I do not represent every veterinary professional. I think that should be obvious, but I have to make that VERY clear for this particular post. I have spoken with many veterinary professionals and academics, and I have trained dozens of house officers and thousands of students, and there are numerous ways to approach success in veterinary medicine. I don’t think many people would argue with the principles I have in the How to Be Successful series. I suspect some people may argue with my ideal candidate. Nonetheless, I want to share with you my ideal candidate and why I believe they are the ideal candidate.
No matter the position- vet school, internship, residency, or faculty position- I have a short list of essential criteria. I want them to be interested in working hard. I want them to be humble. And I want them to be pleasant to work with and able to get along with people. I have heard this summarized as “hungry, humble, and smart.” Why do I look for these particular qualities?
Nobody wants to work with someone who is lazy. Vet students who don’t work hard won’t learn what they need to pass, much less be successful veterinarians. Interns who don’t work hard don’t learn to be competent clinicians. Residents who don’t work hard are the worst- they drag the entire team down for years until they are let go. Faculty who don’t work hard don’t usually impact me directly, but it’s a little disappointing to witness. Step #1 is to Show Up. You can’t be successful if you’re not there.
As a general rule, people who are humble are more teachable, they are interested in personal growth, they realize they are imperfect, and they acknowledge their mistakes. Being humble is NOT the same as lacking confidence. You can be humble and confident. You can’t be humble and arrogant. Who really wants to work with someone arrogant? As a student, intern, or resident, I can’t teach such a person. As a faculty member, they won’t admit to mistakes and instead push them off onto others. I believe humility is essential to becoming a fully self-actualized, happy human being. It’s also critically important in medicine, where you absolutely will make mistakes and need to deal with them. One surgeon I worked with had a saying, “If you haven’t seen a complication doing this, you haven’t done enough of them.”
If someone doesn’t know something, I can teach them. In fact, that’s my job. But if they aren’t pleasant to work with and get along with people… I can’t fix that. That’s going to take years of therapy on their part. I’m not a therapist. Who wants to work with someone unpleasant? Everyone has their bad days- that’s OK. But if someone doesn’t know how to deal with conflict, is constantly negative, puts other people down, or doesn’t show respect, I don’t want to be around that person. You don’t need to be extroverted and outgoing and always “on”. But you do at least need to understand that other people have feelings, they are trying to get through their day the same as you, and you need to work together to accomplish that.
It’s not a long list. It doesn’t seem hard. You don’t need to EXCEL in each of them. I would argue I am reasonably hungry (though not as much as some), reasonably humble, and still working on developing my emotional intelligence. But you DO need to at least be aware of each of these and, if you aren’t doing well yet, working to improve them. The students, interns, residents and faculty I have seen fail have completely lacked- and been uninterested in improving- at least one of these.
This is why my ideal candidate focuses around these qualities. There is some baseline assumption of intelligence, but anyone who gets into vet school I believe is sufficiently smart to become excellent, as long as they also have these three characteristics. When I look through applications, I look for evidence that the applicant has OR DOES NOT have these qualities. What qualities do YOU think are most important?