Tag Archives: internship

Making Research in Vet School Work For You

The Vetducator: Stand back I'm going to try science.
Credit xkcd.

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 can do a fellowship or volunteer your time.

A summer fellowship is often supported by various industry groups and providing 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.

An example of an improved CV from vet school research.

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.

What I Wish I Had Known as a Student Applying for Internships

The Vetducator - Rock lines path symbolizing internship path.

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.

Vetducator Dr. Waitt Podcast on a Horse

Podcast Episode 6 – Dr. Laura Waitt

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.

Internship Letters of Recommendation Flowchart

Last week we did a whole series on letters of recommendation. One of the most complex is for those applying for internships. Therefore, I created a (relatively simple) flowchart to help you decide what letters of recommendation you should get for internship applications.  

Core disciplines are internal medicine, surgery, and emergency/critical care.

Ancillary disciplines are cardiology, neurology, oncology, anesthesiology, and radiology.  

Peripheral disciplines are anyone outside your species focus (e.g. you are applying for a large animal rotating internship and the letter-writer is a small animal internist), ophthalmology, dermatology, pathology, behavior, theriogenology, and ABVP specialties.

The Vetducator - internship letters of recommendation flowchart.
Click for larger image.

Choosing Letters of Recommendation for an Internship

The Vetducator - letters of recommendation series image.

You want to get a great internship and you need letters of recommendation.  Hopefully, you have followed the advice already given to let potential letter writers know of your interest and asked them ahead of time.  In addition to strategizing your clinic rotation selection, you need to strategize who should write you letters of recommendation. First, let’s look at some caution areas.

1) The vet you have worked for since high school.  Most non-academic veterinarians do not know how to write a good letter of recommendation.  I have read dozens of letters from these professionals and, though they are very positive, they are not very helpful to me as an evaluator.

2) The non-veterinary boss.  Unless you worked in a veterinary research lab in vet school or undergrad, any paid employer is unlikely to know enough about clinical veterinary medicine to write you a compelling letter of recommendation.

3) Only letters from outside your institution.  If I get an application from a student from the South Harmon Institute of Technology and NONE of their letters are from faculty at South Harmon, I get instantly suspicious.  Is this applicant difficult to work with, so those at their home institution would not write a good letter for them? You should have at least half of your letters from faculty at your home institution.

4) Letters from the non-clinical field.  If you are applying for a clinical internship, you need people who can speak to your clinical acumen.  If you did a rotation in microbiology, that may be interesting, but may not bear on your abilities as a clinician.  If you did research with someone whom you did not work with on clinics, that also falls into this group. If you can get your letters without resorting to one from this domain, that would be better.

Now that we have gotten the problem areas out of the way, whom SHOULD you ask?

1) Core clinical discipline faculty.  This is surgery, internal medicine, and emergency/critical care.  If you don’t have a stellar performance in at least one of those disciplines, you probably won’t make a very good intern.  If you can get letters only from core clinical discipline faculty, great.

2) Ancillary clinical discipline faculty.  This is cardiology, neurology, anesthesiology, oncology, and radiology.  These disciplines are clinically oriented and interface with many other disciplines.  You may have 1-2 letters from this group in total.

3) Peripheral clinical discipline faculty.  This is anyone outside your species focus (e.g. you are applying for a large animal rotating internship and the letter-writer is a small animal internist), ophthalmology, dermatology, pathology, behavior, theriogenology, and ABVP specialties (unless you are applying to an internship in one, such as shelter or exotic animal).  You may have 1 letter from this group in total.

You have 3 letters of recommendation at a minimum and up to 4.  Therefore, my recommendations are thus:

2+ letters from core disciplines

+/- 1 letter from an ancillary discipline

+/- 1 letter from a peripheral clinical discipline OR outside your home institution

If you cannot find people to write you good letters based on this recommendation, you may ‘downgrade’ each category.  Realize that, if you only have letters of reference from peripheral clinical discipline faculty, your application is likely to be looked at with substantial skepticism.  The intern year is a time to hone your core clinical skills. The program evaluators want to make sure you have at least some basis in those core domains before accepting you into their program.  Make sure your recommendation writers demonstrate your core medical knowledge.

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!

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.

Six Steps to Win the Scramble

You applied through the match for an internship or residency- great job!  Now, 8am on match day has come… and gone, and you are without a matched position.  You still want to do an internship or residency, and there are programs which did not fill all their positions.  What do you do now? Now you Scramble.

The Scramble is the informal term for the process following 8am on match day.  All unmatched applicants scramble to find good positions while programs with unmatched positions scramble to find good applicants.  It is an absolute mess and a travesty of a system. Pharmacy has a two-step matching process to avoid the chaos of a scramble, but veterinary medicine, as always, lags behind.  

It can be an emotional blow to not get matched, but realize that not matching does not mean you are a bad applicant.  The vagaries of the match mean that good programs and good candidates go unmatched every year. Scrambling to pick up an open position is a normal part of the process.  Heck, I scrambled after I didn’t match for a surgery residency and ended up having a terrific career. If you decide to scramble, you can maximize your success with six steps.

