What’s in an Externship?

Mary Horse Externship
Mary Margaret takes a look into the eye of a horse that was being examined for a complicated ocular disease during her second summer externship.

What does a veterinary student do during their limited summer breaks? Anything that looks a lot like school without actually being more school, of course.

I chose to work in a few hospitals and also extern in a few hospitals. What’s an externship? Well, it’s two or more weeks of total immersion into a practice, which allows students to try and figure out if that practice or career path will be a good option for them. All fourth-year students at A&M complete somewhere between two and 12 weeks of externships at clinics all over the state and, sometimes, the world. I picked three different equine hospitals across the state and spent a few weeks this summer trying to figure out if being a horse vet is a good idea.

The first externship was still technically during breeding season and, as with most things involving babies, very little sleep was had. Every mare that came into the hospital was outfitted with an alert system so that the doctors and interns would know when she was starting to give birth. The process is pretty quick in normal horses, so when that alarm went off, it was “throw your boots on and run to the barn” and “hope you make it in time in case anything goes wrong.” The first foal delivery I was involved in decided to arrive at 4:00 in the morning. It was adorable and everything went perfectly, but it was a good reminder that horse vets (and horse vet interns, in particular) don’t really know the meaning of the word sleep between February and April. Having said that, it felt like I learned more in those few weeks than the entire previous semester.

The second externship was a whirlwind of surgery, lameness exams, and pregnancy checks. It was at an enormous hospital where each doctor is given their niche, and the sheer volume of patients they see meant that there were too many things going on for me to see them all. I generally tried to live in the operating room, as equine surgery was something I’d never really gotten a chance to see before. I saw surgeons work on colic cases, angular limb deformities, cryptorchid castrations, kissing spines, subchondral bone cysts, laryngeal hemiplegia, and on and on. In the short time I was there I was able to witness and assist with more and more diverse surgeries than I’ve ever seen in small animal practice or at school.

One day, a boarded veterinary ophthalmologist came by to take a look at a few patients with more complicated ocular disease. On a patient with unilateral glaucoma, he was able to take a good chunk of time and show the other extern and me how to do a thorough eye exam and the signs of disease in that particular horse. It was really nice to have that detailed explanation and hands-on experience before coming back to school to study equine ophthalmic diseases in the fall.

The third externship taught me more about herd health than I expected equine practitioners needed to know. Several clients owned dozens, if not hundreds, of horses, and managing them from a veterinary perspective became less about the needs of the individual horse and more about how to keep then entire group healthy. We spent an entire day driving around one property checking on different age groups of horses. Each little herd got a thorough distance exam, and those that stood out as being abnormal were inspected more closely and scheduled for diagnostics or treatments, as needed. This way problems needing medical attention were taken care of, but every individual horse did not have to have a full workup.

Every externship is different, and each of these taught me something new about being an equine practitioner. I’m still not sure if I want to be an equine vet, but now I feel like I have a good idea of what the day-to-day life involves.

An Unexpected Education

Laine with her dogThe more time I spend in vet school, the more I’m in awe of the passage of time. Perhaps it’s just growing older or the realization that I’ve just experienced my last “summer break,” but it has become more striking than ever that time simply flies by.

Recently, as I stood in my coveralls, watching the farrier demonstrate how to maintain a horse’s hoof, I reflected on the many years of my childhood dreaming of being a veterinarian and working tirelessly toward that goal. All the skills I was once so terrified to do for fear of messing up—injections in large animals, reading blood smears, conducting a physical exam—seem so simple and natural now.

It has only just now truly hit me—I’m over halfway done with vet school! More than that, clinics are right around the corner, and in a matter of weeks I’ll be donning my “big doctor coat,” all white and freshly ironed. It really sends my head spinning to think about, but that isn’t to say I’m not ready.

Summer was an educational adventure in its own way.

As luck would have it, my dog started coughing before I could even return to work at my home clinic. I was only a handful of days into summer and I was already back at the vet school. Thankfully, it turned out to be nothing more than a case of kennel cough and the Texas A&M Small Animal Hospital had her already improving within the day.

paisleyIt was exciting, though, to speak with a fourth-year student (4VM) who had only just begun her clinical rotations. Knowing I am a vet student, the 4VM even brought me into the discussion when it came time to decide how we wanted to proceed with my dog’s case. Though I didn’t realize it at it the time, it was the first instance of many that summer during which I would realize just how much I’d learned the past two years.

