Veterinary internships

Choosing a veterinary internship can be a difficult task. Where do you look to find internships? What are the qualities of a 'good' internship? How do I know which internship is the right fit for me? What are the goals of my internship? Am I looking to gain more experience before entering into private practice or do I want to pursue a residency? Below are some resources to help you find the answers to these questions and more.

Finding an internship

The American Association of Veterinary Clinicians sponsors the Veterinary Internship and Residency Matching Program (VIRMP). Those interested in pursuing an internship or residency are matched with participating veterinary colleges and private veterinary practices. The prospective intern or resident ranks their choices and the institutions then rank the applicants. At the end of the matching period, if you have not been matched there may still be positions available at institutions you did not list in your rankings. Make sure to check the website for specific deadlines on application and ranking. Keep in mind that you will need to start exploring options with VIRMP in the fall of the year before your anticipated internship or residency, which typically begin in July.

The American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) Avenues Program is a database for finding equine-related internships. You must be an AAEP national member to access the database. Visit their website for more information.

Internship guidelines

The AVMA has developed Veterinary Internship Guidelines to establish reasonable expectations for internship providers as well as participants. Currently, there is no regulatory body governing veterinary internships. The Veterinary Internships Disclosure Outline is a useful guide to obtaining vital information about a specific internship. The AVMA has also established the Internship and Residency Programs Definitions to further clarify what constitutes an internship or residency.

The right fit

There are many factors to consider when choosing which veterinary internship is the right fit for you. In a 2006 article by Bradford Smith, et al, a checklist is provided to help determine if a specific internship would work for you. Asking the right questions can give you a more realistic picture of what to expect. The key to completing a successful internship experience is establishing a clear, mutual understanding of what is being provided and what is expected in return.

Financial implications

There are many reasons for pursing a veterinary internship. Some individuals choose to enter into an internship with a desire to pursue a residency in a selected board specialty. Others may choose an internship to gain more experience and confidence in their abilities as a practitioner before entering into private practice. In fact, the number of veterinarians completing internships is on the rise as documented in a 2013 article in JAVMA.

But according to this 2011 article in JAVMA, "completion of an internship alone did not lead to significantly higher or lower salaries." However, those individuals completing a residency did earn considerably more than those who did not. An update on salary comparisons for those earning (1) a veterinary degree only, (2) an internship only, and (3) completing both an internship and a residency is presented in a 2013 article in JAVMA. The long-term financial implications of certain career paths (including the differences between board-certified specialists, practice-owners, and general practitioners) are further discussed in this 2010 article in JAVMA.

Additionally, this article by AVMA economists in DVM360 indicates that "data suggest that new graduates should steer clear of internships that don't offer a clear path to advancement."

If you do choose the path of a veterinary internship, don't forget about those lurking student loan payments! Check out the AVMA's Personal Financial Planning Tool which will help you build a personalized estimate of your budget needs so you can plan how to repay debt in an acceptable time frame while also saving for the future. Everyone talks about the importance of budgeting, but actually setting up a budget can be daunting. This tool helps make it easy by walking you through each of the essential steps.

Internship statistics

The vast majority (85%) of interns are satisfied with their internship experience according to a 2012 survey by the AVMA. Interns reported working longer hours (81% worked 60 or more hours per week) and earning less compared to individuals who entered clinical practice their first year of employment. Despite that, 86% believed the internship met their learning and career objects and 94% thought the internship experience made them a better veterinarian. Further details and statistics are available in this 2013 article in JAVMA.

A day in the life of an intern

It is important to have an idea of what you will encounter on a typical day during an internship. Certainly that will vary based on the type of internship selected, but you can learn more by following the stories of a few of our members through their day as an intern. Meet a critical care intern in academia, an exotic animal intern in private practice, and an equine intern in private practice in the July 1st, 2013 issue of JAVMA.

2011 task force on veterinary internships

The AVMA established a task force to evaluate the current state of veterinary internships. They performed an overview of the number and types of veterinary internships available and the application process. The Task Force developed the above-mentioned internship disclosure outline and model internship guidelines, designed to guide the development of internship programs with the goal of improving the quality, consistency, and value of every veterinary internship. They also made suggestions to improve education about veterinary internship programs. Click here to read the full report.

Establishing an internship at your practice

Are you a practitioner looking to establish an internship program at your practice? More information can be found in the Internship Programs section of the Veterinary Internship and Residency Matching Program (VIRMP)'s website. Program information entries are due each fall. VIRMP has incorporated the AVMA's 2011 Task Force on Veterinary Internships' Internship Program Disclosure Form. As there currently is no regulatory body governing veterinary internships, this form intends to provide more standardized, detailed information about internship programs. Providing a rich learning environment and well-rounded curriculum are crucial in establishing a valuable internship that will bring quality interns through your doors for years to come.