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Training for your career in veterinary medicine is an exciting time, filled with many opportunities to learn and fine-tune your skills before your time in the field begins. An effective way for you, as a student, to gain hands-on experience is through an externship at a local veterinary hospital or clinic.

Externships are often required for students attending a school accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), but not always. So when it comes to gaining practical experience, is an internship or externship a better fit for you? In this article, we’ll help you answer the question, “what is a veterinary externship?” and understand how they differ from internships, plus highlight the key benefits of an AVMA externship for your studies.

How Do I Know if an Externship is Right for Me?

First, it’s important to understand whether an externship is the right choice for you. As we mentioned earlier, if you’re attending an AVMA-accredited school, you’ll likely need to complete an externship before graduating. This typically happens during your third or fourth year of your studies.

Veterinary Internship vs Externship

In some cases, both externships and internships are required to receive your degree, although most veterinary internships occur right after graduating from vet school. But, despite the similarities they share, they vary greatly.

Two vet techs having a discussion

Internships tend to be a more long-term commitment, often lasting a year. Externships, on the other hand, are typically completed over the span of 2-3 weeks, offering flexible hours around your school and work schedules. Internships center around completing more hands-on work, including basic, routine tasks, while externships focus heavily on observation and shadowing.

Why AVMA Externships are an Important Tool for Your Professional Development

The goal of completing an externship is to combine learned academic knowledge with real-life skills. And participating in an externship comes with many benefits for students. In addition to them being a graduation requirement, a few excellent reasons to complete a veterinary externship are the hands-on field experience, skill development, and the ability to build relationships at a hospital you are considering for an internship.

1. Hands-On Field Experience

Externships allow students to put the skills learned in their classes into action. Students usually have the opportunity to pick a specialty or focus that they would like to learn about and shadow professionals within that discipline.

Externships can be thought of as intensive crash courses for veterinary students to learn about a specific position. For example, students completing an externship in an emergency veterinary hospital get the opportunity to shadow routine and critical procedures such as surgeries and ER triage.

Externships also give you an opportunity to see what working in a specific area of veterinary medicine is like. Many externs appreciate getting to experience different specialties up close before making a future commitment in the form on an internship or training program.

For example, if you aren’t sure what working in emergency medicine is like, you can complete an externship in a veterinary ER, and if the emergency room is where you find you belong, then you can join a training program like emERge after graduation to gain valuable skills and experience.

2. Gain Highly Sought-After Skills

Of course, one of the most important parts of an externship is gaining new skills. Externships give students a way to work on soft skills and workplace communication, practice time management, and gain experience working with a team. In addition to learning the basics of the workplace, externships allow you to see real-world examples that can help you fine-tune your skill set.

3. Positive Return on Time Investment

Veterinary externships are known for packing a lot of knowledge into a small amount of time. For students who may already be working during the school year, externships are helpful because they can be completed over a short period of time.

Often, students can set their own hours during their time at the hospital to accommodate school, work, and any other commitments. Time spent in the veterinary hospital of your choice will be spent shadowing and learning rather than completing job tasks.

4. Better Post-Graduation Job Opportunities

Ultimately, externships can give vet students an advantage over those who have not completed an externship when graduation time rolls around. Employers often seek applicants who have both soft and hard skills, many of which are improved as an extern. This tends to give graduates an upper hand when it’s time to apply for their first job in the veterinary field.

Additionally, veterinary externships can also be used to show you if a field you’re interested is right for you, allowing you to make a more well-rounded decision when it comes time to submit applications.

5. Build Relationships that Could Lead to a Career

Veterinary externships are a smart way to feel out your potential options. If you are considering the more extended commitment of an internship after graduation, an externship is an effective way to build relationships in your desired hospitals, adding that personal touch to your application. Additionally, you can meet current interns and get a good sense of what their life is like and if the program is a good fit for you.

If you are going to be job-seeking after graduation, an externship is a good way to make relationships at a hospital you would strongly consider for employment. Remember that as an extern, everyone knows you are learning, so having all the answers isn’t required. Future employers and intern directors want to evaluate your communication skills and see that you are eager to learn and engaged.

A veterinary technician holding two small dogs.

How to Choose the Right Veterinary Externship

Choosing the right place to complete your veterinary externship is important, so be sure to do your research before applying.

First, a good place to start is by determining what disciplines interest you most – finding an externship that fits your planned career path will give you the most benefits.

Once you’ve determined what specialty you’d like to spend time with, you can peruse university job fairs and career expos, and check the website of your most desired veterinary hospital or clinic.

If you’re unsure where to start, talk to your school advisor or mentor for assistance.

Veterinary Externship Opportunities at BluePearl

BluePearl pet hospitals provide veterinary externship opportunities to qualified students of all specialties. Our hospitals offer externships to students attending AVMA-accredited schools, who also possess proof of health insurance and veterinary liability insurance. BluePearl provides an inclusive environment for all associates and visiting students to ensure everyone has the opportunity to grow and learn.

With pet hospitals all over the country, BluePearl has the size, staff, and resources for you to get the most from your experience. Our staff is made up of highly skilled emergency doctors, board-certified specialists, interns, residents, and vet technicians, allowing you to see multiple different roles and gain more experience. Student externs at BluePearl can get an immersive experience in areas like:

  • Emergency medicine
  • Critical care and triage
  • Surgical procedures
  • A variety of specialties

If you’re interested in externships in hospitals that also host rotating veterinary internships, explore BluePearl’s current intern hospitals or visit the Veterinary Internship & Residency Matching Program (VIRMP).

Technician holding a small white dog.

Veterinary Externships: An Important Step to Take for Your Career

Although externships are often a required part of graduation, they are an opportunity for students to get excited about their future. Choosing your externship carefully and learning from a qualified veterinary hospital with the right resources for your professional growth is an advantageous move for your career.

If you’re a veterinary student looking to gain experience, BluePearl can help. Many of our Associates have walked your path, and our externship opportunities provide hands-on learning and mentorship opportunities to help you build the career of your dreams. No matter what area of veterinary medicine you choose to focus on, we’re here to help you thrive.

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