Tag Archives: intern

How to be Successful: Being an Introvert in an Extrovert World

The Vetducator - Quiet book cover

According to Susan Cain in her book ‘Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking,’ before the turn of the 20th century, our country had a culture of character.  You were trusted and people did business with you on the basis of your integrity. Around the turn of the century, though, the culture began to change to the culture of personality.  Everyone should read this book, since it’s incredible. Extroverts should read it so they understand the introverts, and introverts should read it so they understand themselves. Until you can, let’s talk about how to successfully be an introvert in this day and age.

Fortunately, you have done well with your chosen career.  Many people enter veterinary medicine believing- incorrectly- that they get to work with animals more than people.  So it seems the profession may select for more introverts than, say, business. This means there are more of Your People around, which will make things easier.  You don’t have to explain as often why you don’t want to go out after a hard week of studying and test taking. You can spend time with your small collection of close friends without much pressure to do more.  Not everyone is an introvert, but it’s not hard to find them in vetmed.

I personally think introverts have an easier time with my first rule: Aim for Zero.  Introverts take time to observe before acting, and deliberate, and therefore tend to make more thoughtful actions.  It seems that extroverts are the ones who may try to put themselves out there attempting to be a +1 and fail miserably.  I personally prefer people who are quietly competent, and this seems easier for an introvert than an extrovert.

On the other hand, it’s also important to show up and smile, which may be harder for introverts.  So you may need to do something outside your comfort zone. Fortunately, this is good, because it forces you to get better at something which is difficult: a key concept embraced in Kaizen.  If it’s hard for you to go socialize with people, then work on this. Develop it like any skill, and it will pay strong dividends for you.

Give yourself permission to be an introvert.  If you are at a social function and you are Just Done, feel free to ghost.  Push yourself a bit, but in measured amounts.  Give yourself time to recharge. If you want to have quiet time to read at lunch, find a little nook on the top floor where nobody goes and curl up with your book.

Although introversion and social awkwardness and anxiety and shyness are not synonymous, they often co-exist.  If you are socially awkward, that is just fine, PARTICULARLY for academic veterinary medicine! You don’t have to be the most flamboyant, expressive, bubbly person.  None of the suggestions I give in the How to be Successful series hinge on being an extrovert. Because you don’t have to be sociable. You DO have to be pleasant to work with and hard working, but quiet people can do this easily.

Academic veterinary medicine is a great place for an introvert.  You can (generally) set your own schedule and decide how much or little you want to interact with people.  Yes, you do need to teach, but with practice you will get better and more comfortable. You can engage in highly detailed and cerebral pursuits.  You can lock your office door or go for a walk to recharge. If you’re an introvert, seriously consider a career in academia. It’s pretty great.

Making the Most of your Internship Interview

The Vetducator - pawn chess piece left standing when all others have fallen around it.
Photo by Randy Fath on Unsplash

Internship applicants have it rough.  You are one of a faceless horde trying to get the best position.  Your letter of intent and CV help, and your letters of recommendation are crucial.  Some programs may require an interview, some may allow for one, and others are only irritated if you try to ‘interview’.  In addition to basic interview etiquette, let’s unpack the internship interview.

Scenario 1) They don’t want you to interview.  Many programs receive so many applications that they really don’t want the hassle of trying to interview any of them.  These programs may allow visitation days, but make no mistake- those days are opportunities for you to see if the program is a good fit for you, not for the program to determine if you are a good candidate.  Programs like this want to evaluate every applicant de novo. Spending time at these institutions only helps you know what you are getting in to, it does not help your candidacy.

How do you know if a program doesn’t want you to interview?  You can always ask something like, “Does an externship at your facility factor into your internship selection?”  If doing an externship does not affect their decision-making, an interview certainly won’t. If they do an intern visitation day, you can ask how important that is for their selection process.  Many academic internships do not consider your presence on their campus in any way. At UGA, we actively discouraged intern applicants from coming to visit- otherwise we would have been overrun and expended a huge amount of time for little benefit.