Step One: Be Prepared.  I’m sure your application packet is superb because you have followed the advice on this blog.  Nonetheless, the match is capricious, and even the best candidates may find themselves unmatched if they didn’t find a good fit or were too restrictive in their selections.  Be ready for not successfully matching by answering these questions:

  1. Do you still want to do an internship/residency?  If you are disheartened by not matching where you wanted to go, are you still excited at the prospect of going SOMEWHERE?  Decide this beforehand- don’t be wishy-washy in the middle of the Scramble.
  2. Are your materials ready and updated?  Is your CV and letter fully up-to-date?  Can you send them off today with a high degree of confidence they reflect your current state of mind, ideas, and experiences?  If not, get them ready.
  3. Have you looked at all the programs to which you didn’t apply but would consider?  If there’s a position unfilled somewhere, do you have to do research to find out about that position or are you poised and ready to go?
  4. How do you feel about going into a program that is not quite what you wanted?  If you wanted to do a surgery residency, would you ever consider something else for a year which may position you better to apply next year?

If you are prepared mentally and practically, then you may be successful with the Scramble.

Step Two: Don’t wait.  Email programs with open positions at 8:10am on match day.  You can get this list from your institution’s VIRMP administrator.  If you wait a day or, god forbid, a week, most open positions will be filled.

Step Three: Be decisive.  Contact programs with open positions and attach your letter and CV in that initial email.  Tell them why you are reaching out to them. Not just because they have an open position, what you would be excited about if you got to work there?  If you get an offer, you need to be prepared to accept or decline it on the spot. Programs won’t wait for you to decide, because their second choice may be gone by the time you decide to decline.

Step Four: Cast a broad net.  Don’t just send your materials to the top 2-3 places you want to go.  They may fill up with someone else, and by the time you look around, your top 4-6 places may be already filled, too.  Send a message to every open position where you would be happy immediately after the match results come out. Realize that, at this point in the process, there is no more official ‘ranking’.  Just as with the match, though, you need to be prepared to accept any program which gives you an offer. If you get an offer from a place you’re willing to go, but not excited to go, go back to planning in #1.

Step Five: Be attentive.  Don’t send an email and fail to follow up.  If you don’t hear back, a polite follow-up the next day is appropriate.  Most positions get filled in the first few days after the match results come out.  If they reply with, “Thank you, we will be in touch in the next 2 days”, send a follow-up on the second day.  You need to be present without being pushy.

Step Six: Be at peace.  The Scramble is frustrating, intense, and emotional.  Be prepared for the possibility of not finding anything.  Be prepared to commit to a program and have them back out at the last second.  Have contingency plans laid out so you are ready whatever the outcome.

It’s always frustrating to fail to match.  I failed to match for a surgery residency and scrambled.  I even applied for transfusion medicine fellowships and similar programs.  Ultimately I thought, “I can go do anesthesia for a couple of years (residencies were 2 years then) and then go into surgery!”  Here I am 20 years later, perfectly content in anesthesia. As always, the key is to be honest with yourself.

Why You Need an Elevator Speech and How to Make a Great One

How do you sum up everything that you are and do professionally in a short span of time?  This is the premise of the elevator speech- a few lines of dialogue which encapsulate your professional experience, approach, and future.  We don’t use them often in veterinary medicine, but I think it’s useful to have one ready. Let’s look at who the elevator speech is for, some uses for the elevator speech, and how to make a great one.

Use #1 – Talking with non-veterinary types.  Although most of the people you engage with during an interview are in the veterinary field, you may encounter some who are not.  Maybe you have a meeting with a Senior VP (for higher-level positions), maybe you have time with a basic sciences researcher or someone from a different college.  These people need a purchase to stand on and enter a conversation. Your elevator speech gives them a starting point.

Use #2 – You may get asked regardless.  Particularly in larger group interviews, you may get asked to give a quick summary of what you do.  Hopefully, everyone has read your CV and letter, but those don’t necessarily answer this question. If you don’t have an answer prepared, you can flail around looking for an answer.  This question may come up as, “Do tell us about yourself” or “I’ve read your CV- give me some insight into your overall approach.”

Use #3 – Priming your brain.  Similar to a mission statement, having an elevator speech helps to crystalize what you do and why you do it.  This can inform any professional interaction you have, even if you don’t actually say your elevator speech.  You can refer back to it and ask, “Is this still true? Do I want it to be?” You can even ask, “How would this project fit into my image of myself, given my elevator speech?”

Now that we’ve decided it’s useful, let’s work on crafting one.  Here are the few short, sweet suggestions:

1) The most important rule is to keep it short.  One to three sentences- what you could say to someone as you ride an elevator to the next floor.

2) Give some context for who you are now and what you do.

3) Provide an example.