Back in San Antonio, working at my home clinic, I found myself understanding more and more. The veterinarians there showed me radiographs and discussed cases with me, helping me practice my new skills and get into the habit of trying to make educated clinical decisions.

Then, lo and behold, my family cat, Antonio, became a little “quiz” of his own within the month; Antonio began refusing food, and I knew something wasn’t right. I took him to work with me and he had a 106F fever!! Instantly, we went about trying to fix the issue.

The next two weeks were an absolute roller coaster! He got better briefly…and then worse. Having turned down every avenue, we, again, turned to the Small Animal Hospital, this time to consult with an internal medicine specialist. And, yet again, I was invited to listen in on the conversation as we discussed potential diagnostics and treatments. Once more I found myself able to keep up with the conversation and even made the final decision on how to treat my cat. Finally, the fever cleared Antonio the Catand Antonio’s appetite returned. As stressful as the situation had been, it was so rewarding to reach that happy ending. Through Antonio’s illness, I learned that even if I didn’t know all the answers, I was developing valuable skills as a veterinarian and could even think through difficult cases I never would have imagined being able to before.

Looking back on how quickly the first half of vet school has flown by, I can confidently say I’ve loved every second of it—at least, almost every second. That’s including the nights poring over textbooks and the minutes before a big test, fidgeting anxiously as I mentally reviewed every little detail that could possibly be on it.

Has it been worth it? Absolutely. Not once have I doubted the path I’m on, and every day I only become more certain of it. I know just on the horizon awaits uncertainty and new challenges, but I’m excited. I’m ready for it.

Clinics, here I come!

Another year has begun!

Chelsea selfie on a hikeAfter a refreshing summer hiking in the mountains of Colorado and spending time with my family’s ranch of animals, I road-tripped back to College Station to begin my penultimate year of the DVM program.

As third-year DVM students, my classmates and I will explore a variety of clinical subjects that will prepare us for our fourth-year hospital rotations. In addition to general medicine and diagnostic imaging courses, this semester I will be taking classes in oncology, emergency response management, cardiology, and clinical pathology. We will spend time shadowing in Texas A&M’s small and large animal referral hospitals and practice necessary clinical skills you might have seen a veterinarian perform in a clinic or the field. We also will learn about regulatory procedures a veterinarian must follow, such as the rules of administering health certificates for animal travel.

Field of horsesNext semester, I will take a variety of equine and small animal medicine courses, such as dentistry, wound management, and neurology—among many others!

Lately I’ve been thinking back to how my younger self tromped around with a passion for veterinary medicine—helping my mother dry off a newborn foal, peering over a surgery table as one of my mentor veterinarians performed an ovariohysterectomy on a cat, walking down the row of a milking parlor full of dairy cows, observing social dynamics of baboons and capuchins, learning how to restrain a parrot, performing venipuncture, and running lab work. Since then, I have expanded my skills and gained confidence in discussing animal physiology and pathology, as well as how these principles relate to the various fields of medicine.

Chelsea PuppyIt’s incredible to think that this dream is almost realized—especially when I consider the responsibilities that come with maintaining professional integrity and competency for our patients, clients, and peers.

It can feel a bit daunting at times, but I greatly look forward to building a career as a veterinarian and leaning into the journey ahead.



Finally Entering Clinics

Class Of 2019 White Coats

The Texas A&M Veterinary Class of 2019 shared a bittersweet moment last Friday afternoon as we concluded our final classroom lecture of our professional curriculum. Without a doubt, the last three didactic years have been very challenging, and I am so proud of myself and my classmates for making it to this day, as we prepare to put on our white coats and begin clinical rotations next Monday.

That said, we must get through our final exams this week and endure the endless hours of studying before reaching for that white coat. Of course, we don’t expect the studying to end this week; we have the national and state licensing examinations to start preparing for, after all.