Scenario 2) You may interview, but it is not required.  This probably includes many private practice programs and some academic ones.  The smaller the program, the more important an interview is in their decision making.  If you do an externship or visit and spend time with the program directors, it may positively influence your application.  If this is the case, follow the guidelines on how to act on an externship.

Scenario 3) Formal interview.  Many private practices will do a phone or video interview as a standard part of the intern selection process.  These range from highly technical- “you are presented with an ADR 12-year-old GSD with anemia”- to more behavioral- “describe a situation when you had to demonstrate leadership.”  If possible, establish how long the interview is scheduled for and what you should prepare ahead of time. Follow the suggestions for in-person, video, or phone interviews as appropriate.

Internship interviews are rarely a make-or-break step.  Those programs that do interviews obviously factor them into the decision making.  Don’t worry if they don’t do an interview and don’t spend too much of your valuable senior year clinic time trying to do externships at places to impress them.  Particularly for academic internships, they probably won’t look at you any differently than other applicants. Use your time wisely.

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!

How to be Successful: Smile

The Vetducator - woman's perfect smile.

I have no intention of smile-shaming anyone.  I know people- women especially- get told all the time, “You should smile more.”  I don’t want to make those with Resting Bitch/Asshole Face feel worse. All that being said, I am going to give you a piece of golden advice: during interviews, smile more.

This came into prominent focus for me during vet school interviews.  We had a batch of 6 applicants to interview. They were all basically good, and then we had one candidate who really grabbed my attention.  Her answers were similar to the others, but she seemed more engaged and interested in the whole process. After her interview, my partner and I said to each other, “Did you notice how much she was smiling?”  It made her interview instantly better and her more likable.

Dozens of job-focused websites advocate smiling, probably all for reasons you know about.  Our nonverbal cues are important. Smiling helps to recover from a gaffe. It influences first impressions.  The science indicates smiling improves the likelihood of being shortlisted.  Professional job advisers all advocate smiling.

One note of caution is to make sure your smile is genuine.  And it should be! You’re excited to be interviewing for a position.  Show that excitement and enthusiasm through your smile. You’re allowed to be nervous- nervous excitement can manifest in a smile.  Realize that the interviewers are there to support you and not knock you down. Make sure your smile is genuine and not forced. If you’re not feeling it, don’t stick a plastic expression on.  Try instead to find within yourself a reason to smile. You got an interview! That’s great!

I will also advocate that you smile during phone and video interviews.  Even though those on the phone can’t see you smile, it alters the way you speak and this, amazingly, comes across over the phone.  Video interviews obviously add the visual aspect, but it is amazing how often people forget basic interview tips. Remember this one- naturally smile during all interviews.

I understand it can be difficult.  You may not have a naturally bubbly personality.  Heck, I fall into this category. But when I am on an interview, I am genuinely happy to be there.  I am excited to meet all the people I may be working with and find out what they have to say. I feel that excitement internally, so I just remind myself to display it externally.  Try to find your inner cheerleader and let them out during the interview. Do you have strategies you use to smile more?

How to Address People in an Interview

Earlier this week I posted a general guide for how to address future colleagues during an interview.  Here is a helpful flowchart for you to determine what forms of address to use during an interview. I tend to err on the side of formality, because no one will be even a little irritated to be called “Mr.”, “Ms.”, or “Dr.”, but there are some people who may be irked at being called “Chuck”.

The Vetducator - forms of address flowchart for interviews.

How to Not Mess Up When Addressing Future Colleagues

The Vetducator - What do I call you people image text.

You would think that rules of formality as laid down by Society would be well-known.  Indeed, this is an assumption of social rules- they are generated in the aggregate. Nonetheless, we do have experts who weigh in on these topics, like Miss Manners and Emily Post.  Our rules in medicine for interviews and applicants are slightly different than the social sciences, so I wanted to take a brief minute to go over them.

These rules are fairly consistent regardless of the form of communication.  You can apply them to any professional academic veterinary interaction- email, phone interview, video interview, or in-person interview.  You are unlikely to be corrected by anyone, and opinions on these may differ.

My general approach and advice is to be more conservative.  No one is going to look at you strangely if you address the Dean as Dean Smith.  But if you call him Chuck, it will be noticed. Maybe not enough to keep you from the short list, but when competition for a position is fierce, why not make yourself the most outstanding candidate you can?

