As someone who wants to pursue a career specifically in equine veterinary medicine and is looking into internship and residency programs, externships are a vital tool in making connections, researching different practices, and most importantly, learning.
When I made the decision that an internship and residency was something I was interested in, I started making lists of equine specialty clinics at which I would love to extern. Initially, I stayed local around Purdue and Northeast Ohio, where I am originally from. As I started researching other clinics, I expanded to include those clinics that offered student housing. Financially, I knew that going someplace that required me to buy a plane ticket was probably going to be out of my budget, but I pushed the limits on places I was willing to road trip to. Near the top of the list was Peterson and Smith Equine Hospital in Ocala, Florida. But for a mid-western kid who hadn’t left her home state until veterinary school, Florida sounded awful far away.
But the universe works in strange ways. A friend of mine moved to the Ocala area, and one day while talking with her, I found out that she knew of this clinic. She used their ambulatory vets as her primary care vets, and her work was associated with the practice. Now I knew someone in the area and who personally knew the clinic; Florida was sounding better and better.
I originally set up this externship at the conclusion of my first year (a little ambitious, I know, but I was – and am – really excited about my career path). Unfortunately, a pile of vet bills for my own equine ended up preventing me from picking up and leaving for several weeks for that externship and I had to cancel.
Fast-forward a year. I was applying for travel grants and trying to scrape together the funds to make the trip happen. As a vet student living meagerly off loans – which don’t cover the summer months – this trip wasn’t going to be super expensive, but the bigger financial hit was going to come from not working for 2 weeks. I didn’t want to even email Peterson and Smith until I knew for sure I could commit this time around, and I was waiting for seemingly forever on travel grant decisions. By the time I had my finances worked out, classes were almost done and I was terrified that I had once again missed the mark.
Luckily, the people over at Peterson and Smith are great to work with; they answered my inquiry promptly – they still had space for externs, and we quickly worked out the details for a June externship. I was over the moon.
After 2 days of driving, I arrived in Ocala and picked up my keys to the student housing along with my nametag and other orientation papers.
The student housing is located conveniently a few minutes from the clinic and was a fully furnished, cute little house. Having comfortable surroundings outside of the clinic was a wonderful upside, and for anyone having to fly in, anything that you could need was provided.
Showing up on the first day I was excited but nervous. However, literally, everyone I met and interacted with at Peterson and Smith was kind and was an excellent teacher. Because my schedule meant I was completing this externship in the summer, it is their “slow” season – most breeding work is done, and the better percentage of the performance horses aren’t spending their summers in Florida; they’ll be back in the winter months. This meant there was more down-time, but it also meant there was time to ask more questions.
I ended up spending most of my days out with the ambulatory vets just because they were a touch busier than in the hospital, and the clients they were seeing were more varied. All of the ambulatory vets were great about telling me patient histories, explaining what they were doing and why, involving me with some hands-on experience when they could, and then following up with any questions I had after we left each farm call.
In the hospital, I made a point to check out any and all lameness appointments (a subject that I have a lot of interest in), as well as the ophthalmology appointments held each week. The vets in the hospital made sure the externs were able to observe as much as possible, answered any and every question we could come up with, and also engaged us with questions of their own, testing our comprehensive knowledge.
I had several vets take the time to look at radiographs with me and talk about what we saw. Since I am not their typical extern (a 4th year) and haven’t had any imaging courses at this point, they gave me a crash course so I could better understand what I was looking at, which was incredibly helpful.
Several of the interns provided great general life advice as a new vet, as well as advice about considering the path to internship and residency.
Each day I left the clinic with new knowledge and a plethora of cases to write notes up on.
I tried to travel with as many of the ambulatory vets as I could as their schedules allowed, and bounced back and forth in the hospital when there were appointments.
Peterson and Smith’s externship has a lot of autonomy, meaning that it is entirely up to you to make the experience what you want it to be – they do not expect you to be anywhere; you do not have to come in for emergencies if you don’t want to; you can choose to be strictly ambulatory, in the hospital, or a mix of the 2. This has upsides and drawbacks, but I think that it takes a lot of the pressure off and lets the externs learn more without having to worry about a super-structured environment. Many mornings, I was waiting out in the car port, introducing myself to vets I hadn’t met and asking if they had room for an extern to ride along because there was not much going on in the hospital. It forced me to get out of my shell a bit and make those connections. This type of scheduling has so much flexibility in it; often I’d get back from ambulatory calls by the early afternoon, which meant I could see the afternoon appointments in the hospital. Or, there were a couple days that the ambulatory vets stopped back at the hospital later in the day, so after seeing morning appointments I went out on the road with one of the ambulatory vets.
My overall experience at this clinic was a huge 10/10. Everyone was so genuinely nice, and all of the vets did a fantastic job making sure the externs were as involved as they could be on each case that was seen. The learning environment was stellar, and you could tell that the vets enjoy imparting knowledge to the students that extern there. I highly recommend Peterson and Smith to anyone looking for an equine externship!
I would love to visit again during their busier season, which is why I am already making plans to do a second externship there during my 4th year!