We reached out to a few of our Externship Blog Project alumni to find out about their externship experience, the highlights it offered and a few takeaways for students when they are searching for an externship practice.
Dr. Jodi Boyd, OVC 2015 (2014 Externship Blog Project)
I worked in veterinary clinics prior to veterinary school but obviously never within the role as a veterinarian. The OVC externship allowed me to practice that role without the pressure of doing it completely alone and having all of the responsibility (and pressure) fall on me. It also provided a real-world experience. It was like having training wheels on a bicycle before being forced to ride it.
The externship also allowed me to gain some comfort and experience in large animal medicine. I streamed small animal and never expected to work on large animals during my career but when I accepted a job at Houston Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, it required large animal and wildlife work in addition to the small animal component. Although that was terrifying initially, I was able to draw on some of my experiences from my externship to get the job done.
Working with Dr. Bob at Wright Veterinary Hospital during my externship was always a highlight! He was such an incredible, caring, knowledgeable veterinarian and he would create challenges to push me just beyond my current level, whether that was in knowledge or skill or comfort, but always with support. I vividly remember him calling me into an examination room to do a physical exam on a bulldog (he always completed one then had me do it and would ensure I saw/felt everything he already knew was there...it's something I'm always thankful for because I think it made me more thorough). The bulldog had incredibly enlarged lymph nodes and I immediately got concerned about lymphoma, a type of cancer, because in the textbooks and lectures it describes what I thought I was feeling. When our results from the samples of the lymph nodes came back from the lab and confirmed lymphoma, he said “Ok, your case, your call” and I froze. I thought “Me? Call the owners and tell them their dog has cancer? No, that should be the vet”. He walked through the case with me, asked questions, made me research any aspect I was uncertain about, and then pushed me to make that call. It was such a difficult conversation, but I was prepared. My first breaking bad news call was in the books. And that push to do it, with support from Dr. Bob, made the other calls and conversations just like it that much easier.
After graduation, I pursued a career in shelter medicine. After completing a specialty internship at Cornell in Ithaca, New York, I took a fabulous job at the Houston SPCA! The Houston SPCA is a large, urban, all species, animal welfare organization that intervenes on behalf of approximately 50,000 animals annually. They see cats and dogs, exotics, horses and small ruminants, poultry, and native Texas wildlife. I worked alongside a fantastic veterinary services team of six full time veterinarians and 14 technicians to provide medical and surgical services, take patients from emergent through rehabilitation, and see animals find their forever homes. In combination with the Cruelty Investigations team, we were able to remove animals from situations of neglect and abuse, and testify in court to get justice for those animals. During Hurricane Harvey, we were able to relocate all of our adoptable animals to partner organizations outside of the hurricane zone to ensure we had the capacity to provide for the more than 2,000 displaced animals that we rescued during Harvey's destruction. Additionally, I was able to play a role within the education and skills-training for the fourth year class of Texas A&M through their two-week, clinical rotation at the Houston SPCA. Today I am a Shelter Veterinarian at Hillsborough County Pet Resource Center in Tampa, Florida.
My advice to DVM students when they are searching for their externship practice - ask a lot of questions to ensure it's the right fit and have a few key things that are paramount for you and others that you're flexible with. For example, if you really love dairy cattle and want to go into a job with dairy cattle make sure your internship sees a fair number of dairy cattle so that you gain experience in the field but also ensure they have other variety that will challenge you beyond that. Most practices that participate will have strong mentorship but ensure what you're specifically looking for in a mentor is fulfilled (e.g. do they provide feedback or hands-on experience in a way that would benefit you). If you can, don't let the financial aspects of the position or the location of the practice factor into your decision...let the practice and the work you'll be doing speak for itself.