These are in generally increasing order of conservatism:

Do you know this person personally?  Have you worked with them extensively, preferably as a peer?  If you were an intern and this person was a faculty member, unless you had a close relationship with them, go to the next level.  If you know this person and have worked with them as a peer, you may use their first name.

Is this person the Dean?  If so, they are addressed as Dean Lastname.  An exception may be made if you are interviewing for a Dean position or higher.

Otherwise, use Title Lastname.  This even goes for administrative staff.  Addressing an email to Ms. Lawrence is a nice, respectful touch.  Staff are people, too, and they appreciate being addressed by a stranger in a socially-acknowledged way.  Those with doctorates should be addressed as Dr. Lastname.

Can you be more informal than these rules dictate?  Sure. But you will never go wrong adhering to these rules in the application/interview phase of an academic position.  Once you get the position, the rules may vary depending on your position and institution. But while you are a candidate, err on the side of formality.

Set Your Post-Graduate Success in Vet School

Vetducator - Mean and nice chihuahua dog.

I was chatting with a colleague the other day who mentioned a course we had just converted that semester from a graded course to a pass/fail (at 70%) course.  Apparently students had been harassing the course coordinator for a few points here and there, even though these students were already above a 70%. They couldn’t ‘pass’ any more than they had, yet they were hassling this poor embattled new assistant professor.  

My colleague asked me, “Don’t they realize they will want us to write letters of recommendation for them in a few years?  Do they think we’ll have forgotten how they made our lives unnecessarily difficult?” I’m not saying vengeance will be taken or anything of the sort.  I’m also not saying students shouldn’t ask polite questions of faculty members to improve their own understanding of a topic. But students who want an 89% instead of an 88% in a course which is pass/fail will be noticed.  And remembered.

During vet school, you want to be quietly competent.  Not invisible, but not obnoxious or difficult to work with.  As always, aim for zero. Ideally, faculty members know more or less who you are and if you are a good student.  “Good” in this context does not necessarily mean earning high grades. For a clinician educator like myself, a “good” vet student is one who tries to understand the clinical rationale for decisions and is not just memorizing data.  If you are a club officer, hopefully the faculty mentor for the club knows you and you feel comfortable talking to them.

Focus on the big picture.  I understand it’s easy to get swept along with your classmates who all want top grades, but ask what the important thing is about what you’re learning.  Is the most important thing to get good grades, or is the most important things to become a competent clinician? I distinctly remember the #1 ranked student in a class got to clinics and one of my interns wondered, “How can they be so smart and so dumb at the same time?”  They were academically gifted, but couldn’t handle clinical decision making. Don’t just memorize data. Understand concepts.

I don’t want any student to feel like they can’t talk to a faculty member and ask respectful questions intended to expand their own understanding.  But when the questions are purely to get an extra point or two, ask yourself what you’re really trying to accomplish. And consider the collateral damage you may cause.  Faculty members are, in general, fairly intelligent, with good memories. We will remember the grade grubbers. And they will not get good letters of recommendation.

How to be Successful: Growth Mindset


The Vetducator - Image of plant growing.

Since vet schools care so much about GPA and GRE scores, you would think that being an amazing vet student, intern, resident, or faculty member is largely about intelligence.  Being smart helps, no doubt about that. But it is only one piece of the puzzle, and an arguably small piece at that. The best veterinary professionals aren’t necessarily the smartest.  They are ones who aim for zero, who show up, and, above all, have a growth mindset.

The fixed mindset vs. growth mindset is a relatively recent concept in psychology.  The essential premise is that people with a fixed mindset believe they have certain natural talents which are just innate and they cannot become an expert without these.  For example, I have an amazing sense of direction and, if I believed I was just born with this, I would have a fixed mindset.

Those with a growth mindset believe that you can learn anything- you just have to put in the time.  This is popularly explained as the “10,000 hour rule”, which suggests if you spend 10,000 hours on a skill you can become an expert.  The real value is probably closer to 50,000 hours, but the premise stands. I believe I have an excellent sense of direction because I studied maps as a kid, regularly navigated my environment in challenging ways, and had the ocean constantly to the west, making navigation more intuitive.  I got good at navigating because I practiced, not because I was born with it.