4) Make a conclusion.  Or not. I like to leave the ending opening for a question.  You can see that in my elevator speech:

“I’m The Vetducator, I’m a Professor of Veterinary Anesthesia at the University of Wherever.  I look for improvements in systems- teaching, research, service, policies- using an evidence-based approach.  For example, I measured how students performed on quizzes of varying length over the years to arrive at the best amount of time to balance efficiency with student performance.”

Let’s look at how it hits the four points above:

1. It’s short- 3 sentences.  It takes about 18 seconds to verbalize.  2. The context is I work at this place in this role.  Since people may not know what a professor of anesthesia does, I expanded on what I do on a fundamental level.  Saying “I anesthetize pets and research animals” doesn’t add much to “I’m a veterinary anesthesiologist.” Also, it doesn’t really encapsulate my whole professional approach and philosophy.  3. There’s an example of my research. 4. I don’t give a conclusion because I want to leave them with something to ask. Hopefully, this gives the other person an easy next step in the conversation: “What did you find in your study?”

My wife’s is: “I’m The Pharmducator; I’m a PharmD and PhD at the University of Wherever. I teach pharmacy and other healthcare topics and I research natural products. The project most people are most interested in is my research on the phenolic and antioxidant content of craft beer and its ability to inhibit some of the processes by which diabetic complications arise.”

Let’s look at how it hits the four points above:

1. It’s short- 3 sentences.  It takes about 16 seconds to verbalize.  2. The context includes her degrees, which is important- she can do both clinical and basic sciences work.  She specifies what exactly in pharmacy she does. 3. She gives an interesting publication. 4. She doesn’t include a conclusion, but beer and science are always intriguing to people, so giving them an example, which will make them curious, leads them to asking about it.

The elevator speech is not often found in veterinary medicine, but I think it’s a good tool to have ready, just in case.  I believe it also helps to cement what you are interested in professionally, which can affect your global thinking.

Should I Send a Thank You Note?

The Vetducator thank you note for interviews.

Interviews are tiring events for everyone.  The interviewee has to be ‘on’ all the time.  But the interviewers are taking time out of their busy schedule to meet with you.  Academics always feel overwhelmed and time-stressed. Staff are often underappreciated.  Thank you notes acknowledge the time and energy dedicated to your interview.

Should I Send Thank You Notes?  Yes.  You won’t be cut from the shortlist for not sending a thank you.  But you DO appreciate people’s time, don’t you? Why not show it? This reflects a level of class and professionalism.  Who wouldn’t want to hire the classiest, most professional applicant?

Should I Send a Thank You Note to Staff?  Yes. I always send a thank you note to the staff who helped arrange the interview.  I have gotten reports from my admin during faculty interviews ranging from, “She seemed really nice.  She asked me questions and was interested in the area” to “We drove in silence the whole way.” Staff can subtly alter the perception of your visit- let them know their hard work is appreciated.

Should I Send a Thank You Note to Faculty?  Maybe. I recommend sending one to anyone you spent a significant amount of time with.  These will be the individuals who directly interviewed you. If you had a large session with 20 faculty for an hour, I wouldn’t send a note to all of them.  But if you had lunch with 2 faculty, a note to each is suggested.

Should I Send a Thank You Note to the Hiring Managers/Committee?  Yes. If applying for an internship/residency/faculty position, you should send thank you notes to the decision-makers.  For faculty positions, this is the search committee and the department chair, possibly to include the Dean. For internship/residency positions, this is whomever is in charge of those programs, assuming you met with them (Intern Training Committee, group of specialists for residencies, etc.).

What Should I Say?  I recommend personalizing each note as much as possible.  If you can remember a specific topic discussed with that person, mention it in the note.  If not, you can make it generic. It does not need to be long- 3 sentences are plenty. Begin with “Dear Title Lastname,” and end with “Salutation, Yourfirstname Yourlastname”.  Do not use your title in your salutation. Respectfully, sincerely, with thanks, and regards are all good salutations.

What Form Should the Note Take?  This is up to personal opinion so I will not be prohibitive here.  Your options are email and a physical thank you card. I personally prefer to send a physical thank you card, but an email in this day and age is acceptable.  I feel a physical thank you card is a little classier and more consistent with my professional image- I am a little bit old school and a little bit formal. It can also be hard to find email addresses for some individuals.  If you are concerned about a physical card arriving after the decision-making group meets, an email may be preferable. Decisions are rarely made less than a week after an interview, though, giving plenty of time for a physical note to arrive.

What Happens if I Don’t Send a Thank You Note?  Probably nothing. For vet school, those who interview you may not be on the selection committee.  In this case, after the interview is over, they have no say in your selection. For internships, residencies, and faculty positions, those who participate in interviews will probably have varying levels of influence on any hiring decisions.  I’ve never heard anyone say, “Well, that person didn’t send a thank you note, so I think we should put them lower.”

Does a thank you letter change them from a “no” vote to a “yes” vote?  Unlikely. In the event of two equally qualified candidates, does getting a thank you letter cause them to vote slightly higher for that candidate?  Possibly. It is a very low-cost action to take which may ever so slightly improve your chances of success. Why not send a thank you note?