Dr. Kreisler and I worked together for a couple of years and did a research project and continue to collaborate in research. She is an INTJ like me! She has a fascinating perspective on veterinary medicine as she has wanted to do shelter medicine since before she got to vet school. I’m sure you’ll learn a lot- I certainly did!
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.
Moving on from one step of your professional life to the next is exciting! You’re going forward, pursuing your passion, hopefully at an institution you like. There is invariably down time between positions and there are important Work and Life details you need to take care of. We are in the middle of a move as I write this, which is both exciting and scary. Here are some suggestions to help you make these transitions less scary, specifically with regards to Time, Housing, Moving, Insurance, and Licenses.
Between undergrad and vet school you have at least a whole summer, between vet school and internship at least a month and possibly more, between internship and residency a couple of weeks or more, and between residency and faculty position as much or as little time as you like.
Between undergrad and vet school, work or travel. There’s not much point in trying to prepare for vet school- that’s what vet school is for.
Between vet school and internship, travel or, if they’ll have you, stay on at the institution from which you graduated. I spent an additional 3 weeks after graduation hanging around the surgery service acting as a super senior or a junior intern, depending on your perspective. It was a great experience and helped prepare me for my role as an intern.
Between internship and residency, study. The more you know about your discipline before you start, the better off you will be. Of course, they’ll teach you what you need to know during your program, but the faster you get up to speed, the more you will learn. I read the Vet Clinics of North America issue on anesthesia as well as Physiology and Pharmacology in Anesthetic Practice and it was tremendously helpful.
Between residency and faculty, travel. You already know enough to be an entry-level specialist, and you can’t do any meaningful work in the amount of time you have. You will rarely be so unencumbered as you are once you finish your residency. I have _never_ been able to travel between positions and I wish that I had.
Once you know where you are going, you need to secure housing. This can be challenging in some college towns. For example, in Athens, if you didn’t have a place secured by April, you would be getting the scraps, and people who want the best places secure their lease in February. In contrast, in Phoenix, you can show up whenever and get almost any apartment you want. I encourage you to live within walking distance of the institution if at all possible. If you can also walk to the market and the pub, all the better. I like using Google Maps, Apartments.com, and Zillow to find places which would be a good fit.
Hopefully the lease of your current place is ending close to when you will be moving. If you need an extra week or two, you can always ask your landlord. In some place, such as Athens, this will be problematic- almost every lease turns over July 31st- but you can at least ask. If you need to leave your lease early, notify them as soon as possible and just pay the fee. In the best-case scenario, your current lease ends the day after you pack everything up and move out.
Use this opportunity to REDUCE YOUR SHIT. I am really serious about this. I showed up for my residency with two duffel bags and that is it. When we left Athens, we gave away almost everything in our 2400-square foot house and it was WONDERFUL. I assure you, your life will be so much better with less stuff. Particularly when you go to an internship- it’s only for a year. Do you really want to be schlepping all of this stuff all over the country? No. Get rid of it. Donate it to friends, charity, or sell it on Craigslist. You may NOT rent a storage unit because that is the height of ridiculousness.
Once you have less stuff, your options for moving are: DIY, hire help, or a combination of the two. I have never heard a story of hiring a company to move things which ends well. So, in general, I would advise not hiring a moving company entirely. To load your shipping device, you can get friends to help or hire local movers. We have had great success hiring local movers– they are relatively inexpensive, fast, and professional.
For shipping, you can rent your own truck (like a U-Haul and other competitors) or a device which someone else drives (PODS or U-Pack). After driving a U-Haul for 2000 miles along I-40, I decided my life was worth more than I was saving by driving myself. Plus the gas cost was incredible. Hiring U-Pack was about the same price as renting a U-Haul for a one-way trip, and was much less stressful.
What happens if you get into a car accident when driving to your new home? What if something catastrophic happens to your stuff in transit? How do you handle renter’s insurance? Do you have to re-insure your car in your new state?
Let’s start with health insurance. You should check with your current position about when your coverage ends. Does coverage end on your last day or the end of the month? In any event, you should have an option to enroll in COBRA, which allows you to extend coverage. This extension should be enough time to cover you until your next position coverage starts. If you can’t get COBRA, you may need to research individual coverage for the gap time.
Stuff insurance. Why do you even have this? Do you own something besides a house or car worth more than $1000? Why? You already downsized your stuff, so you shouldn’t need insurance for it. If it all goes up in a fireball, that would be sad but not catastrophic. You can pack any small, expensive items (instruments, computer, guns, etc.) in the car you personally drive.
Renter’s insurance is straight up absurd. Why the hell should the apartment owners care if we have insurance to cover our very own stuff? I’m not going to sue them if I get broken into. I wish I could opt out of this, but, unfortunately, in a lot of towns, this is required. It is relatively inexpensive so, if you need to get it, find the cheapest policy that satisfies the rental company. Alternatively, several times now I have convinced the rental companies that my umbrella liability policy is sufficient. I strongly recommend umbrella insurance for everyone so, if you have it, you may not need separate renter’s insurance.
