I thought I would share with you the way I have worked with students in the past and the sorts of comments I provide. In general, I try to offer the writer the perspective an evaluator will have. This sometimes comes off as blunt, but I’m trying to genuinely share what goes through my mind. You can see that I don’t rewrite things, just offer suggestions, so it is still the original author’s work; their work with added editing and expert advice. These are all anonymous and submitted with the author’s permission.
Dr. Kreisler and I worked together for a couple of years and did a research project and continue to collaborate in research. She is an INTJ like me! She has a fascinating perspective on veterinary medicine as she has wanted to do shelter medicine since before she got to vet school. I’m sure you’ll learn a lot- I certainly did!
Dr. Eberhardt and I were ‘middle management’ at a new institution so shared many struggles and successes. Although we lead sometimes apparently different lives, we feel very similarly about success and how to achieve in veterinary medicine. I hope you enjoy!
After you’ve chosen the programs in which you are interested, sent in your application materials, and done an interview (if applicable), you are now ready to rank the programs. The rank order list is due in early January. What does it mean and how do you do it?
The mechanics of the match are described in detail elsewhere. Put simply, you rank the institutions and the institutions rank the applicants. Then an algorithm runs and matches the applicants with the institutions.
Some people try to over-complicate the match process. They think, “Well, I doubt I will get into place X, so I won’t ‘waste’ a high level spot for it.” Don’t assign value to the actual rank spot. Instead, you should rank purely on one criteria: Where do you want to go? Rank in order from YOUR highest picks to your lowest, without regard for your likelihood of them wanting you. The system is designed to be treated this way; you’ll mess up your chances if you try to second-guess the algorithm.
How many institutions should you rank? It depends primarily on how happy you can be in a given circumstance. For example, have you decided that literally the only way you can have professional fulfillment is to be a surgeon? First, I’m sorry for you. But if so, then you have to rank every single program. On the other hand, if you’ve decided that you would very much like to do surgery, but not at the expense of your physical or mental health, then you should only rank the programs where you would be happy. That’s difficult to know a priori, but it is possible if you do your research and talk to current or former interns/residents
The second consideration for number of institutions to rank is financial cost. There is a substantial step up from 10 to 11 institutions ranked ($90 to $250 in 2019). However, this is your future, the next step in the rest of your life. Even the highest step ($350 in 2019) is not particularly expensive, matched against your entire education to date and your professional future. My advice therefore is to rank more.
The next consideration is how good of an applicant you are. If you know you will be a top choice at a few schools, you only need to rank a few. If you are a good candidate but not sure where you stack up, you will want to hedge your bets and rank many more institutions.
The final and most important consideration is how to decide how to order your rankings. Being an analytical sort, I made a table. It looked something like this:
% ER Time
Your table may have other variables, such as: geographic location, # cases, equipment, license requirements, rounds, or % primary care time. Some of this information you can get from the position description, some will come from your research on the position. At the end, organize the programs according to the most important variables for you.
My general advice is to rank every institution where you think you could be happy. The cost is not very significant, it minimizes the risk of not matching and having to do The Scramble, and is fairly efficient. Rank them in order of where you want to go. That’s it! Tell me what you think and how it goes!
Making your professional life successful is as much about what NOT TO do as it is about what TO do. The Match is probably the highest-stakes professional selection in academic veterinary medicine- even more so than getting into vet school in the first place. As a result of this pressure, people make a lot of mistakes which adversely affect their professional future. This is not an exhaustive list, just the most prominent ones I have encountered.
1) Trying to game the matching algorithm. Please don’t do this. I know it’s tempting. I did it because I was foolish, didn’t talk to anyone wiser, and the internet was barely a thing. Rank the place you most want to go #1 and then move on to the next.
2) Not reviewing your application materials. How is it possible there is a misspelled word in your letter of intent? You have spell-check on your writing program, don’t you? Run basic diagnostics and read and re-read your materials. Simple errors like this suggest to me that the applicant isn’t really all that interested in the position. If they were, they would have spent more time on their application.
3) Not sending out your application materials. You must get others to read your letter of intent and CV. Preferably veterinary academics who have looked at many such applications. However, even your friends and family can be helpful. Tell everyone to be brutally honest. Your goal is to get the best application possible, not to assuage your ego. You don’t have to take everyone’s suggestions. In fact, if you send it out enough, you will start to get conflicting suggestions. But you must have others review them. You would not believe the poorly written letters I have helped people improve.