When my rotations begin, I will start on the anesthesiology rotation, which will expose me to anesthetic management in a variety of domestic, exotic, and laboratory species. As a fourth-year student, I will be participating in all aspects of anesthetic management, from preanesthetic evaluation of the patient, selection of drugs, monitoring of patients, supporting and recovering patients from anesthesia, and learning about pain management in post-operative care.

Needless to say, I’m filled with a lot of excitement, mixed with a heavy dose of nervousness and suspense. I hope the clinic floor is ready—the Class of 2019 is on its way!

Training with the VET

Mikaela at VET annual exercise
Mikaela (far left) and her peers—Emily, Luke, and Katlyn—feeling like astronauts as they donned the personal protection equipment the VET occasionally uses during deployments

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to participate in the Veterinary Emergency Team’s (VET) annual exercise. It involved veterinarians, technicians, and other College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM) faculty, staff, and alumni all coming together to assist in a mock disaster situation.The scenario for the three-day event involved two different explosions in South Texas. We “deployed” in smaller (strike) teams, made our way to the disaster sites, and then set up the VET trailers (mobile medical platforms) they use during actual deployments.

Mock cases would come in over the radio and teams would walk through how they would handle each situation and treat the cases, some of which involved, cats, dogs, horses, and cattle. You have to be ready for anything in these types of situations, which is why practicing is so important.

You also have to approach them differently than an everyday clinic situation—you don’t have the same equipment or personnel, or the history of the animal. Some of the cases involved animals that were injured in the blast; some of them were animals that had been stranded and just needed help finding their owners. As you finished a case, a new case would come in.

I was the controller for my team, so my job was to give information about the patients as my team asked for it, including blood values, microchip information, and radiation readings (one scenario included an explosion at a nuclear power facility). It was an interesting situation to be in because I got to watch the teams work through each case and see the types of questions that the teams asked in each scenario.

At the end of the day, all of the teams came together for a debriefing.

We also got to practice putting on personal protective equipment (PPE), which are special hazard suits that protect you in scenarios that include known or unknown chemicals that you could be exposed to. I was able to learn how to put on the suit and felt like an astronaut!

Overall, it was a great day and I learned so much about how the VET works and responds in disaster situations.

Finding the Joy

Michelle M.Vet school is a dream come true for all of the students currently enrolled in Texas A&M’s College of Veterinary Medicine!

Despite this, it can be easy to become bogged down in exams, personal struggles, and commitments, at times, especially at the end of the semester as finals approach. This is why since starting school, many of us have taken to heart a concept explained to us during our first-year orientation.

“Find the Joy” is a mantra that has been repeated more times than I can count. Whenever my class has been overwhelmed with a particularly challenging exam or week, someone has always reminded us to find the joy; it is a reminder to look at the little things in life that make you happy to bring you back to perspective that your struggles will pass and are not as insurmountable as you currently think they are. And that no matter what, there is joy in your life, if only you seek to find it.

Each semester, right before finals week, the Texas A&M chapter of the Student American Veterinary Association (SAVMA) hosts something called “Find the Joy” week. It is a series of events spanning over the course of a week specifically for the vet students. All of these events are free or discounted for the students as a way for them to relax and take a little bit of time being active, creative, or just away from their books.

I am currently the secretary of SAVMA and we just finished planning the events for this year’s “Find the Joy” week. The events this year range from a class at You Paint It, yoga, bingo, an escape room, ice skating, and more. I’m organizing the You Paint It class and am looking forward to relaxing with my classmates and showing just how horrible my artistic skills are. But it is in the name of “Find the Joy” and a good cause.

Innovation, Diversity, and Fourth Year

TaylorI attended part of the second annual Veterinary Innovation Summit (VIS) that was held over the weekend here at Texas A&M. Veterinarians, veterinary students, and other members of the veterinary industry from all over the United States descended upon the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences for three days to talk about the future of veterinary medicine and what we can do to advance the profession. There were talks and panel discussions on a variety of topics, including the human-animal bond in the 21st century, one health, on-demand veterinary services, telemedicine, and the future of practice models and ownership, to name a few.

I attended a panel discussion where the deans from Texas A&M, Florida, The Ohio State University, and UC-Davis veterinary schools discussed the different ways they are trying to better prepare their new graduates through their respective curricula. There were mentions of business courses, communications training, and other things of the like. But diversity was a common theme.