You would assume every competent veterinary professional has a growth mindset, and you would be partly right.  After all, everyone went through vet school and had to learn how to be a veterinarian- they weren’t born being able to be a vet.  But you would also be partly wrong, because countless students say things like, “I’m just not good at physiology! I’ll never get it!”  That suggests a fixed mindset.

When I am working with a student, intern, or resident, I want to work with one who is enthusiastic and willing to learn.  Being open to new ideas is essential to being a great veterinarian. I had a solid half hour back-and-forth with one of my classes about the uselessness of warming intravenous fluids (I know better now how to have this debate, but we all have to learn somehow).  They just couldn’t believe that this standard of practice everywhere they worked was useless for helping core body temperature.

Having a growth mindset is synonymous with making and learning from mistakes.  At Midwestern University, the faculty had a debate about how to handle students who made a grave medical error.  Although some faculty members wanted to punish the students, most wanted to first ask a question: How did the student feel about it?  Did they recognize the mistake, admit to it, and try to correct it? Or did they bury the mistake, blame someone else, or act unbothered by it?  Being willing to learn from mistakes indicates a growth mindset.

You can change your mind to be more in a growth mindset.  I had been teaching martial arts for 15 years and veterinary medicine for 10 before I first heard my best friend say in an instructor training course, “In any situation, figure out what YOU could have done to make it better.”  He also said, “Name a time when something went wrong that wasn’t your fault, but you could have done something to make it better/not happen.” This revolutionized the way I taught and even approached life. Now when my students don’t understand a concept, I couldn’t shuck responsibility.  I had to see what I could do to make things better, so I had to improve my pedagogical skills.

As I began to learn more about human error, cognitive biases, and medical error, I became more excited about learning how we make mistakes and how to learn from them.  I moved my mind to more of a growth mindset so you can, too. The earlier you start, the easier it will be. You can get better. You can BE better. But only if you believe it and only if you try.

Do You Want to do a Specialty Internship?

The Vetducator - Image of intern going to private practice, specialty internship, or residency.

The internship is a one-year experience.  Typically, after vet school, one does a rotating internship, where you get a wide variety of experience in medical and surgical cases.  More and more specialty internships are coming about. These are also one year long, and are focused on a specific discipline, such as anesthesia, cardiology, internal medicine, oncology, or surgery.  You’ve already done one internship, worked long hours for not much money. Why would you do another?

The specialty internship has been around for at least 20 years, and probably longer.  Programs have always had a need for semi-experienced clinicians who could do more specialized work.  Why not create a residency if that is needed? Some programs do not have enough specialists or other requirements dictated by specialty colleges to train residents.  Some institutions do not have the funding to make a 3-year residency commitment, but can make a 1-year internship commitment. In recent years, specialty internships have exploded as the applicant pool has increased.

Most people pursue a specialty internship as a stepping stone for a residency.  Through the VIRMP, you can apply to residencies and internships simultaneously. The VIRMP will first try to match you for a residency.  If you are unsuccessful, it will then try to match you in an internship if you applied to any. A specialty internship fulfills a number of useful roles for the prospective specialist:

  1. It keeps you in the system.  If you finish your internship and do not get matched for a residency, what do you do until you can apply again the next year?  You could go out into practice, but that is fraught with complications.
  2. It gives you more references.  Your references from your rotating internship are good and helpful, but getting more references, particularly from people within your discipline, can be valuable.  The supervisors for specialty internships have also seen a LOT of specialty interns, and can apply that perspective to your performance.
  3. It makes you a better clinician.  You get more experience in your chosen specialty, meaning that a residency which takes you will have a more prepared resident.  Plenty of programs still take applicants out of a rotating internship, but a specialty internship might give you a slight leg up if you need it.

