This past summer I had the opportunity to work on two different veterinary experience.
My first experience began right after finals. After a couple of days for self-care and re-charging from a long semester, I took off to Ecuador. My time there was spent working as a volunteer for an international veterinary aid organization (World Vets). The program focused on basic preventive medicine and low-cost spays and neuters for the community. The days began early and ended pretty late, but in the end, it was all worth it. I had the opportunity to perform my first spays/neuter (while being monitored by a DVM). It was an amazing and eye-opening experience because, after all the lectures, notes, books and nights of studying, I realized that there is no better classroom than real life. Every day that we worked at the clinic we rotated doctors which gave us the opportunity to learn different “tips and tricks” from each doctor. Thanks to this experience I was able to engage with a beautiful community, meet amazing people from different parts of the USA and Canada, make connections with incredible doctors, and come back to school with some surgery experience.
My second experience began 1 week after returning from Ecuador in Arizona, where I worked at a veterinary hospital for 7 weeks. My time at the hospital was incredible and I am grateful for every day I was able to spend there. This wasn’t my first time working at a clinic, but it was my first time working long hours for many consecutive days. A schedule like this enables you to follow-up with all your cases on a day-to-day basis. This means that if the treatment of choice isn’t working on a patient, you could get a glimpse of what to do next and that really starts challenging all the student knowledge you’ve gained through the years. Working in a state like Arizona meant that I was able to get exposure to uncommon diseases from my hometown (valley fever, rattlesnake, scorpion, and venous spider bites, etc.) and I learned that my differential list changes (significantly) upon location. Thanks to my time at this veterinary hospital I acquired great mentors and friends, learned that it’s ok to not know everything, and got a real-life glimpse of what to expect in practice once I graduate.
All this said, I really believe that:
- The summer experience you choose makes a big difference in your performance once you are back at school hitting the books and in class.
- Taking advantage of long breaks during the school year is a great opportunity to travel internationally and gain exposure to other cultures around the world (and how veterinary medicine is practiced there) that will help you grow as a professional and a person!
- The more time you spend in an externship or volunteering, the more you will get out of it.
- Getting out of your state is also a good experience, specifically, going somewhere you could see yourself practicing in the future.
- The mentors you will gain along the way are invaluable. Sometimes we need that guidance and “backbone” during our journey and mentors can help with that and the best way you find your “fit” is by getting as many externships or volunteering as much as you are able.
- You should apply even if it seems “impossible.” If you are not chosen, apply for another until you make it. The AVMA has a great tool here where you pick either an area of interest or location and it gives a list of the ones available by the criteria that you choose.
- Try for a place that will be willing to give you some type of stipend or accommodation during your time with them. Being a student without a job is already hard so don’t be scared to ask if there is something that they are willing to fix up for you.
- Remember that this is also your free time from school and most of these programs facilitating the experiences don’t want you to be stressed or over-working. Take it a day at a time and try to absorb all you can in a healthy and relaxed environment.