How To Avoid Making a Damn Fool of Yourself on Externship

I don’t want to write this blog post. I don’t feel like I should have to. It’s common sense, isn’t it? It’s a waste of data to send this through the interwebs. Unfortunately, I have experienced veterinary externs who made a damn fool of themselves. They besmirched the reputation of their home institution, irritated colleagues and faculty, and sank any hope of getting a letter of recommendation or being ranked at the institution. So, since I have seen it, I am here to help. If you are an RFHB, you may go to the next post. If not, here’s how to avoid making a damn fool of yourself on externship.

1) You are a guest. Would you go to someone’s house and denigrate the way they load their dishwasher? “Man, they’ll never get clean if you do it like that!” Don’t insult your host school in any way. Don’t talk down about their students or their faculty or their processes. You may make a polite remark like, “Oh, how come you do it like that?” or “Oh, why do you do that” or “Oh, what was your rationale for deciding to do it that way?” if it reflects a genuine interest to learn. But just because they do things differently doesn’t mean they’re bad. Try to see the good in the differences. Heck, I learned how to place coccygeal art lines at CSU during a 3-week externship which I would have never learned otherwise. Be open-minded.

2) Learn the system. There is always a painful learning curve the first week, but pay attention and try hard to figure it out. If you work at it, you will be more effective by the second week. You may not know where the Q-tips are, but at least you can fill out a medical record and find ICU.

3) Show up. Set two alarm clocks if you have to. A student at their home institution may get a one-off if they miss a day or show up late. You don’t have a whole year to impress these people, you have 2-4 weeks. A single day of a bad showing represents up to 10% of the experience these people will have with you. Make sure you know the route to the hospital and budget plenty of time in the event of an accident or road closure.

4) Work hard. Come in early, stay late, don’t complain. You are representing your home school as well as yourself. You don’t want anyone to have the slightest inkling that your home school trains slackers. Represent your home school with honor.

5) Smile. Be pleasant. Be engaged. Ask polite questions. Be helpful. Be positive. It’s only for 2-4 weeks. Even if you are not by nature a particularly outgoing person, you can still appear happy to be there. Because you SHOULD be happy to be there. You’re in god-damned-vet-school, how amazing is THAT?!? And this place had the good grace to accept you in as a guest! That is pretty amazing.

6) Treat everyone with respect, especially the technicians. Obviously, this is true at your home school, but is even more important when you are an extern. Technicians are amazing; be sure to treat them with the utmost esteem.

7) Be appreciative. Make sure to thank your colleagues and mentors for the experience. If you had a particularly good connection or may be interested in a letter of recommendation, a follow-up thank you card may not come amiss. In particular, thank the technicians.

That’s it.  It seems simple, doesn’t it?  It seems like it shouldn’t need to be said.  But believe me when I say this: it DOES need to be said.  And YOU may be the one to whom it needs to be said.

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