It’s that time of year: Vet students across the country are looking at scheduling externships for their clinical years. It can certainly be a stressful time for any student, and it definitely can have an impact on your career. With that in mind, here are a few things to consider when looking at possible externship sites.
Don’t Restrict Your Externships to Internships
Externships are a great way to shop around for where you want to do an internship. Many internships even require you to do an externship at their clinics in order to apply. However, that doesn’t mean you have to only do externships at clinics where you are seriously considering doing an internship. Externships are a way to experience a variety of different types of medicine, practice styles and practice managements. These experiences are critical to forming who you will be as a veterinarian in practice.
A good rule of thumb when looking at practices where you might extern is the 2-to-1 rule. For every two practices that you pick for externships that lead to internship programs, make sure you pick one that really piques your interest as a developing veterinarian, regardless of whether or not you want to do an internship there. That balance helps drive your development as a veterinarian and opens doors for opportunities the following year.
Get Out and Travel!
The clinical year is the last year before you become anchored to a job. Take the chance with externships to get out across the country.
More than anything else, traveling to clinics in different geographic areas gives you exposure to a wide variety of horse cultures. From the working ranch horses in Montana and Wyoming to the sport horses in the Northeast, each area brings something different to the table in terms of the clients a practice serves. Gaining experience dealing with a wide variety of clients and horse types will help make you a better practitioner, wherever you land in your career. Very few places have one single type of client, so gaining exposure to a wide variety of practices and cultures will equip you with the tools to be successful as a veterinarian.
Believe it or not, practitioners love to sell you on their clinics. Remember in this whole cycle that these practice owners are also vying for you as an intern and, potentially, as an employee down the road.
Every practice owner is incredibly proud of what he or she has built, and each is interested in sharing those details with you.
So go ahead and ask questions about what the practice is like before you commit to going there for an externship. Ask what percentage of the practice is lameness, reproduction or surgery. Be sure to ask how much time is spent on ambulatory calls, if that is your interest.
The main point is to shop around. You only have a limited number of externships as a student, so it is imperative that you get what you want out of them. Don’t think that you are just limited to asking questions at mixer events like AAEP’s Avenues. There is nothing wrong with calling or emailing a practice directly and asking questions of the office manager or practice owner. Make sure that they give you the information you want to know!
Above all else, make the externship experience what you want it to be. This is the one time in your career where you get to move freely through many different practices without having to be employed there. Take advantage of the opportunities offered to you. Make your externship experience yours, and you will find that it is one of the best clinical experiences you can get.
Zach Loppnow is a senior veterinary student at the University of Minnesota. He is the National VBMA vice president for 2016-2017 and an active member of the Minnesota student chapter of AAEP.