How to Identify a Bad Internship

In contrast to vet schools, which are accredited by the AVMA, there is no governing body which accredits internship.  Any hospital can establish an internship, and some of them probably shouldn’t. There are some notoriously bad internships out there.  Some of them have turned around and become better programs. So, if you are looking at internships, how do you identify the problem programs?

#1: Talk to Current Interns.  I cannot possibly stress this enough.  If you want to find out about a program, you can ask your mentors, you can ask your friends but, at the end of the day, the ones that know are the ones who are there in the trenches.  The current interns are experiencing the program and can provide you the nitty-gritty. You have to ask the right questions and read between the lines because veterinary medicine is a small world.  Very few interns are willing to say outright, “This is terrible, don’t come here.”

#2: Review their past intern match statistics.  This may or may not be available to you. When internship descriptions were in hard copy, you could look back through previous years to see how a program had changed.  Nowadays, you would need some kind of access to prior years’ information. Alternatively, you can ask the program about their residency match rate and/or changes they have made over time.

#3: Reputation.  This can be problematic because different people hear different things.  For years, one university had a reputation for only taking students in the top 5% of their class rank as interns.  When I recently spoke to somewhere there, they vehemently denied this and gave several examples recently where this rule was not true.  So, things can change over time. If your mentors have recent information (less than 5 years old) or recently worked at the institution, they can probably provide valuable insight.  Otherwise, be reserved in the interpretation of a bad reputation.

#4: Type of work.  Will you be on emergency duty 25-33% of the time?  That seems like a lot and suggests they may just be using you for cheap ER doctors.  Will you get to rotate through a variety of different disciplines and otherwise get a broad experience?

#5: Number and type of specialists.  Is there a single internist at the practice, and it is otherwise staffed with ER doctors?  Or is it a large multi-specialty hospital? The former suggests a new or possibly dodgy program, the latter is more likely to support a robust, healthy program.

#6: Longevity of program.  Is this the first or second year the program has been active, or have they been doing this for 20 years?  A brand new program isn’t necessarily bad, but one that has been ongoing for a while is more likely to have worked out the kinks.

#7: Academic or private practice.  Statistically, there are probably more good academic internships than good private practice internships.  That’s not to say there are no bad academic internships or few good private practice ones. But generally, academic internships will be ‘safer’ than private practice ones.

In general, bad internships are those which are newer, where you don’t have much mentoring, don’t have exposure to many disciplines, work too much ER, and don’t progress your career to the next step.  Fortunately, bad internships are few and far between. Most programs are perfectly fine. As always, make sure the programs which you rank are ones where you would be OK working. And remember, it’s only a year.

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