Musings of a Veterinarian

The Crutch: Internships vs. Employment for New Veterinary Graduates

June 02, 2010 By: Dr. K Category: For Vets, General, Opinion, Veterinary School

It’s internship season which always makes me wonder: Is life after an internship so radically different from spending your first year in private practice? I decided to forgo an internship, mostly for financial and marital reasons. Kudos to my husband who tolerated my indebtedness for four years of vet school. This year’s new veterinary graduates are faced with a decision that has educational, financial, and personal implications: Pursue an internship or full-time employment? About 40% of new veterinarians are entering internships upon graduation, leaving the remainder to *fingers-crossed* find strong mentorship at a private practice. New graduates have the base knowledge needed to develop a list of differential diagnosis but have yet to learn the the art of recognizing nuances of disease in practice, delivering bad news, and having confidence in their abilities.

In an academic setting, influences from specialists and the constant inundation of “ivory tower” medicine can easily persuade students to pursue additional training after graduation. Many of my classmates pursued an internship with knowledge they would never pursue a residency. But why? I argue many new graduates lack confidence in their knowledge and instead find themselves leaning on an internship as a crutch, that stepping stone between student and independent veterinarian. It’s not wrong to feel insecure but it warrants recognition for what it is. I’ve heard many reasons for pursuing an internship from: inexperienced, not ready, want more emergency training, not sure about specialization. Most of these reasons boil down to fear.

I felt fear and, admittedly nausea, on my first day of work as a veterinarian in private practice. I don’t regret my decision to forgo an internship. Within months I felt at home, climbed the steep learning curve, and blossomed into the veterinarian I am today. Interns earn a pittance, work double the hours of a private practitioner, and defer loan payments for one more year all the while accruing interest. I challenge new graduates to honestly explore the reason for pursuit of an internship because that path is wrought with challenges.  If the pursuit is for more education and career advancement – go for it! If it is fear of primary case responsibility and decision making – take the brave step, find a mentor in private practice, and jump!

4 Comments to “The Crutch: Internships vs. Employment for New Veterinary Graduates”

  1. 40% of new grads landing internships seems excessive. In 1999, when I graduated UPenn, there were spots for 10% of us to pursue an internship.
    These internships have variable quality and mentorship and an ethereal unreality to some which creates a professional Peter Pan Ivory Tower syndrome.
    An “intern trained” veterinarian still needs mentorship and back-up the second year. Why put off the inevitable?

  2. Dr. K ~
    In my case, you hit the nail on the head! But things are worse because there was NO mentorship at my internship, and now that it is over, I’m even more afraid and have no confidence. I’m hoping to find a job with a practice that has some mentorship, but really, I don’t even want to be a veterinarian anymore! I should have just looked for a job right out of school.

  3. Jasmeet Dhaliwal DVM says:

    How competitive is get into a Internship programme like ‘small animal internal medicine’ ?

  4. It’s very competitive. Typically only the top students get these internship slots. If you want to enter a University sponsored small animal internship program you need to know the positions are slim. There are private practice and larger practice internship programs as well that expand your options.


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