It is mid-November, and I am just finishing my near-consecutive marathon of equine externships. I was lucky enough to visit a total of 6 practices for a total of 18 weeks of off-campus learning. I thoroughly enjoyed my time at each practice, each for different reasons, and I was able to take away lessons from each hospital.
- Ask questions.
If I learned anything at all, it was to ask questions, and a lot of them. Not just about procedures, but literally everything. What is the history? What is this patient recovering from? Why was this medication used over another? How does your practice place catheters? What is your anesthetic protocol?
If I was ever asked if I had any questions and I didn’t at the time, I made sure my response was, “not right now, but if that changes, I’ll let you know”.And by far, the biggest question I asked during my externship was, “How can I help?”, which brings me to:
- Be willing to help.
By asking how I could help, I was able to learn the practices better, faster, and was able to do more.
If I could ask where to find clippers, or bandage material, or a broom to clean up an exam room, or a shovel to pick up after a horse – I could be useful, rather than simply observing. That would eventually lead to getting more hands-on and being able to do more. If it’s cleaning up after appointments and taking out trash, or getting to do physical exams and treatments, treat it all with the same fervor.
- Be professional.
I was highly aware that each of these externships was serving as a sort of ‘working interview’, and all these practices would be in contention for internship applications. This meant conducting myself professionally at all times. Many of the practices I was at told me that khakis weren’t necessary, but unless it was a weekend, I had a school polo and khakis on every day, ready for rounds or morning treatments on time each day. I was in contact with every practice a week prior to arriving, and wrote all parties thank you notes for the experiences I gained while on my externships.Whatever rules the practices had for me as an extern, I respected. Some practices didn’t let their externs be hands-on, some were extremely hands-on, and some in-between. It might seem common sense but maintaining a professional attitude at each location was an absolute must.
- Befriend the technicians/nurses. Seriously, the techs and nurses are a great way to learn the ropes of a practice. They know where everything is at, how the doctors do certain procedures or what their preferences are, and are wonderful teachers.
I had so many great techs and nurses who explained how their hospital did procedures, where to find ____ (for the millionth time), help me with treatments, and give me the opportunity to get hands-on to learn. (Thanks to all the amazing nurses, techs and assistants that I had at all my externships – y’all are phenomenal!).
- Take every opportunity to learn.
Whether this means taking in all the different techniques used by different practices, going in to help with emergencies, volunteering for late-night treatments, hopping from doctor to doctor to stay in appointments all day, or researching on the upcoming days’ procedures, do it all.An externship is for your benefit as a student, and if you aren’t taking full advantage of that opportunity, it is your waste. Several of my externships had very freeform schedules, and I made sure that I was actively looking for things to do.And if you have extra down-time, spend the time researching the cases you saw, the surgery on the books for the next day, or studying for NAVLE. Externship can feel like a vacation, but your education at these places is up to you.
- Enjoy it!
Ultimately, externships are what you make of them. I went into each practice, knowing that there are about a million ways to practice equine veterinary medicine, and wanting to learn as many of those ways as I could before I moved onto the next practice 3 weeks later.Asking all the questions I could think of and lending a hand in as many ways as I could opened a lot of doors for me and gave me a wide range of experiences.And when it comes down to it, I was able to spend 18 weeks of my clinical year in equine-only referral practices with some of the most amazing internists, surgeons, general practitioners, podiatrists, interns, technicians and ponies. What more could I ask for?