Tag Archives: strategy

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.

Set Your Post-Graduate Success in Vet School

Vetducator - Mean and nice chihuahua dog.

I was chatting with a colleague the other day who mentioned a course we had just converted that semester from a graded course to a pass/fail (at 70%) course.  Apparently students had been harassing the course coordinator for a few points here and there, even though these students were already above a 70%. They couldn’t ‘pass’ any more than they had, yet they were hassling this poor embattled new assistant professor.  

My colleague asked me, “Don’t they realize they will want us to write letters of recommendation for them in a few years?  Do they think we’ll have forgotten how they made our lives unnecessarily difficult?” I’m not saying vengeance will be taken or anything of the sort.  I’m also not saying students shouldn’t ask polite questions of faculty members to improve their own understanding of a topic. But students who want an 89% instead of an 88% in a course which is pass/fail will be noticed.  And remembered.

During vet school, you want to be quietly competent.  Not invisible, but not obnoxious or difficult to work with.  As always, aim for zero. Ideally, faculty members know more or less who you are and if you are a good student.  “Good” in this context does not necessarily mean earning high grades. For a clinician educator like myself, a “good” vet student is one who tries to understand the clinical rationale for decisions and is not just memorizing data.  If you are a club officer, hopefully the faculty mentor for the club knows you and you feel comfortable talking to them.

Focus on the big picture.  I understand it’s easy to get swept along with your classmates who all want top grades, but ask what the important thing is about what you’re learning.  Is the most important thing to get good grades, or is the most important things to become a competent clinician? I distinctly remember the #1 ranked student in a class got to clinics and one of my interns wondered, “How can they be so smart and so dumb at the same time?”  They were academically gifted, but couldn’t handle clinical decision making. Don’t just memorize data. Understand concepts.

I don’t want any student to feel like they can’t talk to a faculty member and ask respectful questions intended to expand their own understanding.  But when the questions are purely to get an extra point or two, ask yourself what you’re really trying to accomplish. And consider the collateral damage you may cause.  Faculty members are, in general, fairly intelligent, with good memories. We will remember the grade grubbers. And they will not get good letters of recommendation.

Do You Want to do a Specialty Internship?

The Vetducator - Image of intern going to private practice, specialty internship, or residency.

The internship is a one-year experience.  Typically, after vet school, one does a rotating internship, where you get a wide variety of experience in medical and surgical cases.  More and more specialty internships are coming about. These are also one year long, and are focused on a specific discipline, such as anesthesia, cardiology, internal medicine, oncology, or surgery.  You’ve already done one internship, worked long hours for not much money. Why would you do another?

The specialty internship has been around for at least 20 years, and probably longer.  Programs have always had a need for semi-experienced clinicians who could do more specialized work.  Why not create a residency if that is needed? Some programs do not have enough specialists or other requirements dictated by specialty colleges to train residents.  Some institutions do not have the funding to make a 3-year residency commitment, but can make a 1-year internship commitment. In recent years, specialty internships have exploded as the applicant pool has increased.

Most people pursue a specialty internship as a stepping stone for a residency.  Through the VIRMP, you can apply to residencies and internships simultaneously. The VIRMP will first try to match you for a residency.  If you are unsuccessful, it will then try to match you in an internship if you applied to any. A specialty internship fulfills a number of useful roles for the prospective specialist:

  1. It keeps you in the system.  If you finish your internship and do not get matched for a residency, what do you do until you can apply again the next year?  You could go out into practice, but that is fraught with complications.
  2. It gives you more references.  Your references from your rotating internship are good and helpful, but getting more references, particularly from people within your discipline, can be valuable.  The supervisors for specialty internships have also seen a LOT of specialty interns, and can apply that perspective to your performance.
  3. It makes you a better clinician.  You get more experience in your chosen specialty, meaning that a residency which takes you will have a more prepared resident.  Plenty of programs still take applicants out of a rotating internship, but a specialty internship might give you a slight leg up if you need it.

There are some times when doing a specialty internship isn’t helpful, or isn’t right for you.  Some of these include:

  1. Family considerations.  Yet another year spent at a different institution with no guarantee for the future.  It can be tough if you want to settle down.
  2. Financial considerations.  Another year spent not making much money, potentially with student loans looming or, worse, gathering interest.
  3. Academic consideration.  If your vet school performance was poor, it’s possible no number of internships will make you a viable candidate for a residency.  Talk to your mentors and get their genuine appraisal of your situation. I have seen applicants pursue three specialty internships and still not get a residency.  It breaks my heart. I wish I could tell them, “This isn’t going to be your path. Find another one.”
  4. You’ve had it.  You’ve been in school long enough, and you want to have your own time and develop your own professional image.  It’s time to get out of the academic circle and into practice or a different veterinary pursuit.