Car insurance coverage is generally dependent on the zip code where the car is garaged. Obviously, the insurance company doesn’t know when you move. But, if you get into an accident, they may make a fuss about it. I would recommend talking to your insurance company/agent about this when you are researching moving.
You will need a license to practice veterinary medicine wherever you go after graduation. Some states have arrangements where you can get a ‘faculty license’, which has pretty minimal requirements for someone working at a university. Many places have a single point person to help facilitate this. Figure out the license situation before you leave for your new position.
There are a lot of moving parts involved in moving to a new position. To keep it simple, follow these rules: reduce your stuff, make a plan ahead of time, don’t leave anything to the last minute. The sooner you figure things out, the less stressful the actual move will be.
The other day I popped my head into a faculty member’s office to talk with them about their current struggles with some students. The faculty member mentioned one student who was being needy and dramatic and problematic, and I said, “Wouldn’t it be great if they just acted like a Reasonable Fucking Human Being?” The faculty member laughed and loved that term, because it summarizes so many important but ineffable qualities.
I can’t remember which of my friends coined this term, but it has been one of the most useful terms in my life: Reasonable Fucking Human Being (RFHB). This is not “an amazing person” or “an incompetent asshat.” It is not “Spock-like emotionlessness” or “perfect in every way.” This is the baseline level at which people should be functioning. It is not a high standard. Yet, it is amazing how often people who should know better do not meet this simple qualification.
To be an RFHB, you need to not be dramatic. If you can’t avoid being dramatic, you at least need to be able to calm down and speak rationally. You need to have expectations which are fair and reasonable. You need to not expect people to read your mind. You need to treat people with a basic level of respect, because they are also soft squishy smart monkeys trying to stimulate dopamine activity on a rocky ball hurtling through the cosmos.
To be an RFHB, you can be emotional, but you need to acknowledge your emotionality. You need to listen. You need to not interrupt. If you do interrupt someone, you need to be aware of that and apologize. You need to present solutions and not just gripe, unless all you want is sympathy, in which case you should make that clear. You need to think about the future and be aware of the consequences of your decisions.
To be an RFHB, you need to be compassionate. You need to care at least a little about your fellow human beings. You need to try to minimize suffering- not just starving children in third world countries, but with the words you use and how you deal with the people around you. You need to trust and accept the trust that progressively builds as you interact with others. You need to understand the rules and, if you don’t accept them, be willing to accept the consequences of breaking them.
To be an RFHB, you need to look out for the ‘little guy’. You need to support individuals against the oppression of the majority. You need to understand privilege and not expect others to do things the way you do them. You need to understand the relationship between work, effort, and outcome. You need to be humble and accept responsibility for your actions and work to improve as a person.
In a word: just be cool. OK, that’s three words. It seems really really simple to me. Just be… reasonable. That’s it. That’s the baseline. From there, you can work on being a zero.
Dr. Eberhardt and I were ‘middle management’ at a new institution so shared many struggles and successes. Although we lead sometimes apparently different lives, we feel very similarly about success and how to achieve in veterinary medicine. I hope you enjoy!
After you’ve chosen the programs in which you are interested, sent in your application materials, and done an interview (if applicable), you are now ready to rank the programs. The rank order list is due in early January. What does it mean and how do you do it?
The mechanics of the match are described in detail elsewhere. Put simply, you rank the institutions and the institutions rank the applicants. Then an algorithm runs and matches the applicants with the institutions.
Some people try to over-complicate the match process. They think, “Well, I doubt I will get into place X, so I won’t ‘waste’ a high level spot for it.” Don’t assign value to the actual rank spot. Instead, you should rank purely on one criteria: Where do you want to go? Rank in order from YOUR highest picks to your lowest, without regard for your likelihood of them wanting you. The system is designed to be treated this way; you’ll mess up your chances if you try to second-guess the algorithm.
How many institutions should you rank? It depends primarily on how happy you can be in a given circumstance. For example, have you decided that literally the only way you can have professional fulfillment is to be a surgeon? First, I’m sorry for you. But if so, then you have to rank every single program. On the other hand, if you’ve decided that you would very much like to do surgery, but not at the expense of your physical or mental health, then you should only rank the programs where you would be happy. That’s difficult to know a priori, but it is possible if you do your research and talk to current or former interns/residents
The second consideration for number of institutions to rank is financial cost. There is a substantial step up from 10 to 11 institutions ranked ($90 to $250 in 2019). However, this is your future, the next step in the rest of your life. Even the highest step ($350 in 2019) is not particularly expensive, matched against your entire education to date and your professional future. My advice therefore is to rank more.
The next consideration is how good of an applicant you are. If you know you will be a top choice at a few schools, you only need to rank a few. If you are a good candidate but not sure where you stack up, you will want to hedge your bets and rank many more institutions.
The final and most important consideration is how to decide how to order your rankings. Being an analytical sort, I made a table. It looked something like this:
|Program||# Interns||Salary||Elective Time||Specialists||% ER Time||Research Notes|
Your table may have other variables, such as: geographic location, # cases, equipment, license requirements, rounds, or % primary care time. Some of this information you can get from the position description, some will come from your research on the position. At the end, organize the programs according to the most important variables for you.
