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Sample Vetducator Corrections for 2019 Letters of Intent

Image by Anne Karakash from Pixabay

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.

Examples of Poor Letters of Intent

The Vetducator- Bad Apple
Photo by Maria Teneva on Unsplash

We have previously given examples of good stories in letters of intent, so I wanted to take the opportunity to show some examples of poor letters of intent.  These examples are from letters which were overall evaluated as “unrankable” for internships, but they apply to any stage of your professional progression. Although the entire letter was given a low value, I wanted to sample the specific segments I think are most illustrative.

“Whether it’s researching alternative therapies for treating an incontinent cat, working a busy ten hour shift in the ER, or consoling an upset client, I really enjoy my work. I am positive, hardworking, determined, organized, and good at working with others. I love to research and think outside the box when it comes to addressing challenging cases. I love working with cats, dogs, and pet exotics. I particularly enjoy emergency medicine, internal medicine, and companion exotic animal medicine.  Being on the verge of completing veterinary school at Unseen University in the top 10% of my class, I want to pursue further study with a one year internship followed by a residency in exotics. I am looking for a rigorous small animal internship in which I can have primary case responsibility, a heavy and varied case load, and the opportunity to continue learning under the guidance of veterinary specialists.”

As an opening paragraph, it is an abrupt start.  A little bit of a lead-in would be nice. It is highly self-promoting: telling the reader how amazing the author is.  They give some indication of what they want, but not why.

“An internship will provide me an opportunity to expand my knowledge base under the guidance of mentors and will continue to grow my veterinary school technical education. It is my desire to be trained by committed and passionate people who are experienced in helping interns to develop a good medical judgment and clinical skills. Likewise* the high volume of clinical cases in specialty practices will assist me to learn and manage multiple cases efficiently. A private practice internship will also enable me to provide optimal care for patients, learn to maximize customer service, and provide opportunities to develop interpersonal relationships with clients.”

What in the world does this entire paragraph tell me?  Of course an internship will help you grow. Everyone wants to be trained by great people.  The high volume is a good detail- I know this person would be a better fit for a busy practice than a slow, cerebral one.  I think ANY job would help you provide optimal care for patients, work on customer service, and work on interpersonal relationships.

“As there is increasing public interest in exotic and nontraditional companion animals* I have exploited every opportunity to continue my education and clinical training with species beyond those routinely presented to the Unseen University Teaching Hospital.  As a zoological and wildlife intern at numerous institutions I was responsible for patient care, heard health, public health, animal husbandry, and patient medical records. Through my direct interactions with chief veterinarians at esteemed zoological institutions I participated in numerous procedures, as listed on my C.V., and attended journal clubs and quality of life meetings.  Professional collaboration was essential in these settings as I discussed patient care and wellbeing with multiple individuals whom were all invested in the same animal, yet possessed differing degrees of medical knowledge. I have knowledge of avian, reptilian and mammalian wildlife, including proper handling and restraint through my experiences caring for these species at the Nature Center and Unseen University Wildlife Ward.”

Let’s analyze each sentence:

1 – Convoluted.  How have you exploited them?  Exploited is not a good word choice.

2 – Misspelling error in ‘heard health’.  Also, how is this different from anyone else?  Of course you’ve done medical records. What do you want, a cookie?

3 – Great, if it’s on your CV, why is it here?  I HAVE your CV, why waste valuable letter space on this?

4 – I can’t even unpack this sentence. “Whom” should be “who”.

5 – Great, you have skills.  I’m not too interested in skills- I can teach you what you need to know.  How are you to WORK with? Based on this, self-promoting and superficial.

* – Missing comma.

I know these applicants were sincere and dedicated and really wanted a position.  I do not want to dismiss their passion. Unfortunately, passion is not enough. They didn’t reach out to mentors and friends for feedback, resulting in relatively poor letters.  I hope you can learn from them, and avoid these missteps.

5 Ways to Improve your Application for Internships as a Non-American

At one of my old institutions, I routinely evaluated the international batch of candidates for our internship.  This was usually a pretty sizeable group- between 40 and 50 of 200 applications. Unfortunately for the applicants, it was one of the easiest groups to evaluate.  A short skim of most applications would reveal them to be unacceptable candidates, so a thorough analysis was not needed to determine where they might rank as a candidate.  It’s harsh but true. If you are not from the United States, and you are applying for a veterinary position here, it is a steep uphill battle.* Here are five ways to improve your success.

1) Get some time working for an academic clinical specialist.  Ideally one in the United States, but a well-regarded institution in the English-speaking world or Utrecht is better than nothing.  This is the most important point because it is ESSENTIAL. No one who hasn’t been trained in the U.S. system knows the U. S. system, so any letters of recommendation you get have no bearing on how well you would do in a U. S. internship.  If you have an application with only letters of recommendation from your home country, unless it is the UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, or The Netherlands, you won’t get very far. You need AT LEAST 2 weeks, but 4 weeks is better with a single specialist.  Ideally, all of your letters of recommendation will be from specialists in the U. S.