There are some times when doing a specialty internship isn’t helpful, or isn’t right for you.  Some of these include:

  1. Family considerations.  Yet another year spent at a different institution with no guarantee for the future.  It can be tough if you want to settle down.
  2. Financial considerations.  Another year spent not making much money, potentially with student loans looming or, worse, gathering interest.
  3. Academic consideration.  If your vet school performance was poor, it’s possible no number of internships will make you a viable candidate for a residency.  Talk to your mentors and get their genuine appraisal of your situation. I have seen applicants pursue three specialty internships and still not get a residency.  It breaks my heart. I wish I could tell them, “This isn’t going to be your path. Find another one.”
  4. You’ve had it.  You’ve been in school long enough, and you want to have your own time and develop your own professional image.  It’s time to get out of the academic circle and into practice or a different veterinary pursuit.

The specialty internship can be a valuable, rewarding experience.  It can enhance your application and get you one step closer to a residency.  It can also delay you getting to where you want to be in life by another year (or more if you do more than one).  

You should have a very honest conversation with yourself, your loved ones, and your mentors.  How much is this path really worth to you? Could you be just as happy doing something else? I didn’t match for a surgery residency after my internship and ended up doing an anesthesia residency.  I am ecstatically happy now. Professional happiness doesn’t just happen to you- you need to make yourself happy given your circumstances. If you tell yourself, “I can only be happy if I am a surgeon”, I think you are bound to make unwise decisions.  Tread carefully.

How to do Video Interviews Properly

The Vetducator - Animated gif of kids barging in on video interview.

Conducting a video interview with someone who has clearly not prepared for such is one of the most painful professional experiences I have.  It instantly makes me cringe. The whole time I wish I could tell them, “Can you just do this? And this? And this? It will be SO much better, believe me!”  I don’t want you to induce cringing in your interviewers and, selfishly, I want to experience perfect video interviews from this day forward. It’s not hard, it just requires attention to detail.

1) Dress professionally.  You may or may not wear a suit, but at least wear a light colored shirt and tie (men) or professional blouse (women) or equivalent.  Although they will only see you from the mid-chest up, wear pants. You are preparing your mind as well as yourself. You can only take an interview so seriously without pants on.

2) Remove interruptions. Barking dogs, whining cats, screaming kids- none of these can interrupt your video interview. I recommend doing the interview at your place of work, in a conference room or similar, rather than your house. Put a sign saying, “Conducting video interview. Please do not disturb.” on the door.

3) Set the stage.  Don’t have your The Doors poster in the background.  Or a fairy over a castle painting. Or your “Keep calm and drink on” wooden plaque.  You may have a white wall, a whiteboard, or, if you have your own office, your professional degrees in the background.  That is all.

4) Use good lighting.  The best lighting is soft lighting from the front of your face.  I usually set up two lamps with their covers on to either side of the computer.  Try to minimize overhead lighting, especially harsh light such as from fluorescents.  If you have a window you can open to get more natural light on your face and surrounding, use that.

5) Not too close, not too far.  If you sit with your back straight, reach out with your arm.  Your fingertips should touch the screen (or camera location).

6) Elevate the camera.  No one wants to look up your nose or see you peering up at them as if judging you.  You want the camera at eye level. Use books under your laptop to elevate it to the appropriate height.

7) Look at the camera.  I set up a plug-and-play camera right in front of the screen.  It slightly blocks my view of the other party, but the goal here is for ME to show eye contact.  If your camera is not in front of the screen, you have to be very conscious to look at the camera, not at the screen.  Losing eye contact with the other party makes you look distracted or uninterested, even if you are very interested.

8) Feel free to take notes.  Just as in any other interview, you may take notes.  I will usually preface this in the beginning with something like, “Do you mind if I take notes?  When I look down I’m just jotting a few things down.” If you don’t mention note taking, when you do look down and take your notes they may interpret it as disinterest.

9) Test your technology.  Don’t have the first time you attempt this be when you are actually scheduled for your interview.  Test it out with a friend first- make sure the tech works, the lighting looks good, you are looking at the camera, etc.

While the visual presentation is not make-or-break for video interviews, if there are two applicants, and one of them took the time to set up the correct space for a video interview, and the other one just popped up their laptop in their kitchen, which do you think the search committee will favor?