Musings of a Veterinarian

Archive for the ‘Veterinary School’

Reader Question Answered

May 25, 2011 By: Dr. K Category: Questions, Veterinary School

From time to time I will receive a private message from a reader with a specific question regarding veterinary medicine. Chances are that reader isn’t the only one wondering. Check out this response to a concerned high school student:

Q: I have a slight (or major, depending on your perspective) dilemma. I’m a sophomore in high school, and I’m taking an honors Chemistry class. I really want to get into veterinary school because I know veterinary medicine is the field I want to spend my life in. Unfortunately, I’m horrible at Chemistry. Anyway, I’m wondering if you could help me with this little problem. I actually have been wondering if I should start really pushing to learn this on my own, or if I should just take a remedial course before college.

A: Congratulations on making a decision to enter the veterinary profession! I’m impressed with your forethought and concern over understanding chemistry and your courage to face the challenge. As a sophomore in high school, I know there is a lot of pressure to earn good grades. Those grades meter acceptance into colleges and determine scholarship awards.

Your success in a high school level chemistry course is not necessarily an indicator of how you might perform in college and then veterinary school.  There are many extraneous factors at work: The quality of your chemistry teacher, the way the course is taught, and the way your brain processes this new subject. All three of these factors change as you enter college. My best advice for you is to try your best. This sounds cliché but it is the most important factor. That might mean extra study and self teaching or even hiring a tutor. I would not go so far as to take a remedial course before college for the same reasons I mentioned above.

Let me tell you a little story: I was one of those kids in high school who never needed to study and still graduated toward the top of my class. My freshman year of college was no different – or so I thought. I barely studied for my first freshman biology exam which I realized was a huge mistake as soon I started trying to answer the questions. I was rewarded with a 64%  –  I was a Biology Major! Student career services told me to rethink my career path and consider dropping biology and changing majors. No way! I learned how to study and how to fill the gaps in my knowledge. I never could have done that in high school. The way you learn, study, and adjust to new material changes as you age. A couple of years make all the difference. I finished that semester with a “B” in my major and I’m still a veterinarian today!

If my math is right you are close to 16 years old. You have 10 years until you become a veterinarian! It’s important to keep perspective that you are still young and have the world in your grasp! You need to embrace your youth and limit your worry. You will have ample time to grasp chemistry: general chemistry, organic chemistry, biochemistry (in both undergraduate and vet school). It will come to you, I promise.


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!

Preparing for Your Veterinary School Interview

November 19, 2009 By: Dr. K Category: Veterinary School

interviewYou’re one step closer to admission to veterinary school and one thing remains: Your interview. The nausea-inducing most nerve wracking moment of your life. But with a little preparation it can prove successful. Here’s what you need to know:


If you approach your interview confidently, that confidence will be palpable to your interviewers.  A few deep breaths prior to your interview will help clear your head. Remember your interviewers understand your nervousness and won’t hold it against you. Every other applicant is as nervous as you.

Dress Well

Men should wear a suit and tie. Women should wear a suit, blouse and trousers, or blouse and skirt. Wear comfortable shoes as you may walk around the hospital and campus during your interview process. No Sneakers! Tattoos are becoming more acceptable and I have seen veterinary students with full sleeves of tattoos. Tattoos should not affect your interview unless you have a naked woman on your forehead. Piercings are prevalent but if you have excessive facial piercings consider taking the most unusual out prior to your interview.

Be prepared to discuss any grades below a “B” on your transcript

This one’s a gimme. You are being compared against the cream of the crop.

Focus on Your Interviewers

I have heard firsthand accounts from admission committees that, because the application process is so competitive, something as seemingly insignificant as looking at your watch during your interview can result in denial. Focus on your interviewers, make eye contact, and don’t fidget. Shake hands before and after the interview and thank them for their time. Don’t ask questions unless they ask if you have any, then, focus the questions on their professional lives. There is limited opportunity for written thank yous to your interviewers. You will be lucky if you remember what you said during your interview let alone the interviewer’s name. A written thank you can never hurt your chances and is always good etiquette.

Be prepared to Answer the Obvious Questions

  • Why do you want to be a veterinarian?
  • What sets you apart from other applicants? What contributions can you make to the veterinary field?
  • Tell me about your most memorable experience while working with a veterinarian?
  • Are you a member of PETA? Do you oppose lab animal use?
  • If you are a cat breeder, you’d better be able to name breeds of cats.

Take Your Time to Think About the Less Obvious Questions

  • What was the most difficult moment in your life?
  • How does your background influence how you approach the human-animal bond?
  • What do you do in your free time? Do you have any hobbies?
  • What is the last book you read?

Not every applicant is given the chance to interview. Knock ’em dead!

