How I Got Veterinary Work Experience
By Briana Isakson 2nd Year Vet Student
If you ask a group of vet students when they decided to become vets, it is not uncommon to hear answers such as ‘When I was six years old,’ or ‘When I was twelve,’ or ‘My first words were I wanna be a veterinarian!’
Ok, maybe not the last one.
But that’s what it felt like when I decided, at the ripe age of twenty, to become a vet.
I had big plans to get accepted into veterinary school by the time I was twenty-two. I knew that if I wanted to defy the odds and the people around me who told me I couldn’t do it, I would have to do the work those other students had done over the previous decade in just two short years.
So, I took it upon myself to learn absolutely everything I could about getting into vet school to get a kickstart toward my newfound passion.
Over and over and over, I heard about how important things like grades and leadership experiences were for vet school applications. I most often heard:
‘You cannot get into veterinary school if you do not have at least one thousand hours of veterinary experience.’
Talk about dream-crushing.
I knew I had my work cut out for me since I had only stepped foot into a vet clinic for my own animals’ visits.
Small disclaimer, I did end up getting accepted to vet school at twenty-two, but with only six hundred hours of experience. So much for the one-thousand-hour ‘golden rule’.
Why You NEED Veterinary Work Experience
But why are veterinary hours so stinking important for a vet school application?
Well, it is no secret that the life of a veterinarian is not always as glamorous as it looks in movies and TV (thanks, Dr. Doolittle). It can include sixty-plus-hour workweeks in the brutal outdoor weather, heartbreaking deaths, or clients begging you to save their dog’s life for free and getting upset when you tell them you simply can’t.
Getting exposure as a pre-vet will not only help you gain good habits and communicative skills but also show schools that you have seen the not-so-glamorous side of being a vet – and yet still choose it as a career.
The more hands-on experience you get, the more prepared you will be for your vet school classes. I can’t tell you how many times I have learned about disease in one of my vet school classes and immediately thought about a case from work experience. I can usually even tell you the name of the animal from the case.
You are learning way more than you realize while getting these experiences. Think of it this way – even just the six hundred hours I applied with is equivalent to spending twenty-five days straight in a vet clinic with no sleep watching case after case after case. That is a lot of exposure!
What Does (And Does Not) Count As Veterinary Work Experience
Before looking for experience, you must understand what does and does not count as veterinary work experience. Luckily, it is pretty straightforward– veterinary experience is any experience working directly with a vet.
Any experience without a vet present, even if it’s in a vet clinic working as a kennel technician, does not count. Luckily, those jobs or experiences (like working as a pet sitter or a farmhand) give you valuable animal experience. You can put this in your application in a separate section.
How To Get Veterinary Work Experience
Now let’s get to the exciting part – how you get veterinary experience!
The best advice I can give is to call, call, call.
I quite literally sat down and wrote the name and number of every vet clinic in my area on a sticky note and spent an afternoon calling each one to see if they allowed pre-vet students to come in and shadow.
Many said no, and it is important not to take that personally. If they said no, I would thank them anyway and ask if they had the contact of a different practice that wouldn’t mind me coming in.
I looked at clinics as far as forty-five minutes away- I even scoured job listing sights for months to see if I could find a vet assistant job. This eventually led me to a vet clinic receptionist position (not technically vet experience) that quickly turned into a veterinarian assistant position (which is vet experience) because they knew I was eager for one.
I share these personal experiences to make the point that you have just got to keep looking and networking until you find a clinic (or a few) that will take you under their wing.
How To Leave A Good Impression
Once you find a clinic that will let you come back, hold onto it like you would the best slice of cheese pizza you have ever had.
Show up on time, be engaged, ask quality questions (preferably at the right time, not when the vet is in the middle of telling a client their dog needs a two-thousand-dollar life-saving surgery), and help out however you can.
Helping can be as simple as cleaning exam rooms after appointments or taking the trash out for them at the end of the day – little things like that make a BIG difference in helping you stand out and make them more likely to ask you to return.
Once you complete your vet internship or shadowing opportunity- when you will not be returning for the foreseeable future (ex: because you are moving away since you got into vet school!)- write your workplace a handwritten thank you note.
This is a lost art that is meaningful and shows the clinic that you are thankful for them allowing you to come in and learn.
Now go out and get that internship!
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About the author:
At the time of original publication, Briana Isakson was a 2nd year at the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine. She has a particular interest in large animal medicine and looks forward to being an advocate for farmers and agriculture while serving in rural farm communities post-graduation. On both her Instagram and YouTube channels, she shows the raw authentic life of a veterinary student.
Briana's Youtube: Briana Lé