AAVMC establishes internship guidelines

Published on June 13, 2018
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Veterinary exam room
The Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges has developed a set of comprehensive guidelines designed to bolster and ensure the academic integrity of internship programs. The document is aimed at veterinary colleges, though private practices offer more than three-quarters of total veterinary internship programs. (Photo by Malinda Larkin)

Veterinary internships provide an opportunity for new graduates to gather additional experience and skill in providing clinical care. But this post-veterinary degree position has come under fire in recent years. Some of the hundreds of internships offered have been criticized not only for brutal hours and lack of quality but also for their low pay.

To help address some of these problems, the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges has developed a set of comprehensive guidelines designed to bolster and ensure the academic integrity of internship programs, i.e., among veterinary colleges but not private practices. The guidelines have been endorsed by the American Association of Veterinary Clinicians, which operates the Veterinary Internship and Residency Matching Program in the United States.

The AVMA had published guidelines for veterinary internships in 2011. The AAVMC began with these guidelines and looked to the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education to establish best practices for veterinary clinical internship programs, according to an April 12 AAVMC press release.

The new AAVMC guidelines affirm a core statement previously made in the AVMA guidelines: "The primary purpose of an internship is to provide an educational program for the intern, rather than a service benefit to the hospital."

The AAVMC's Internship Guidelines include recommendations on work hours and climate that are consistent with health and wellness concerns referenced by the ACGME.

"These guidelines will help to improve the learning experience, advance the quality of clinical internship programs and ultimately train better veter​inary practitioners," AAVMC CEO Andrew T. Maccabe said in the release.

The AAVMC took steps to examine clinical internships in academic veterinary medicine following the publication of a Jan. 19, 2017, article in Newsweek magazine that portrayed clinical internships in veterinary medicine as a means of providing inexpensive labor for the sponsoring organizations but little educational benefit for interns. It also focused on the fact that unlike in human medicine, no independent authority oversees veterinary internships to ensure their quality and provide assistance. The article noted that medical doctors' residencies are strictly overseen by the ACGME, which ensures standardized on-the-job education. The council limits residents' time on the clock to 80 hours per week, averaged over four weeks, and caps the number of consecutive hours and days they may work. So now, while the AVMA and AAVMC have similar internship guidelines, neither is enforced by an oversight body.

Further, the AAVMC guidelines do not touch on a big complaint by interns: low pay.

Michael Dicks, PhD, former director of the AVMA Veterinary Economics Division, wrote in an April 20, 2015, article in DVM 360 that he was concerned that an internship appeared to be a substitute for full-time private practice employment and, because of the low pay that often comes with internships, served as a transfer of income from those who can least afford it (new veterinarians) to those who may least need it (practice owners).

The number of internship positions offered in the United States through the Veterinary Internship and Residency Matching Program for the 2017-18 training year was 1,254; 297 (23.7 percent) of these positions were offered by academic institutions. For all listed intern positions, the mean starting salary was $32,103, according to the AAVMC. There was a substantial statistical difference between positions offered in academic versus private settings, with applicants for private practice internships being offered $33,595 and applicants for internships at academic institutions being offered $27,247, or 23.3 percent less, according to data posted here. Comparatively, in 2017, the AVMA reported that veterinarians who graduated in 2016 earned a mean annual salary of $73,380.

Dr. Maccabe explained the discrepancy in a 2016 JAVMA News article, saying, "Residencies and internships are different from other types of employment. Colleges offer a great deal of nonsalary benefits, such as free tuition and experienced mentorship, often resulting in a master's degree or PhD for applicants who complete a residency. Veterinary colleges are not simply trying to pay the least amount of money for the most amount of work. A well-structured internship and residency involves mentorship and formal classroom training and travel for participating in scientific meetings. That's why these positions traditionally have been at the lower end of the pay scale."

More information about veterinary internships, including the AVMA internship guidelines, financial implications, statistics, and more, can be found at https://jav.ma/Internships.

Related JAVMA content:

Salary threshold for overtime pay doubles (July 1, 2016)

On the rise (July 1, 2013)​​​