I am currently on a marathon of equine-specific externships that are (nearly) consecutive, totaling 6 block rotations, that are keeping me off-campus for almost 6 months.
As someone looking to pursue an equine internship and residency, I picked practices that have internship programs I am interested in, that practice the type of medicine I am interested in and are in locations I could see myself living in the future. As I’ve begun to travel, I’m starting to pick up on how I can make the most of my experiences.
- Do your research.
This is before you even pick your externship. What type of practice do you want? Do you want a big practice or a small one? A specialty center of some type? Geographic preference? Do you want to pursue an internship or job at this practice? Do you know anyone who has externed there, or know people who use the vets at the practices you are looking at? Do they offer housing to their externs? Do they let their externs be hands-on, or is it more of a shadowing experience?
You have to decide what kind of practice you are looking for before you even reach out to set up your externship, and doing your due diligence prior to will increase the likelihood that your externship experience lines up with your expectations.
- Do your research (again).
So you have your dream externship set up and you can’t wait. Time to do more research. Comb through their website, their Facebook page, ask peers what they know; time to start your best investigative work. Learn what vets you will be working with, the technicians’ names, learn the history of the practice, learn what their specialties are, their type of clientele, and be as prepared as you can walking in the door. Make sure you know how to get to the practice, where you need to go, if they offer housing (and if they do, what amenities are provided – some places don’t provide bedding or towels; some places may only have a microwave and fridge as their kitchen; you will want to be adequately prepared on that front).
Having some familiarity with the veterinarians’ names and the practice shows your interest in them and their business (and it’s less awkward if you don’t have to ask everyone their names 10 times over again).
- Ask questions.
This one is huge; you are completing an externship to expand your knowledge, and the practice you are at offers externships for a reason – to continue to educate students. Utilize the clinicians, technicians, and interns. Ask how they do different procedures, anesthesia, surgical prep and procedures, etc. Ask about the practice, the clients they see, why they do things a certain way (or not). Ask them to explain imaging you may not be able to interpret or understand what you are looking at. Ask why they prefer a certain treatment over another.
- Be willing to help.
Another big one. You may only be at a practice for a short period of time, but during that time you are considered part of that team. Helping with any and everything not only gets you more involved with the practice, but may open doors to the clinicians letting you get more hands-on. Offer to hold or restrain patients, run and grab supplies or equipment, clean up messes, help re-set surgery, clean stalls, help with overnight checks or emergencies…whatever it may be, make yourself useful. It might not always be glamorous, but demonstrating a good work ethic never hurt anyone.
- Be memorable.
You are likely at an externship because it is a practice you want to intern at or potentially apply for a job after graduation. Which means that the clinicians who will be making that decision down the line have to remember you.
Some of the previous tips will help make your externship stick in their mind – ask questions, be helpful, work hard. Make sure that you have the chance to work alongside the owners of the practice so they have the chance to see your face during your externship, especially if you are at a very large practice.
Externships are a great way to expand your circle of professional contacts, and even if you don’t want to work at the practice you extern at, making connections with the professionals at your externship may be helpful in the future when you may need references, advice, or when looking for a job at another practice.
Sometimes it might feel funny to jump into things, but if you are a fly on the wall for the entirety of your externship, you are not going to stick out. Find out what you can do to help and be ready to just jump in with both feet.
I have found it doesn’t take much to make a positive impression; be kind, be respectful, be willing to lend a hand at whatever task you can, leave things cleaner than you found them, be respectful of the duties assigned to you as an extern and do not overstep what you are allowed to do, ask questions, and perhaps most importantly, let your passion for veterinary medicine shine through. Externships are what you make of them; it is up to you to create the experience that you want. Use the time wisely, learn what you can, and enjoy the value of different perspectives than your rotations at your school.