The specialty internship can be a valuable, rewarding experience.  It can enhance your application and get you one step closer to a residency.  It can also delay you getting to where you want to be in life by another year (or more if you do more than one).  

You should have a very honest conversation with yourself, your loved ones, and your mentors.  How much is this path really worth to you? Could you be just as happy doing something else? I didn’t match for a surgery residency after my internship and ended up doing an anesthesia residency.  I am ecstatically happy now. Professional happiness doesn’t just happen to you- you need to make yourself happy given your circumstances. If you tell yourself, “I can only be happy if I am a surgeon”, I think you are bound to make unwise decisions.  Tread carefully.

Maximize Your Senior Year for Internship Success

The Vetducator - Picture of senior vet year schedule for internship prep
Sample senior year schedule for a small animal internship-bound student.

What are your concerns in scheduling your senior year?  When you plan to take boards and what rotations to do before that.  When you want to take vacation and do job interviews. Have you thought about how scheduling your rotations may affect your intern application success?  Because it can, fairly dramatically.

Remember what intern evaluators want to know- can you do the job?  More specifically, do you have general surgical and medical skills sufficient to be a competent intern?  Even if your interest is neurology, the internship evaluators are probably not very interested in the amazingness of your neuro knowledge.  Evaluators know about your clinical skills largely from your letters of recommendation.

You need to make sure your senior year is structured to maximize your likelihood of getting good letters of recommendation from core clinical disciplines.  Core disciplines are medicine, surgery, and related disciplines. Your first rotation or two is a wash- you’re just learning the clinic and figuring things out.  Getting a good letter from the first rotations is nearly impossible- you don’t know enough to shine yet. Load up rotations which will get you in the clinic but which are not core, such as ophthalmology, dermatology, anesthesiology, oncology, and similar disciplines.

You want to schedule the rotations where you will get your really stellar letters of recommendation in the late summer and early fall.  Internal medicine, surgery, and emergency medicine are probably the top contenders. Cardiology and neurology can be rotations for good letters if you absolutely cannot arrange your schedule to get medicine and surgery during this time.

Some internship programs may offer on-site interviews after applications are due in early December.  Having some vacation time in late December or early January to arrange these may be helpful. However, everyone else wants to be off over the holidays, too, so this may be difficult.  Don’t lose sleep if you can’t arrange it- most programs which do interviews are fine with phone or video interviews.

Don’t waste any time before the match doing external rotations at the clinic where you worked during undergrad, or on peripheral disciplines like pathology or behavior.  You may, however, do external rotations at other universities or clinics which have internship programs to which you want to apply. But remember, you don’t have much time to become an above-average clinical senior veterinary student in order to perform to the level where you will get good letters of recommendation.  Focus on core clinical disciplines and leave the rest of the year after match applications are due for anything else. Not sure how to do this? Ask away!

How to Nail the Vet School Interview

The Vetducator Vet Student Interviews.

Veterinary schools engage in interviews to varying degrees.  Some go back and forth on doing them or not. There is not particularly compelling evidence that interviews improve the selection process, but it’s hard to let go of them.  It SEEMS like sitting down talking with someone should help us determine if they will be successful or not. So, for those schools that do interviews, how do you really nail the interview?

Your goal is to have notes made by the interviewees that you are an above-average candidate.  You do not have to aim to be a superstar candidate or the best candidate and, in fact, aiming for that is likely to backfire.  As always, aim for zero. Here are some general tips which will help you with any vet school interview.

Be concise but not parsimonious with your answers.  When you are asked a question, answer it without rambling.  However, try not to answer with one or two sentences. You need an opportunity to showcase yourself, and answering questions is how you do so.  Answer the question directly and expand on your answer. If you find you are speaking for more than about three minutes on a reply, it’s probably too long or rambling.

Use examples.  Whenever possible, use examples from your own experience.  If you are given an ethical conundrum, try to relate it to something you had to tackle yourself in the recent past.  Always share what you learned from the experience and how you might do things better in the future.

Be secure.  If you need a question repeated, ask so politely.  If you need to take notes, do so. Take the time to take a sip of water.  You don’t have to answer in a rapid-fire manner. Consider your answer before giving it if you need to.

Be prepared.  Why do you want to go to that institution?  You should have researched this before the interview and have some answers prepared.  Why are you a good candidate? Be genuine but not generic. If given an opportunity, have questions to ask them.  Remember, it’s about finding the right fit- you need to make sure this institution is where you want to go to school.

If you hit these points, you will come off as poised and professional- a future colleague to the interview team.  Although the interview is rarely a make-or-break decision for the admissions team, it does factor into their decision making.  I have seen some interviewees who impressed the heck out of me, and others which were definitely unremarkable. If you follow the short list above, you are more likely to edge into that impressive group.  Are there scenarios you have heard of where you think the above would not be helpful?