January 2023

In this VETgirl online veterinary continuing education blog, Dr. Justine Lee, DACVECC, DABT talks about how to get the veterinary internship that you want, and what you can do to maximize your changes of getting an internship… even if you’re a C student.

By Dr. Justine Lee, DACVECC, DABT
Director of Medicine / CEO, VETgirl

How do I maximize my chances of getting a veterinary internship?

So, you read my blog on “Should I do an internship in veterinary medicine” a few weeks ago. And you’re seriously thinking about doing an internship in vet med (YEAH, go!). But what if you’re not sure? And what if you don’t have the best grades?

Well, here’s some advice from a formerly less than average, C-student. (I think I was 62 out of 84 class rank at Cornell).

How do I maximize my changes of getting a veterinary internship?

During Christmas break of my 2nd year of vet school, I went to visit my former OTS veterinary housemate – she was during her internship year at Angell Memorial Animal Hospital in Boston, MA (back then, it was called Angell Memorial Animal Hospital but now it’s Angell Animal Medical Center). I had family in town, and I wanted to stop by for a weekend to volunteer while I was there. I shadowed my fellow Cornellian (Regina, you know who you are!), and fell in love with the hustle and bustle and crazy life of an internship over the weekend.

I went back to extern at Angell approximately 1 year later – as an official 3rd year veterinary student who had entered clinics. I was there for 2 weeks on an internal medicine and oncology externship (pretty much 7am-5pm), but as soon as my shift was over, I asked if I could shadow with the ER intern who was “on the list.” (ER). I stayed with them till typically 11pm or midnight, before turning right around to begin my rotation at 7am the following day. I chased them down (Angell interns have a notoriously fast speed of walking as they are insanely busy), helping where I could, absorbing every minute of it. I helped scrub. I aspirated spleens and lymph nodes post-mortem. I did their cytology while the interns ran from room to room. And I loved EVERY. SINGLE. MINUTE of it. The oncologist pulled me aside before my 2-week externship was over and recommended that I apply to Angell (Thank you, Dr. Shapiro!).

And that’s where I went.

Now, as a C student at Cornell, I never thought I’d have a shot of getting a top internship. But my C’s were in my first 2.5 years – until I learned the real medicine and clinical stuff, which I fell in love with. After a year of A’s in clinics (large animal to boot!), I was able to squeak by with a 3.0 at graduation. Definitely not “top internship” grades, but I got the internship that I wanted. So, want to know how I got my internship?

Visit the hospital and extern there if possible.
How did I get my internship? Through those two visits to Angell. Visiting a place you are considering interning at is imperative. And it’s imperative that you do it before you have to turn in your Veterinary Internship and Residency Match Program (VIRMP) application. Hence, I recommend doing externships – for 2 weeks at most – during September – November of your 4th year, if possible. Why is visiting a potential internship hospital or clinic important? It lets you get a “gut instinct” of the hospital. After a weekend at Angell, I knew that’s where I wanted to go. After externing at a few other locations, I can say definitively that I did NOT want to go to one location within a few hours of being there. Visiting the hospital as an extern also lets you talk to the current interns and staff and find out more about the program (e.g., “How much do you REALLY get to do?”). Not only does it allow you to check out the hospital to make sure it’s a good fit, but it also allows the hospital to meet you in person. Why?

  1. They want to make sure you are normal.
  2. They want to make sure you fit their clinic mojo.
  3. They want to see if you’re a good team player.
  4. They want to see if you’re eager (but not overly eager).
  5. They want to see if you have a good work ethic.

What they don’t want? Someone who is overly cocky. Someone who is unteachable. Someone who isn’t a good team player. They can teach you the medicine. They can teach you the drug doses. But they can’t teach un-teachable.

Limit your externships to 2 weeks.
Why do you want to limit your externship to 2 weeks (or less) if possible? Because you want to hit up as many externships as possible. Let me fill you in on a little secret. Once you graduate and become a full fledge vet, no one will let you visit their hospital for an externship. They only take vet students. They rarely take you once you graduate, because they don’t have time for that (and think you are spying!). So, you want to try to do as many externships at potential internship locations as you can. Why don’t I recommend doing 4 weeks? While 4 week externships are the “norm” for zoo externships, I don’t recommend them for small animal externships. First, you want to check out as many locations as possible. Second, you have a good feel for the place within the first few days. And they likely have a good feel for YOU within the first week too.

Justine Angell

Absorb as much as you can while you’re externing.
I’ll admit, I was an eager beaver during my externship at Angell as a 3rd year. It was adrenalizing. I wanted to help as much as I could, while learning and absorbing as much as I could do. During an externship, spend extra time there after your shift is done, as it’ll show your motivation and let you learn and see and do more!

Request rotations and externship times appropriately if possible.
As a 3rd year veterinary student, you likely don’t have much “control” of your 3rd and 4th year. If you get the option to request time, you ideally want your externship time earlier in the year, along with at least one rotation of (insert-your-area-of-interest-here) small animal medicine and surgery too. That way you’ve seen stuff in preparation for your NAVLE boards, and you seem somewhat competent during your externship. If you have the choice, I’d do your ancillary or elective rotations in the 2nd semester, so you have the opportunity to extern and prep for boards as much as possible.

Get good letters of recommendation.
By having your (insert-your-area-of-interest-here) small animal medicine and surgery rotations before December, you’ll have more case responsibility and case load. This will also help when seeking letters of recommendations from your veterinary clinicians. Always make sure to ask “Do you feel comfortable writing me a strong letter of recommendation?” Because that’s dramatically different than “Can you write me a letter of recommendation?” (Yes, they can, and it might not be a good one). Ask in advance – not 2 weeks before the application is due. We’re busy clinicians, yo, and need at least 1 month’s notice! Also, send follow up reminders to your clinicians once or twice before so they remember the deadline. And follow up with a thank you card + small token of appreciation. Not an email saying “THANK YOU!” (Not enough, yo. It’s your future life in my hands). Observe the unwritten etiquette of letters of recommendation!


Like I mentioned before in my blog on “Should I do an internship in veterinary medicine” a few weeks ago, I’m really such a huge, huge advocate of doing an internship. It truly makes you a better clinician, while making you more efficient and a stronger communicator at the same time. It increases your confidence. It builds your skill set. When in doubt, “just do it.”

Only VETgirl members can leave comments. Sign In or Join VETgirl now!