The deans discussed their commitment to the further diversification of their veterinary school classes. Diversifying the veterinary school classes can help to create even better veterinarians and vet clinic environments in the future, as people from a wide variety of backgrounds can all bring experiences and perspectives to the table. It will also help the veterinary profession to better serve a diverse group of people and their pets in our ever-diversifying country.

I think the VIS is a great networking event and a great way to gather up veterinarians, innovative technology, and other companies to exchange ideas and push the veterinary profession into the future!

On a side note, it is now only 28 short days until I start my clinical rotations as a fourth-year veterinary student!!! I really cannot believe how fast this year (and all of vet school) has flown by, and I am a bit intimidated by the responsibility that comes with being a fourth year. I’m slowly mentally preparing myself for the change to come and am SO excited to be done with the constant studying and exam-taking portion of my veterinary studies.

I’m especially excited for all of the hands-on learning I’ll get to do, new challenges I’ll face, and interacting with clients and patients!

A Spring Break Surprise

Ali and Spencer Selfie
Ali and Spencer, newly engaged

Spring Break has come and gone in a flash!

I traveled to Utah’s Zion National Park with my boyfriend, Spencer, and we camped for three days under the Utah stars. Being used to waking up at 6 a.m. for school, it wasn’t hard for me to adjust to our early-morning hikes, but for Spencer, it was a bit harder! Beating the Spring Break crowd is a priority, because being in nature surrounded by loud strangers is never ideal. My favorite hike was up Angel’s Landing, one of the most coveted spots to hike in North America. Half of the trail is a series of 21 brutal uphill switchbacks, which make your legs (and lungs) shaky like Jell-O. A sedentary, studying lifestyle has somehow failed to put me in peak mountain-climbing shape.

mischievous chipmunk
The mischievous chipmunk that stole Ali’s lunch

The last half of the hike has chains built into the mountain, a narrow rock path, and cliffs on either side of you. I kept telling myself, “Don’t look down.” But it never worked. I repeatedly looked down and kept scaring myself. Six people have died climbing that cliff face since 2004, so it must be taken seriously.

Unexpectedly, as we were watching the early morning sun cover the canyon, Spencer got down on one knee and proposed to me. I said yes, of course, but was too afraid to wear the ring down the mountain, so I put it back in the box until we got to stable ground at the bottom. I am very excited to finish my last year of vet school in the clinics, marry him, and start our life together in 2019!Once at the top of Angel’s Landing, you can see across the entire Zion Canyon that has been explored by humans for thousands of years. It was a breathtaking view and a great reward for the challenging trip up to the summit!

Our second hike was up to Observation Point, a little higher and lengthier than Angel’s Landing, but a much less terrifying hike. There was a family of chipmunks at the top that were feistier than any animal I have ever met. National parks tell you to “Please do not feed the wildlife” when they really should warn you that wildlife will sneak into your backpack and drag your PBJ out of it. I never knew something so adorable could be so mischievous!

After not showering for three days, we headed to Las Vegas to celebrate our engagement with family. Someone asked me, “How are you going to study when you have a wedding to plan?” and I really have no idea. Being a vet student leaves us with such little time to think about anything except for vet school, but I think I will have to take some steps back and prioritize what is important!

We also traveled to the Hoover Dam, which is only 30 minutes away from Vegas in Boulder City. It is so much bigger than I could have ever imagined, and I cannot imagine the feat that it was to build it in 1935 to block the Colorado River.

I was curiously wandering around and found a dog’s grave near the entrance. The plaque states that the dog rode the bus and accompanied the workers to their job sites every day. But then, one day, he was sleeping and was run over by a truck and was mourned by the workers and buried under the guard tower. Such a special tribute to man’s best friend!

My Spring Break was a very needed respite from the stresses of vet school, so that I am fully recharged and ready to take on my last semester and last full year of clinics. I am slightly regretful of the amount of things that piled up over the week off; however, I know I will find a way to catch up, like I always do.

