, did not seek out advice, and generally did not efficiently use his time.  Ultimately he ended up not completing the program. I don’t see that as a failing of his or a failing of the program.  It was a bad fit.  Our program worked well with highly internally motivated residents and he needed a program which would tell him what to do and when.  Subsequent residents were highly successful once we identified that we needed to tell residents about this feature of our program. We would tell applicants what our program was like during the interview, and if they needed more structure, there were great programs that could provide that out there.  But ours was not one of them.

There are good programs.  There are good candidates.  But there is no perfect program or perfect candidate.  

You have to be extremely honest with yourself:  

What can you tolerate?  

What kind of person are you?  

How do you like to work?  

Do you want to be the top in your field and climb over the bodies of your fallen enemies or are you happy just doddering along doing your thing and being happy?

How many hours and how hard do you ACTUALLY want to work?  

Do you need the social status attendant with being in a top program?  

Do you want high income, or more free time, lots of students/interns/residents to train, lots of time for research, more contact with students, or more time in the classroom?  

Spend time dwelling on what you actually genuinely want.

This is less critical for internships- they are only a year, and you can tolerate almost anything for that span of time.  When evaluating residencies and faculty positions, though, ask a lot of questions to make sure you would actually be happy where you are applying.  Don’t just accept anything- your life is too short to waste it being miserable. Do you have a tale of a good position not being a good fit or visa versa?