2) Figure out the visa situation.  This has become more problematic in the current political climate.  Most private practices and many universities simply cannot accept international applicants.  This may be true even if you are from Canada or Mexico. Check with the institution unless they specify it in their program description.  If you can’t get a visa, you can’t get an internship.

3) Have a native speaker proofread your work.  I realize you may be fluent in English, but English is an incredibly ridiculous language.  I have almost never read a letter of intent from a non-native-speaker which was 100% correct.  Even professional editorial services can’t always be trusted unless they are small and personalized and feature native English speakers.

4) Apply shortly after you graduate.  I see a lot of applications from people who graduated 4-5 years ago and since then have a very strange work history.  It may be a normal work history for that country but, from a U. S. perspective, doing a 7-month internship at the school you graduated from and then doing 2 months as a food inspector and then being a small animal clinician and then working for the state is weird.  Most U. S. applicants apply straight out of vet school. You should aim to do the same. If you are reading this too late to make that decision, make your professional progression CLEAR. You did this, THEN this, THEN this. Don’t muddle up your professional responsibilities and jobs.  If you did part-time work, specify this.

5) Get some time working for a veterinary practice in a country with a strong clinical training emphasis in their veterinary education.  We took interns from some European countries which do not have a strong clinical focus and it showed, and we largely stopped taking those applicants.  You need your vet school training to be on par with vet students in the U. S. in order to be competitive. You could also spend time working as a vet in a country where clinical training is emphasized.

Essentially, you need to make your application as close to a senior veterinary student from the United States as possible.  If your application can’t indicate that you are at least as competent as an average new veterinary graduate, it won’t go anywhere.  There are plenty of more qualified applicants.

*This generally does not apply to those in Canada, the UK, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand, although you still need to look at the visa situation.

How to be Well Spoken in an Application Letter

The Vetducator - Picture of MLK giving speech.

How can you demonstrate you are an effective communicator in a single page in a letter of intent?  We’ve covered mistakes to avoid as well as a general structure for application letters. Now we need to progress on to the kinds of detailed feedback I often give letter writers.

Make an outline.  You may not have done this since you were in grade school, but trust me, it helps.  You should have an introduction, some key points you want to hit, and a conclusion. You don’t have to use a five paragraph essay, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t use one regularly when writing letters of recommendation.  There’s a reason it’s an iconic literary construct.

Make sentences punch.  Compare:

  • Original I am confident that my dedication to meeting new challenges, commitment, willingness to learn, and positive attitude will make me a valued asset to the team.
  • Punchy My dedication to meeting new challenges, commitment, willingness to learn, and positive attitude are characteristics I can bring to the team.
  • Original These experiences have fostered my love for building the human-animal bond and as well as recognizing the importance of building positive client relationships, which is something I aim to continue to develop throughout my professional career.
  • Punchy These experiences have fostered my love for building the human-animal bond and showed me the importance of building positive client relationships.
  • Original While I am excited by the opportunity to refine my skills and expand my knowledge, I know that it will not be without long hours and hard work and I am motivated by the challenge.
  • Punchy I know that an internship will often involve long hours and hard work and I am motivated by the challenge.

Use simple language.  Compare:

  • Original As a veterinary student, I saw that anesthesia offered an opportunity to draw upon a capability in the sciences to solve unique and complex problems with facility and compassion.
  • Simple As a student, I saw that anesthesia offered an opportunity to solve complex problems with compassion and facility.
  • Original With the advantage of knowing my life’s passion early on, I dedicated my spare time to furthering my knowledge under the tutelage of senior colleagues and board-certified specialists.
  • Simple Removed entirely.  This sentence doesn’t add anything.  It’s saying the applicant spends time learning.  Yes, you were in vet school, this is self evident. Also, the language is meandering, obscuring the meaning in overly complex phrasing and word choices.

Don’t get confused.  When you start an idea in a paragraph, see it through to the end or scrap the entire paragraph.  Don’t try to bundle too much into too little space.

Flow.  Make sure a reader can follow your train of thought.  Do your conclusions flow from your statements? Are there isolated ideas or concepts not tied to the greater narrative?  Get rid of them, make sure there is a consistent narrative throughout which reveals who you are.

Kill your darlings.  Although oft-misattributed, this concept is important even to the single-page-letter-writer.  Do you have a turn of phrase from your vet school application, or a poignant story you think is perfect?  Maybe it is, but maybe you can’t see the problems with it. Seek out advice and, when all signs point to it, do the right thing and cut it.  My wife edits all my blog posts and regularly cuts segments which I think are just great, but in the end I agree with her.

Second draft = first draft – 10%.  Stephen King introduced me to this idea and I have almost never found it to be wrong.  It is easier to trim than it is to create good content. Start more expansively and then begin cutting.

When in doubt, make sure to use simple but not simplistic language.  Put the thesaurus away. Be sincere and show them who you are. There are innumerable writing guides on the internet and in book form- go check them out.  Your letter doesn’t have to be perfect, but the clearer you can be as a writer, the more effective you will be.