Tag Archives: residency

Dr. Coretta Patterson Vetducator Podcast Image

Podcast Episode 4 – Dr. Coretta Patterson

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

Links to topics brought up in this episode:

What to Get Out of Doing Research Work as an Undergrad

There is No Ideal Applicant

Words of Caution for the Aspiring Vet Student

Using Statistics to Decide Your Future

I wanted to be a surgeon.  Specifically, I loved orthopedic surgery.  I wanted to just fix something and not manage a chronic illness for years like internal medicine does.  It was not to be for me, though, and my life turned out grand. I have reviewed applications from people who have done THREE specialty surgery internships, and it makes me sad because they seem to be throwing themselves at an impenetrable wall.  Obviously, you can’t choose what you want to do for the rest of your life based purely on numbers, but let’s start by looking at the numbers.

For the 2018 Match, the specialties with the worst match rate (i.e. most competitive) that routinely participate in the match were exotic/wildlife (2.9%), zoo med (6.6%), and avian medicine (10%).  You would not believe the number of vet student applicants who have told me their life long dream is to be a zoo vet. I feel so bad for them. Their dreams will almost surely be crushed. If you plan to do zoo med, you need a backup plan.

The specialties with the best match rate were lab animal, emergency/critical care, and anesthesia.  Lab animal often pays quite well and allows you to do diverse interesting things. E/CC can be challenging and complex, but be sure to review the specialty board pass rate for the institution- some of them do not train their residents very well.  Anesthesia, of course, is great- you don’t have to talk to crazy clients or haggle over money with clients and you can do small animal, large animal, or both.

Small animal surgery is actually higher than I thought- 20%!  I have heard some programs receive 190 applications for one small animal surgery position.  But the overall statistics don’t seem terrible for small animal surgery.

Obviously, the match rate includes _every_ applicant, even those who are clearly not viable candidates.  So your odds are probably much better, assuming you are reasonably competent and pleasant to work with. You may be able to improve your odds by having a great application packet and doing an interview well, with which this blog will help you.

So what to do with this information?  Well, I would suggest analyzing your future career considering the statistics.  Are you SURE the only thing you could be happy doing would be surgery or zoo med?  A lot of other clinical specialties offer a similar quality of life, intellectual challenge, and freedom.  

The evidence indicates that people can be happy leading life one of three ways – seeking pleasure, doing your best work, or helping others.  You can do your best work doing a lot of different things in veterinary medicine.  If you don’t match the first time for a residency, maybe re-examine your future and consider other alternatives before you waste years of your life pursuing an impossible dream.

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.

Dr. Clara Moran

Podcast Episode 3 – Dr. Clara Moran

Dr. Moran and I worked together on a terrific research project which led to a publication in JVECC while she was a veterinary student. I wrote letters of recommendation for her and have been so excited to see her be successful in surgery. Dr. Moran talks about why academia is awesome, particularly when studying for boards, why surgery is fun, and developing relationships.

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?

DrShaverVetducatorPodcast

Podcast Episode 2 – Dr. Stephanie Shaver

DrShaverVetducatorPodcast

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

Links to topics brought up in this episode:

Maximize Your Senior Year for Internship Success

There is No Ideal Applicant

How to Ask for a Letter of Recommendation

The Vetducator - mentor growing pupil.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Making the Best Intern/Resident CV

The Vetducator - VIRMP intern matching statistics.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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?