4) Not getting your ducks in a row in time. Hopefully, you strategized your time to maximize your match success. And you did give those writing letters of recommendation plenty of notice, didn’t you? And you have gotten all your materials in well before the deadline, right?
5) Not preparing for interviews. If you apply to institutions which hold interviews, you must do your research and study up on how to do a successful interview. Failing to plan is planning to fail.
6) Delaying the decision. I know some students and interns who waffle on whether to apply to the match and then make a decision at the last second. That is unacceptable. If you THINK you may want to apply, set up everything as if you will. You don’t have to submit your rank list until January. If you put in applications but don’t rank any institutions, you won’t match anywhere.
It’s not a long list, but you would be surprised at the number of people who continue to make these mistakes- hence this post. Try to avoid being one of them and let me know if you need help!
Dr. Williams and I worked together at an institution and spent many a night doing colic cases together. He has insight into the world of veterinary equine medicine and equine surgery. I hope his insight is helpful to those of you interested in that path!
All internship years are clinical training programs. That is what they are designed for and that is what they offer. It’s an intensive experience designed to improve your clinical knowledge, decision-making skills, and procedural experience. Most internships are not designed for you to do research. But you may want to try, as there are a couple of valuable benefits to doing research as an intern.
Being only one year in length makes it extremely challenging to start and finish a research project as an intern. Combined with the long clinic hours you work, it’s no mystery why most programs don’t emphasize intern research. It is rarely successful. I can count on one hand the number of interns I have worked with who got a published paper from their intern year, and all of those were either case reports or helping with an existing project.
In spite of these obstacles, trying to complete a research project during your internship year may allow you to develop a relationship with a faculty mentor and get a publication added to your CV. Here are some steps to help you be successful:
1) Be realistic. Do you _really_ want to give up the slight amount of free time you already have to do a research project? Will you actually follow through and finish it? Will having a publication in submission really help your residency application that much? If you start a project which you don’t finish, will that sour your relationship with the faculty mentor? Remember, most efforts at doing research as an intern will not be successful. Make sure you can commit
2) Start early. You have to start in your first month of the program if you expect to have anything useful on your CV by the time match applications are due in the beginning of December. The only possible exception to this is a case report, but those you can’t really predict- you have to rely on them to come across your plate.
3) Find a mentor. Hopefully you know what discipline you want to pursue after your internship. Find a friendly faculty member and ask them about the prospect of doing research. The best case scenario is if they have an existing project which just needs to be written up. Other possibilities are helping with data collection for an ongoing project or starting your own. Only start your own if you know it is easy to do, does not require extensive approvals (IACUC, IRB), and has a high likelihood for success.
4) Submit the publication before residency applications are due so you can write on your CV, “Submitted for publication”. As noted, many interns start research, but few actually finish it. For me, a line on a CV which reads, “Comparison of This Thing with Another Thing. Research in progress” is basically valueless. Starting a project is easy. Untold thousands of research projects are started every year. But do you finish it? Ah, now that is something worth noting on a CV
You don’t necessarily need research on your CV to be a competitive residency applicant. Don’t force yourself to do a research project as an intern to fill out what you think is a deficiency on your CV. Only pursue it if you are serious, dedicated, and passionate. It can be a valuable experience, but it also has the potential to create poor feelings due to a project not being finished. Be honest with yourself and your potential mentor, and you may be successful.
Now that you’re a vet student, you have it made. You’ve achieved your life-long goal and just have to graduate. But what if there’s something more? What if you want to do post-grad education, or work in public health, or contribute to society other than taking care of dogs, cats, and horses? Maybe there is the opportunity to do research.
Conducting research during vet school opens a lot of doors. You get to engage in scientific inquiry which hopefully has some ultimate effect on a patient’s outcome or quality of life. You get to work directly with a faculty member who is (hopefully) interested in mentoring you. You get to build your CV and demonstrate to future programs that you are dedicated, responsible and focused.
Getting involved in research during vet school can be surprisingly challenging. Undergraduate students often have whole offices dedicated to their success. For vet students, you have two easily accessible options: do a fellowship or volunteer your time.
A summer fellowship is often supported by various industry groups and provide a stipend. A summer fellowship is a good first step, but it is unlikely you will finish a project in that amount of time. You may be a cog in the wheel of benchtop research, or you may start your own research project. If you want to continue to be a part of the project, you will likely have to volunteer once the summer is over.