Dam DogAlong with tests, quizzes, and projects due this week, we are also getting ready for our Vet School Open House that is coming up this Saturday. I am volunteering to present a surgery simulation where we show what veterinary surgeons look like gowned, masked, and gloved-up in the operating room. It is always so much fun interacting with kids and adults who share our passion for animals and science. Hopefully, we can inspire some little minds to join this amazing and rewarding profession!

Receiving Our Fourth-Year Schedules

TaylorLast week we received our fourth-year clinical rotation schedules! During your fourth year of veterinary school, you complete 24, two-week clinical rotations throughout the different services in the Small and Large Animal Hospitals and have some time set aside throughout the year for externships and vacation.

We third-year students selected our tracks (small animal, large animal, mixed animal, food animal, or alternative) back in November and ranked our preferences for some of the services in the Small and Large Animal Hospitals. Needless to say, we’ve all been anxiously awaiting the arrival of our rotation schedules for the past three months! As soon as we got the email that our rotation schedules were in our mailboxes, most of my classmates excitedly ran over to get our schedules and immediately started comparing them to see which rotations we may have together. The whole class was abuzz with excitement! To be honest, I could barely pay attention in class the rest of the day because I was just too excited to focus!

In my fourth year, I will start out in general surgery and then go to the Houston ASPCA for my first two clinical rotations. I’m very excited to start on these rotations because I will gain further experience spaying and neutering dogs and cats, which will give me great confidence and allow me to apply these skills during my externships later in the year. I’m also excited to complete the small animal emergency/critical care rotation, because I have not had a lot of experience with emergency cases in the past and am interested to learn more about how to stabilize and treat emergent patients. I’ll also rotate through many other services in the hospitals including cardiology, radiology, food animal medicine, equine field services, dermatology, and anesthesiology, just to name a few. I’m so excited for fourth year, and I can’t wait to see cases, interact with patients daily, and finally get to put the knowledge and skills that I have learned for the past three years into practice!

I honestly cannot believe that I’m in my final semester of classes before entering the clinics! Vet school has really gone by fast! It’s scary and exciting to think that in just a little over one year I will graduate and finally achieve my lifelong goal of becoming a veterinarian!

Planning for the Future

Sydney M.Well, I made it to my last semester before entering my fourth year of vet school, when I will be completing my clinical rotations in the Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital! I can’t believe how fast the time has gone, but now, the real future planning starts. I am amazed at how much A&M is preparing us for our future. They put a lot of effort into providing us with resources and opportunities to grow in our profession and graduate confident in that knowledge.

This semester started with a choice of which prep course to get for the NAVLE. The NAVLE is the exam you have to take in your fourth year of vet school to become a licensed veterinarian. I will be taking the NAVLE in November or December of this year. In order to quickly be able to review everything we have learned during our vet school journey, we sign up for online prep courses that guide us through important topics. I just signed up for one of the prep courses, and it’s now becoming real just how close I am to my fourth year and graduation!

This semester has already been jammed-packed with new knowledge for not only veterinary medicine, but also for financial and business knowledge. This semester, the third-year students are taking a class called “Practice Management,” in which we learn to effectively manage a veterinary practice when we graduate, as well as basic business skills for our resumes and cover letters, the hiring process, and personal finances. I am really excited about this class because I believe that I will gain great insight on life outside of vet school, which will help me make great choices when I graduate. The class has guest lecturers who discuss different topics. So far, we have covered resumes and cover letters, and the pros and cons of building a vet clinic or whether it’s better to buy an existing clinic. I am excited to hear the rest of the lectures throughout the semester!

Another way to help with your future planning is by joining the Veterinary Business Management Association (VBMA), an organization that is great for helping you plan for the business aspect of veterinary medicine. I joined VBMA in my second year and I have learned so much from this group. The VBMA offers several ways for you to boost your resume for the future. One way is through the business certification program, in which you attend 16 hours of business lectures hosted by the VBMA before you graduate from vet school. If you attend the lectures, you graduate with a business certificate, which will help set you apart from other applicants. In January, the VBMA holds a Professional Development Symposium with lectures that provide additional business knowledge. I just attended this seminar and was able to finish all of my hours for the certificate, so I am really proud of myself for sticking with it during vet school.

With all of this future-planning, I am getting excited for the next step in my career!