What to Expect in Veterinary School

July 08, 2009 By: Dr. K Category: Veterinary School

You did it! You’re on your way to veterinary school. With this accomplishment comes a whole new list of concerns. I remember feeling completely overwhelmed with what I imagined veterinary school would be like.  What do people wear? Can I really do this? Will I have a life? Here’s the insider scoop on your next four years.

Reality Check

Veterinary school is academically grueling. Classes and laboratories typically fill a 9am to 5pm day. Then you have to study. Gross anatomy will most likely be the most overwhelming course you’ll ever take. It consists of hours of laboratory time coinciding with lectures. You will learn the anatomy of a dog, cat, horse, ruminant, bird, and fish. You’ll be expected to know everything. You also need to keep in mind the first 2 to 3 years of veterinary school you will rarely touch a live animal. You’ll wonder if this is really what you wanted to do with your life. It happens to everyone.

The Adjustment Period and Your Peers

Nearly every veterinary student approaches the beginning of  his/her first year of veterinary school worrying about how much studying and work the other students are doing. Veterinary school melds a vast array of people from all walks of life. The variety of personalities and age disparities can take you off guard.  It is not uncommon to share a classroom with people pursuing second careers or with people who have grown children.  The characters include:

  • The maniacal studier who makes every other student feel inadequate
  • The know-it-all who obviously knows it all
  • The nonchalant student who thinks he/she has it all together but will fail the anatomy practical
  • The party animal who hasn’t mentally left undergrad
  • The hoarder…err…”dog rescuer” you smell before you see
  • The drop-out…what was his name again?
  • The silent majority who nervously study, safely pass, and make great veterinarians

You’ll make friends, develop study groups, and cope together. Your classmates are your closest allies; Nobody else can understand what you’re going through like they can. Don’t be afraid to join clubs and extramural sports leagues. It takes about a semester to find a reasonable balance between life and vet school. You can have a life in vet school but you’ll need to really work for it. I’ve seen relationships thrive and relationships fail. Make time now so you still have a life after graduation.

Sleep and Clinical Rotations

You will sleep fairly well during your first several years of school except during exams. Several years of having your nose in the books leads to the beginning of clinical rotations. This is the transition year from student to doctor and you must approach it as such to ensure you are prepared at graduation. Everything you thought you learned you’ve forgotten. You’ll be embarrassed when a clinician asks a question and you have no answer. This is normal. EVERY VET STUDENT STRUGGLES AT SOME POINT. If you knew it all you’d be a vet already. Time commitments vary based on the individual rotation.  Rotations like anesthesia, surgery, and medicine will require long hours sometimes up to 80-90 hours a week. Other rotations, like dermatology and cardiology, have much friendlier hours. You need to make the best of your free-time and not forget about your life! Once you graduate, the world you left behind for four years welcomes you back!


Vet school life is casual. There are clubs and organizations you can join. Some schools provide social outings and I encourage you to attend. You’ll also need to be prepared for constant inundation of advertisements for pet adoptions. Daily emails, flyers, and the occasional “dump” in the emergency room will all need homes. It is important to remember you are making the biggest difference in pet overpopulation by becoming a veterinarian. In addition, you’ll need to be prepared for fatigue, stress, and a degree of academic uncertainty you may not have experienced before. These stresses necessitate a healthy routine of diet, sleep, and exercise. You need to work even harder to maintain your relationships outside of vet school.  Relationships can survive if you put forth the effort; I planned a wedding and was married during vet school.  You should make every attempt to embrace vet school instead of fearing it – your next four years will fly by if you do!

Veterinary school is a means to an end. And in the end you’ll be a veterinarian!

Writing a Great Personal Statement

June 07, 2009 By: Dr. K Category: Opinion, Veterinary School

Your personal statement is the single most important part of your veterinary school application. It can make or break your application. A bad personal statement will offset the best GPA and beaming extracurricular activities. Check out the tips below for writing a great personal statement.

1. Avoid Clichés

Clichés will sink your chances at acceptance to veterinary school. A personal statement focused on your love of animals and wanting to help injured pets will leave admissions committees saying, “So what?” Every applicant to veterinary school loves animals. This will not set you apart and will not show the committee you have a grasp of the breadth of veterinary medicine.

Other clichés to avoid: James Herriot memories and  “I’ve wanted to be a vet ever since my dog was sick when I was 5….”

2. Be Creative

Autobiographical personal statements mentioning a timeline of personal accomplishments are boring and boring applications result in rejections. Tell a story or focus on an aspect of your life that does not involve veterinary medicine. Then tie that story or activity into veterinary medicine.

