Tag Archives: resident

Recommendation Letters Series

The Vetducator - interconnectedness image for recommendations.

Asking for letters of recommendation is hard, which we have discussed before. In addition, from whom should you get letters of recommendation? This differs depending on what position you are applying for, I have create four separate posts for each of my audiences:

Those applying for vet school.

Those applying for internships.

Those applying for residencies.

Those applying for faculty positions.

I will be posting one a day this week to have them consolidated all in one spot. I hope they are helpful to you!

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.

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.

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.

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?

Creating Compelling Residency Application Letters

The Vetducator - American Board of Veterinary Specialists seal.
ABVS Seal

Competition for residencies is fierce.  So many variables are out of your control- do they have a candidate in mind already?  Do they know your mentors and references? Do they have some crazy GPA/Class Rank cutoff?  Fortunately, one of the things in your control is your letter of intent. You need to make it excellent.  Many of the rules for internship letters apply, with some important upgrades. Let’s start with the evidence.

There hasn’t been an analysis of veterinary residency application letters, so for data we need to go to the human side.  There are numerous studies looking at residency applications in human medicine, so we will only look at a few.

In one study of human anesthesia programs, those applicants who included an interest in physiology and pharmacology were more likely to have an interview extended to them.    In a study of dermatology applicants, they were more like to match for a dermatology residency if they included statements emphasizing the desire to study cutaneous manifestations of systemic disease, to contribute to a knowledge gap in the literature, and to better understand the pathophysiology of skin disease.  Evidently, different disciplines look for different interests in their applicants.

On the veterinary side of things, you can’t go wrong by first avoiding common mistakes of letters of intent.  Once you have navigated those, how do you go about creating a memorable, distinct, interesting letter which will help you secure a residency position?  On the one hand, the idiosyncrasies of the evaluators will have a tremendous effect on how they read your letter, probably even more so than internship letters.  On the other hand, you will probably be applying to fewer programs. If you know any of the evaluators at the programs, you may be able to tailor your letter. On the third hand, the same letter gets sent out to all programs.  What is an applicant to do?

Clearly, you need to tell them why you want to pursue that specialty.  Stories may help illustrate this, but be mindful they can appear trite if not done well.  Sharing your long-term goals may be worthwhile to do at this point.

Much like in other letters, you need to indicate you know what is involved with this residency.  Is there expected to be a lot of on call work? Will it be more physically demanding (surgery) or more mentally demanding (radiology)?  Will it involve long hours with clients (oncology) or clients not even knowing you exist (anesthesiology)?

Drilling down into an understanding of what is needed by members of that specialty is what you are looking for.  If you are applying for a zoo med residency, it’s obviously because you want to play with the charismatic megafauna- so does everyone else who is applying for that position.  If you can elaborate on how the different responses to drugs among phylogenetic orders captures your fascination, that is rather more distinct and illustrates you know what is needed or interesting about the specialty.

As always, my advice is to be sincere and genuine.  If you don’t like teaching students, don’t say you do in your letter.  If you don’t like doing research, don’t highlight that. Residencies want to make sure you will work hard, you will get along with people, you won’t create problems, and you will reflect well on the program once done.  Highlight those considerations.

Ultimately the residency letter probably matters less than the internship or vet school letter.  At this level, most of your success is likely due to personal contacts and references. But you can still make sure your letter doesn’t give them a reason to cut your application.

The need for this blog

Vetducator demonstrates veterinary academic professionals need help.
Photo by Noah Buscher on Unsplash

This year, I’ve had quite a few students and interns approach me about reviewing their materials for the VIRMP, which I am more than happy to do.  I thought, instead of sending individual emails to each, I could write a single blog post and direct them to it. I could also offer my services online.  That way, others outside of my institution could also benefit.

I have seen some atrocious applications for vet school, internships, residencies, and faculty positions.  Video interviews where the interviewee was backlit. Poorly composed CVs that evaluators had to dig through until they figured “why bother” and stopped considering the applicant.  Negotiations where one side or the other acts unwisely or unprofessionally, sinking the whole deal. I have been shocked that no one has mentored students on how to structure their senior year to maximize the impact on their internship application.  There is a need for people to get help in their professional progress in veterinary academia. I want to help those people.

This blog will be about employment and professional progression in academic veterinary medicine.  The focus will be on undergrads applying to vet school, veterinary students applying to internship, residency applicants, and faculty applicants.  We will talk about cover letters, CVs, interviews, how to strategize to position yourself for the next step, who to talk to and when, and all other things related to the business of veterinary academia.

I have personally experienced this progression and the job market, have served on and chaired countless search committees, have been a hiring manager in my role as a Department Chair, have helped innumerable undergrads, vet students, interns, residents, and junior faculty get to their next step, and have published in peer-reviewed journals about post-graduate education.  I have always had an interest in the business of veterinary medicine, I stay up to date on current trends, I touch base with colleagues at other institutions to sound out the academic world. I want to share this expertise with those of you who want to make your professional progression as excellent as possible. Please follow along, comment, email me, and work together to make things better.