The intern year is typically one year immediately following graduation from vet school. Some people may go out into practice and then go back to an internship, but that is rare. Some people do an internship to improve their clinical skills or to avoid going into the Real World for another year. The reason many people pursue an internship is to make them a good candidate for a residency position. Most clinical disciplines require a one-year internship “or private practice equivalence”. Practically-speaking, it’s hard to be competitive for a residency without doing an internship. But what happens if you don’t get a residency right out of your internship? Some options for what to do follow.
1) Residency with Conditions. This may be a 4-year residency (most residencies are 3 years) or an agreement to work for an entity after your residency is done. Usually, people only pursue these residencies if they don’t get a ‘traditional’ residency. It’s clearly better to do a 3 year residency and get out and make real money than to do a 4 year residency which prepares you to the exact same degree. And agreeing to work for an entity for a period of time (usually 3 years) after you finish the residency limits your future.
2) Specialty Internship. According to those I interview for the podcasts, these are becoming more and more common. This is another year of internship, but in the desired discipline, such as surgery or ophthalmology. It isn’t ideal, as it adds another year to your timeline, but it is good to stay “in the system” of academia and you get to spend time in the discipline you love. However, if you end up doing two or three specialty internships without getting your desired residency, it’s probably better to find another life path.
3) Fellowship. There are occasional opportunities to continue in academia in a variety of positions which I will classify under this umbrella. I was looking at applying for a Transfusion Medicine Fellowship when I failed to match for a residency. Some people arrange to work with a clinical researcher- spending some time doing research and some time on clinics. These positions can be difficult to identify- you may need to reach out to mentors to find out what opportunities are out there if you don’t match for a residency.
4) Corporate work. For those who REALLY don’t want to go into general practice, working for a drug company or similar entity may be interesting and rewarding. It’s difficult to say how it may affect your future residency prospects- not many people go from corporate work into a residency. Clinical corporations- those which own many specialty hospitals like BluePearl- may be willing to pay for your residency if you agree to work for them afterwards (see Residency with Conditions above).
5) Military. The military is always looking for qualified veterinarians, and they will often send them to do residencies or graduate work. If you decide to parlay military service for a residency, make sure to get the agreement in writing and negotiate strong up front. Once you sign, you lose all bargaining power.
6) Clinical practice. This is the final ‘bucket’ to fall into (assuming you want to get a residency), because it’s harder to go from private practice to a residency than from being in the academic system. Nonetheless, if you want to be a clinician, getting practice being a clinician can be valuable. If possible, working at an emergency clinic with a large specialist group would be best. That way, at least specialists could be writing a letter of recommendation for you for future residency application cycles.
Assuming your goal is a residency and specialization, I have listed these in order of what I believe would prepare you best for that direction. There are always exceptions, so, if you don’t get a residency, don’t despair. Some residency positions are unimaginably competitive and you NEED to come up with alternate life plans if you don’t end up getting a residency, because your odds of getting a residency can be quite low.