10 Tips for Making the Most of Your Externship

Externing is an exciting way to experience the ins and outs of veterinary medicine firsthand and gives you endless amounts of insight into the veterinary field as a whole. However, time flies by when you’re having fun (and learning!) which is why it’s important to make sure you’re getting the most out of your externship while you’re there.

QuestionsUse these tips to do just that:

1. Make a good first impression
Be sure you’re off to a good start by showing up early, introducing yourself to the team, and inquiring about what you’ll need to wear prior to your first day. It’s better to be overprepared than underprepared, so do your due diligence.

2. Get to know the practice beforehand
Checking out the practice’s website and social media pages will help give you a sense of their culture, their clients, and the types of services they offer. Do a little bit of research prior to beginning your externship to learn about their history and feel out their personality.

3. Establish ground rules
Ground rules will assist you in transitioning into your new role. Before you get started, email your supervisor to ask pertinent questions such as where you can park, when you should ask questions during your shift (asking in front of clients may not be acceptable), and where you should stand in the event a patient has an emergency. Having answers to those questions early on will make for smooth sailing.

4. Leverage the connections you make
To get the most out of your experience and to further build your network, get to know your colleagues. While you may only be working with them temporarily, these connections will help to grow your network. Having a strong network opens up great potential for future job opportunities and strong professional references.

5. Invite feedback
Invite feedback and listen without judgement. Receiving feedback will allow you to take stock of what you’re doing really well and which areas could use improvement. If it helps, write the feedback down on a notepad. Be sure to thank your colleagues for their responses.

6. Be a good listener
Your externship will allow you to learn a lot simply by listening in. Listen to everything from the way receptionists speak to clients to the way technicians interact with veterinarians. You’ll gain a lot of basic clinical experience, of course, but learning how to handle tricky situations (and client) will be useful as well.

7. Jump in
For a lot of people, experiential learning - or learning through experience - is particularly helpful. When you feel you can help out, offer to lend a hand! Tackling hands-on tasks will allow you to learn firsthand, demonstrate your skills, and exhibit interest. It will boost your confidence, too.

8. Take notes
Whether you’re jotting down questions, writing out the feedback you’ve received, or outlining client communication strategies, take notes. At the end of each day, spend some time writing down key takeaways. Not only will this allow you to retain what you’ve learned, it will also allow you to stay organized.

9. Shadow different roles
Take advantage of every aspect of the practice. See if you can spend a little bit of time in various parts of the hospital, including reception, the kennels, and grooming. Everything you learn will help you become a well-rounded veterinarian and an excellent team player.

10. Reflect on your experiences
At the end of your externship, reflect on what you’ve learned. Consider the best practices you’ve learned, tips to boost your clinical, diagnostic, and surgical skills, and everything in between. Make a list of things you’d like to learn at your next externship.