What to expect – externship edition

Externship Project

Hey everyone! I’d like to spend a bit of time today talking about what the incoming Phase Threes might expect next summer when they begin their own externships, and how Picton Animal Hospital schedules their days, because I think it’s a cool system.

There are five veterinarians at PAH, with one doing primarily large animal, two doing about half and half, and then two doing primarily small animal calls. The clinic allows me to choose where I spend my time based on my own interests, and all the veterinarians make sure to give me a heads up if they’re about to go and see a particularly interesting case. I have one veterinarian that I spend the majority of my time with, but if she is doing a handful of vaccine appointments one morning, I may decide to go out and watch bovine surgery instead.

In my first week or two of externship, I was primarily shadowing the veterinarians, but as the weeks fly by, I have been able to take a more active role, including performing physical exams, discussing findings and suspected diagnoses with owners, and writing up the patients’ medical records after appointments. I’ve also been developing my skills with the clinic’s software system, as it is a common program that I will almost definitely need to use both in Phase Four and after graduation.

My delicious crepe from the “Crepe Escape” in downtown Picton!Every externship experience will be different of course; for example, I have friends who run entire appointments on their own (with practice supervision), and other friends who rotate between one week of small animal and one week of large animal, but typically most students are working Monday-Friday, and Saturdays are up to the student’s own discretion.

One thing that I like about the schedule at PAH is that they block out time for staff to catch up and breathe throughout the day. For instance, the day starts at 7:30-8 a.m., but surgery and appointments don’t typically begin until 9:30, so the veterinarians have time to do “call backs” – follow up calls with clients to make sure that new medications or diets are working, they are recovering well from surgery, etc. This also gives the veterinarians time to discuss test results (which usually come in first thing in the morning) with clients over the phone.

Everyone gets a one-hour lunch break from 12-1, but then appointments do not start until 1:40 p.m. During this time, the vets have time to finish their paperwork from morning appointments, perform treatments on inpatients, and research any intricate cases coming in during afternoon appointments.

I really like this system of blocking off time for not just veterinarians, but all staff, to catch up on paperwork, client communications, and patient care. I find that it reduces stress and makes for a calmer, less chaotic atmosphere throughout the day.

I got to spend some more time this week talking to clients about dog training. This time, about veterinary handling procedures, such as looking in the ears and mouth, and touching paws. This is not a natural interaction for dogs, so it is something we need to practice, and the earlier we do it, the better. Always go slow at first, and reward with lots of treats as you go! For some dogs, this is very scary, and for the first few sessions it is necessary to give treats every time you reach towards their head, without even touching them. Many people believe that when puppies are mouthing your hand while working on handling, they just want to play, but this is actually a sign that they’re uncomfortable with what’s going on. Other signs that you need to go slower, and practice more often include licking your hand (sometimes “kisses” mean your dog is uncomfortable, not happy!), pawing at your hand, or moving their head to block you. Once you’ve started to master these exercises, teach other people how to handle your dog, and have them start back at square one and pretend to be the vet. This puppy handling video provides some tips. 

Another tool available to you if you have a puppy, or an adult dog who is nervous at the veterinary clinic is going in for “cookie visits”. I got to help out a little rescue dog this week at PAH by inviting him and his owner into an exam room, and quietly tossing him cookies in order to build positive experiences at the vet’s office. As he slowly began to trust me more, I fed him cookies from my hand, while making sure to keep my shoulders and eyes pointed at the floor away from him. After about ten minutes, I could touch the dog, and I started to show his owner the exercises described in the video so that she could continue to build up his confidence at home between cookie visits. Most vet clinics will happily agree to let clients to bring their pets in for these happy visits to practice any behaviour they like, such as getting onto the vet scale, physical exams, or just being relaxed in the exam room. It’s a great way to make vet visits less stressful on your dog – and yourself!