You’ve decided to do an internship, congratulations! Maybe you’re a senior student or maybe you’re out in practice and want to do a residency. The applications for most internships are administered through the VIRMP (although some equine practice internships are through the AAEP). I’ve talked before about HOW to select an internship. But with hundreds of programs to choose from, how do you get the information you need to make a decision?
I have four simple sources of information: VIRMP description, program website, talking to mentors, and talking to existing or former interns at that program.
The description has been standardized for many years now. Programs are required to put in percent time in ER, for example, and what equipment they have access to. I suggest paying particular attention to the specialists they have. If they only have 1 specialist in the discipline you are interested in (e.g. ophthalmology), I would be a little bit cautious. What if that specialist leaves?
Besides the boilerplate information, each program also writes their own description. There’s usually a lot of generic information in here like “good mentoring” and a description of learning opportunities. I would pay attention to the description of elective rotations- how much time you have and what the options are- as well as what they focus their description on. If they spend a lot of time talking about good work-life balance and happy working conditions, that may be meaningful.
Once you’ve narrowed down your potential list via the VIRMP descriptions, it’s time to research each practice. I would visit the practice website to get a sense of what they do. Are the current interns pictured or is there a description of the program on the website? That suggests interns fill an important role and they may be less likely to use interns for only cheap labor. You may also research the location- can you get affordable housing in walking/biking distance? Is it in an industrial park or a business park?
Since there are so many programs, and they tend to change over time, your mentors may not have much knowledge of the status of current programs. But you can always ask. I think I can still speak knowledgeably on roughly 4 internship programs besides our own. And I can certainly speculate- based on the VIRMP description and website- on nearly any program and how good of a fit it may be for any particular mentee.
You may not have time to contact every program to which you want to apply, but for your top 5-10 I would certainly recommend reaching out to get the contact info for the current interns and then contact them. This is most likely going to be via email, but phone calls may also be arranged. I would suggest asking “What do you like?” and “What would you improve if you could?” I wouldn’t ask “What don’t you like” as they may be less willing to honestly answer that while still in the program. I would suggest asking 1-2 interns per location. I suppose you could email all the interns at all the locations, but if every applicant did that, I think the current interns would be quickly overwhelmed.
Ask the residents at your institution where they did their internship. They may have more current knowledge of programs than more senior (faculty) mentors. Former interns are probably the best source of information, since they can be completely honest.
Choosing an internship isn’t like choosing a specialty or a spouse- it’s not the end of the world if you’re not a great fit for where you end up. I do think applying some selection and thought to the process to maximize your chances of finding a good fit is wise. Once you’ve decided what matters to you, go out and do your research!