Red Flags in Internship/Residency Applicants

I think it is surprisingly easy to get yourself flagged as “not rankable” for an internship or residency.  Most application evaluators maintain a “veto” system for applicants.  Any evaluator can veto any applicant for any reason.  Particularly for residents, NO ONE wants a resident whom one of the mentors does not want to work with.  So there are a lot of things that are interpreted as a red flag.

Unfortunately, those things are highly variable among evaluators, making it difficult to make generalizations.  I’ll touch on a few generalizations which I think most evaluators would consider a red flag, and then spend time on the ones I personally consider.  I think most evaluators would consider laziness, poor patient care, bad communication skills, incompetence, and lack of interest as red flags.  I will add (as always) arrogance and poor attitude as well as more than ONE PAGE on letters of intent for red flags I personally look out for.


NO ONE wants an intern or resident who isn’t going to put the hours in.  You have to expect to do 12-16 hour days routinely as a house officer.  If, as a student, you are late to rounds and the first one out the door, your letters of recommendation will probably reflect that.  Step #1, as always, is to Show Up.

Poor Patient Care

If you don’t clean up your patients and let them sit in their own feces, if you don’t give medications on time or at all, if you don’t watch your patient but instead are on your phone, or if you give any indication you have no regard for your patients, people will not want you for a house officer.  This mostly comes out in the letters of recommendation.  So just… do your job.  You went to vet school to help animals, didn’t you?  So, HELP them!

Bad Communication Skills

You don’t need to be the best orator in the world but, if you’re routinely pissing off clients and staff, it will not reflect well in your letters of recommendation and you will get the axe from evaluators.  You have to at least have decent listening skills and the ability to share information about a case.


Obviously, no one wants a house officer who can’t do the job.  Unfortunately for foreign graduates, many evaluators assume the training they received is not up to US standards (and, many times, they are correct).  I have worked with several house officers with no US/Commonwealth veterinary experience and they struggled.  It’s just a different level of expectation for veterinary care in the US/Commonwealth.  If you’re a US graduate and your letters indicate you don’t do a good job, you will not get ranked.

Lack of Interest

If you apply to an anesthesia residency and your letter of intent indicates you want to do dermatology, you will not get ranked.  It seems simple, but I have seen several applications which I read and thought, “Why in the world are you applying for this position?”  Obviously, you have to want to do the job to get the job.


I believe humility is essential to effective learning.  If you can’t admit that you don’t know something, or when you made a mistake, how will you learn?  I can’t fix a personality flaw like this- I’m not your psychologist.  If I get any sense of arrogance from an applicant, I cut them from consideration.

Poor Attitude

Frankly, I want to work with people who are happy coming to work.  Sad sacks, constantly negative people, people who only complain or focus on the problem rather than the solution- all of these are no fun for me to work with.  People also need to have a growth mindset if they are going to learn during a training program.  If I get a sense that they are unpleasant to work with, I don’t want to work with them.


It’s right there in the title.  A letter of intent must be one page.  If you cannot articulate yourself in that space, you do not understand the social norms of this profession.  I don’t have time to read multi-page letters of intent from 100+ applicants.  ONE PAGE.

There are certainly many red flags that others may have.  What are some you are concerned about?

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