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Friday, April 20, 2012

Getting The Experience

Kimberly (a fellow Browncoat....Shiny!) sent this in...

I'm a pre-vet student who just decided to change career plans after getting my bachelor's degree in history, and I'm currently trying to navigate the prerequisites for vet school. Luckily, I live in an area that happens to have a fantastic community college and numerous universities, so meeting the classroom requirements won't be an issue. The thing I'm having the most trouble with is getting the necessary clinic experience to be a serious candidate for vet school. I have a lot of large animal experience (lifetime caring for horses and part-time job as a livestock handler on a working farm), but I'm trying to broaden my background and acquire some experience that is more focused on the day-to-day of veterinary practice.

Unfortunately, the feedback I've been getting even from small animal vet clinics so far is that they don't generally take volunteers because of the insurance risk. They suggested that I try volunteering at animal shelters, but I'm concerned the experience I get there won't get me the necessary clinic experience, especially since I full-time job and can't volunteer during the week when the vets are around. Do you have any insight on what kind of experience vet schools typically consider considered clinic experience, and how hands-on I should expect things to be? I know some schools like CSU break it down into general animal experience and vet clinic experience, and I want to make sure I'm getting enough of the clinic side of things.

Next, I've shadowed a large animal vet a couple of times, and hope to do so more regularly (especially since that's what I want to go in to), but am not sure how this will be reflected on my application. Will this even be considered experience on a vet school application?

The first thing I would recommend is to talk to the admissions office at any school you are considering.   Though all US schools have similar requirements, they aren't all the same so it's difficult to make blanket statements.  I've known people to get into vet school with no prior experience, or only a few months working at a vet.  Most schools do look at your clinical experience, but it's going to vary.  

The best experience is to actually work directly for a vet.  This isn't just to meet vet school requirements, but to get a hands-on look at what it's like to be in the profession.  Unless you've spent some time behind the scenes in a veterinary clinic you honestly don't know what you're getting yourself into.  There are a lot of things vets have to do and deal with that the general public isn't aware of.  Even blogs like my own only give you glimpses and are not a replacement for practical experience.  You may find that dealing with difficult clients, getting urine and feces on you daily, being bit at regularly, and working long hours isn't really what you wanted to do.  It's better to know this before going into school than only after you're in practice.

How you actually go about getting this experience can be tricky.  Volunteering at a shelter is nothing like being in daily practice.  Sure, you'll get to be around animals, but this is nothing like working as a private practitioner, even if you spend time with the shelter vets.  Continuing to spend time with a large animal vet will be a great idea.  The application will ask you to list your experience, and this does count.  The admissions office won't check on the number of hours you worked, so as long as you're honest and do list your time with vets, you're okay.  Also, you will need at least one veterinarian to write a letter of recommendation, so you'll need to develop that relationship.

If it won't burn you out, look at working part-time overnight or on weekends for an emergency clinic.  Getting people to do those shifts can be tough, so you'll be filling a need as well as getting great experience.  Your lack of experience before applying may make it difficult to get a job, but it never hurts to try.  Large animal vets do a lot of their own weekend and emergency calls, so you can continue to work with the practice you mentioned.

Again, start with the admissions office and see exactly what they're looking for.  Best of luck!