My general advice is to rank every institution where you think you could be happy. The cost is not very significant, it minimizes the risk of not matching and having to do The Scramble, and is fairly efficient. Rank them in order of where you want to go. That’s it! Tell me what you think and how it goes!
Making your professional life successful is as much about what NOT TO do as it is about what TO do. The Match is probably the highest-stakes professional selection in academic veterinary medicine- even more so than getting into vet school in the first place. As a result of this pressure, people make a lot of mistakes which adversely affect their professional future. This is not an exhaustive list, just the most prominent ones I have encountered.
1) Trying to game the matching algorithm. Please don’t do this. I know it’s tempting. I did it because I was foolish, didn’t talk to anyone wiser, and the internet was barely a thing. Rank the place you most want to go #1 and then move on to the next.
2) Not reviewing your application materials. How is it possible there is a misspelled word in your letter of intent? You have spell-check on your writing program, don’t you? Run basic diagnostics and read and re-read your materials. Simple errors like this suggest to me that the applicant isn’t really all that interested in the position. If they were, they would have spent more time on their application.
3) Not sending out your application materials. You must get others to read your letter of intent and CV. Preferably veterinary academics who have looked at many such applications. However, even your friends and family can be helpful. Tell everyone to be brutally honest. Your goal is to get the best application possible, not to assuage your ego. You don’t have to take everyone’s suggestions. In fact, if you send it out enough, you will start to get conflicting suggestions. But you must have others review them. You would not believe the poorly written letters I have helped people improve.
4) Not getting your ducks in a row in time. Hopefully, you strategized your time to maximize your match success. And you did give those writing letters of recommendation plenty of notice, didn’t you? And you have gotten all your materials in well before the deadline, right?
5) Not preparing for interviews. If you apply to institutions which hold interviews, you must do your research and study up on how to do a successful interview. Failing to plan is planning to fail.
6) Delaying the decision. I know some students and interns who waffle on whether to apply to the match and then make a decision at the last second. That is unacceptable. If you THINK you may want to apply, set up everything as if you will. You don’t have to submit your rank list until January. If you put in applications but don’t rank any institutions, you won’t match anywhere.
It’s not a long list, but you would be surprised at the number of people who continue to make these mistakes- hence this post. Try to avoid being one of them and let me know if you need help!
Dr. Williams and I worked together at an institution and spent many a night doing colic cases together. He has insight into the world of veterinary equine medicine and equine surgery. I hope his insight is helpful to those of you interested in that path!
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 have two easily accessible options: do a fellowship or volunteer your time.
A summer fellowship is often supported by various industry groups and provide 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.
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.
The residency is the path to specialization. There are a handful of veterinary specialties you can earn without a residency, but, for the vast majority, a 2-4 year residency is the only path to specialization. So, really, the question of doing a residency is: Should you be a specialist? Obviously this is a question you need to answer for yourself, but here are some considerations which may help.
Timing. There are many paths to being a specialist, but the most common is straight from vet school to residency (pathology, lab animal medicine specialties), or from internship to residency (for most others). Some people may be tempted to go into practice first, and then go to a residency. While possible (and even successful for some specialties- like radiology), read the post about taking time off before deciding on this path- it will be harder than a more traditional path.
Salary. Most, but not all, specialists make more, sometimes considerably more, than general practitioners. If you have chronic health issues or family obligations, you may be able to take care of them more easily as a specialist. Otherwise, the salary shouldn’t factor into your decision-making.
Academia. Although some universities are figuring out they should hire general practice vets to train general practice-bound students, the vast, vast majority of faculty are still specialists. If you want to go into academic veterinary medicine, becoming a specialist is really your best bet. And academia is pretty great!
Expertise. In a study we did interviewing senior veterinary students, those interested in specializing expressed the desire to be considered experts and sought after for their knowledge. As a general practitioner, you become more knowledgeable and proficient in a wide variety of domains. As a specialist, you become an expert in a single field. Both can be intellectually rewarding, but if you want the social status that comes with being The Expert, becoming a specialist is an easy path to that regard.
Time. Do you want to spend 2-4 more years of your life on your education? Or do you need to get on with things? This depends on your own life situation, probably largely determined by your family life. Along with this is the reduced income you will have as a resident relative to entering general practice. This is only relevant during the residency, though, as your salary will be much higher once you are done.
Flexibility. As a specialist, there will be fewer places in the country you can work. General practitioners are needed even in very small towns, but Americus, GA, does not need a board-certified veterinary surgeon. In general, as a specialist, you will work at a university or in a private practice in at least a small city.
Dedication. As a resident you will work long hours for little thanks and little pay. Can you suffer through that? Are you OK being treated as a minion for more time in your life? It is physically and psychologically tiring, so you have to be dedicated to the pursuit or you will be miserable.
There are a lot of great reasons to do a residency, but it is not without cost, and it is absolutely not for everyone. Talk to your friends, your family, and your mentors. It’s a difficult, but important, decision.