Ex: “Playing basketball is an integral part of my life. When I was 17, my team played in the State Championships. The game went into double overtime and my star teammate left the game with an injury in the 4th quarter…. The clock was down to 2 seconds and I knew I had to take the shot if we were to win. Time froze as I felt the ball leave my fingertips. I could see the fans waving and frantically shouting as the ball inched toward the net. As I stood there, the weight of the entire season crushed down on me. Swoosh!  That victory and my experience in varsity athletics have taught me perserverance, team playership, and interpersonal skills which I will use as a veterinarian.”

3. Turn a Negative Into a Positive

Grades got you down? Turn them around. Take the class you received a “C” in and turn it into a story about persevering through adversity and a “never-give-up” attitude.  You can attribute personal growth and maturity to working through difficult times.

4. Proofread, Proofread, Proofread!

Spelling or grammatical gaffes are inexcusable. Fierce competition leads admissions committees to sometimes resort to arbitrary and often unfair reasons for denying acceptance. You have months to edit your personal statement. Make it perfect.

5. Be Honest

This one seems obvious, but never lie or exaggerate on your personal statement. If you are lucky enough to land an interview you could be unlucky enough to be asked tough questions about your statement. It is a lot easier to defend an honest statement than a dishonest one.

How do I increase my chance of getting into veterinary school?

February 15, 2009 By: Dr. K Category: Questions, Veterinary School

Congratulations on making the decision to pursue a career in veterinary medicine! May you find it rewarding and challenging. The decision to become a veterinarian is the first in many steps to actually receiving a degree. Being a veterinarian carries great responsibility and necessitates a life long commitment to learning. The most important thing to remember: Loving animals is not enough of a reason for becoming a veterinarian. VETERINARY MEDICINE IS FIRST ABOUT LOVE OF MEDICINE AND SECOND ABOUT LOVE OF ANIMALS. Once you are sure veterinary medicine is the career for you, read below for a few tips to improve your odds of getting into veterinary school.

1. Do Your Research

There are only 28 veterinary schools in the United States.  The average number of new veterinary students admitted to school nationwide is only 2,100. On average, about 43% of applicants are accepted to veterinary school yearly. Certain schools are more difficult to gain acceptance into than others. Your chances of getting into one of these schools sometimes depends on the state in which you reside. For example, the University of Pennsylvania typically accepts a high percentage of in state students. However, every year the state of New Jersey (with no veterinary school) purchases several seats for New Jersey residents. Other states may have similar contracts. Knowing your chances at different schools can help you narrow down the application process.

2. …More Research

Most veterinary schools prefer students to have their bachelor’s degrees prior to matriculation. Other schools will allow students with a certain number of credits, typically junior undergraduates,  apply and matriculate prior to undergraduate graduation. Know the undergraduate course requirements and GPA requirements prior to application. Preveterinary programs can tailor your undergraduate education to ensure all of the prerequisite courses are completed but does no guarantee admittance. Make sure your undergraduate institution has a network to assist with the application process.

3. Get Experience

You should have in depth experience in at least one field of veterinary medicine prior to application. Some schools, like Cornell University, emphasize breadth of experience over depth of experience. That means the admissions committee seeks applicants with experience in small/large animal medicine, research, shelter medicine, and even human medicine. Most schools recommend at least 1000hrs of hands-on veterinary experience: equivalent to 2-3 summers of full-time work. Cleaning kennels or mucking stalls shows you aren’t afraid of hard work. Of course, the more technical experience the better.

4. Emphasize Other Relevant Experiences

Have a few bad grades but salvaged your GPA? Dealt with the public as a waiter/cashier/fast food provider? Use your non-veterinary experiences to emphasize highly desirable traits like perservereance and social aptitude. Good communication skills are a MUST. Any previous occupations or volunteer efforts that extoll your interpersonal skills need special attention.

5. Be a Man

Sorry ladies. This one is out of your control. Only 25% of veterinary school students are male. Schools are actively seeking men to try to even the field.

6. Pursue a Career in an Under Served Area

Recent updates reveal critical shortages of large animals veterinarians, public health veterinarians, and governement veterinarians. Don’t limit yourself to private practice! Check out this article at AVMA.org!

7. Visit Veterinary Schools

Visit veterinary schools you are interested in at least 6 months to a year prior to application. You will most likely meet with an admissions officer. This is a chance to show initiative and interest in a particular school. This is your first chance go make an impression: ALWAYS DRESS WELL! Take copies of your transcripts and be prepared to discuss any grades under a “B”.

8. Be Persistent

Even if you don’t get accepted to veterinary school your first try, don’t give up on your dream! I know of veterinarians who were accepted on their 3rd attempts. In the interim, strengthen your application with more veterinary experience, a master’s degree, or research.

With proper preparation you can greatly increase your chances of acceptance to veterinary school.