Volunteering your time is also an option. You may seek out a mentor who is doing something interesting or a mentor may announce that they are looking for students to help with research.
No matter how you get involved, before you start, you should talk openly with your potential mentor to make sure you are a good fit. The experience needs to be positive for you and for your mentor, otherwise ill feelings can creep in. First, you need to determine what you want out of doing research:
Experience. You just want to try research to see if it is something that may engage you. This is great- tell your prospective mentor(s) this. You don’t need to commit to what you want to do for the rest of your life at this point.
Relationships. Doing research often puts you in closer contact with a faculty member than in the normal course of vet school. You often work closely with them and meet with them regularly. You now have a mentor- you can ask them for advice, for help with letters of application and CVs, and for letters of reference. Mentors are incredibly important in your career, and identifying and working with one through research can be a strong bond.
CV Building. If you intend to go on to further education after graduation, research may bump your application slightly. Be aware that almost every serious applicant I have reviewed for internships has some research experience. Just engaging in research doesn’t do much to set your CV apart. Having a paper which is submitted for publication or, even better, accepted for publication is more remarkable. If you are buried in an author list, that is not particularly memorable. If you are the first author on a peer-reviewed publication, evaluators may take notice. In general, having research experience and publications in your internship application won’t make or break it, but it may give you a slight edge. If you intend to pursue a graduate degree, demonstrating some interest and experience with research during vet school is key.
Second, you need to kick ass doing research. If you want to secure a positive recommendation, just doing what you are asked/told is not enough. You need to identify opportunities to do more. Answer emails promptly. Complete tasks eagerly and rapidly. Many vet students do research. If you want to excel, you have to stand out. Follow a project through to the end or, if you absolutely hate what you’re doing, be clear and upfront with your faculty mentor.
Finally, make use of the resources you developed with this experience. Don’t hesitate to ask your faculty research supervisor for help with applications. If possible, make progress on a publication which has your name on it. The world helps those who help themselves. Don’t just expect everything on a silver platter because you helped with a research project. Make use of the skills and connections you made.
Research during vet school can be rewarding and illuminating. If you have the slightest inkling that you may want to do something other than primary care medical practice, dip your toe into research. You may find out something about yourself.
I only applied to 11 internships, 9 of which were academic. My letter and CV were not particularly good, but I was very assertive on clinics, did a good job, and got good letters of recommendation. I didn’t participate in clubs or do any substantive research during vet school. If I applied nowadays, it is unlikely I would have gotten any internship, much less a good one. I want to help you avoid my mistakes by giving you this advice:
Apply everywhere. I have no idea why I limited the scope of where I applied. I suppose I had some high-minded ideal of only wanting to go to places on the west coast. Don’t do this. Apply wherever you think you could be happy for a year. Which is anywhere. Even the frozen north or broiling south.
Polish your materials. You need to reach out to your mentors and have them provide advice and perspective on your application. Almost no one writes a good letter or CV the first time around without input. Seek advice constantly from those who know better. If for some reason you don’t have mentors, reach out to me.
Don’t try to game the match. I thought I knew how the match worked and ranked institutions according to where I thought I would get matched, rather than where I wanted to go. This reflects a fundamental lack of understanding of the match. Rank where you WANT to go first.
Demonstrate leadership. Although I didn’t participate in vet school clubs, I opened and ran a karate school for 4 years while in vet school. I wish I had known that participating in student clubs may have helped my application more than running a non-vet-school-related organization. I don’t think it hurt but, for the amount of time it took, it didn’t help as much as it could have.
Go to private practice. I knew I wanted to do a residency and felt that an academic internship would position me best for this. It’s probably true, but, in fact, I did a private practice internship which has been incredibly valuable for teaching students for the Real World. You may need to take a more meandering route if you do a private practice internship- doing specialty internships or other roles after your internship- but it is better to stay in the system in some capacity.
Fortunately, you have the benefit of my experience as well as the entirety of human knowledge in your pocket. Hopefully, you will make more informed decisions than I did. I have a pretty great life, so do not regret any decisions, but it would have been nice to know the consequences of my decisions when I was younger.
Dr. Waitt and I worked together at the same institution and we met when, on her first day on the job, she jumped in to help with the anesthesia OSCE. She is also a WSU grad and a terrific person with whom to work. She has insight into the equine veterinary world which I don’t have which she shares during this episode.