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Mentorship key component in externships

Talk to student veterinarians from the University of Guelph’s Ontario Veterinary College as they head out on their eight-week summer externship and their enthusiasm is palpable. This is the step from lectures and labs to hands-on clinical practice. It’s their intro to their fourth year - a year of intensive clinical and diagnostic training.

Along with this experiential learning, mentorship is an invaluable component of externships. 

Read just a few of the posts from our 2018 Externship Blog Project students this summer and the value of mentorship is clear. So too is the opportunity for practical hands-on experience, as they refine their clinical, diagnostic and problem-solving skills along with client and practice communications. 

We reached out to a few OVC alumni and staff to find out about their externship experience, the highlights they offered and a few takeaways for students when they are searching for an externship practice. 

Dr. Melanie Barham, OVC 2007Melanie Barham, OVC 2007, is the Ontario Animal Health Network coordinator; Tiffany Durzi, OVC 2000, is a clinical veterinarian at the Ontario Veterinary College Hills’ Pet Nutrition Primary Healthcare Centre; and Lois Valli, OVC 1991, is a veterinarian with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and CFIA Regulatory Veterinary Medicine Liaison with the Ontario Veterinary College.

Where did you do your externship?

MB - Mississippi Veterinary Services and Ottawa Valley Large Animal Clinic

TD - Main Street Animal Hospital in Cambridge, Ontario- one of my externship vets was Dr. Stephanie Nykamp! (OVC Associate Dean, Clinical Programs)

LV - New Hamburg Vet Clinic, New Hamburg, Ontario.

Could you share one or two highlights from your experience?

MB - I remember doing my first solo spay with Dr. Nancy Cavan nearby on a humane society case, Kathy Cavanagh (a technician) teaching me to unblock a cat with some ease, pulling quills from a farm dog on a Saturday, and a marathon of castrations with Dr. Larry Cavan. At Ottawa Valley Large Animal Clinic, where I later worked, I remember riding around with Dr. Jane Kielly and Dr. Larry Butler, both great teachers. I got to be the primary surgeon on a pony enucleation under general anesthesia that summer with Dr. Butler watching patiently. A kind client was ok with me doing the surgery, and the pony did great afterwards, as his painful uveitic eye was gone- no more eye drops for him! It was a great experience. 

Dr. Tiffany Durzi, OVC 2000TD - My very first experience at surgery involved neutering a male lion. I sure learned not to hesitate and to work quickly! 

LV – There is a long list - learning to do spays, at that time we did not do them in vet school and I would not have had experience doing these routine surgeries if it had not been for my externship. Learning about use of drugs for large animal medicine, administering meds to milk fever cows, dispensing drugs from the pharmacy and writing scripts, assisting with large animal surgeries on farm, learning nerve blocks and techniques. All the basic stuff that was important for day-to-day mixed practice. Of course it helped that everyone at the clinic was great to work with and got along with each other very well. One of the big highlights was coming back in October for a fabulous Halloween party at one of the owner’s farms!

How did the externship impact your veterinary career?

MB - I think it taught me a lot about real life in practice, working with clients, communicating and being part of the solution to their farm and animal problems. I gained confidence and proficiency in my skills. I learned about staying safe, not getting injured.

TD - Being able to practice veterinary medicine with an enthusiastic team in a supportive environment solidified for me that general practice was my destiny! I will always remember fondly all the great people at Main Street Animal Hospital that allowed me to develop into the person I am today. Thanks Main Street!

Dr. Lois Valli, OVC 1991, with Dr. Laura Omeljaniuk, OVC 2017LV –I would have been really lost starting out in practice without this experience. I had great mentors and was able to learn by doing and make mistakes in a safe environment. 

Where has your career taken you?

MB - I completed an internship in California, worked in Ottawa in equine practice, worked in southern Ontario as an equine practitioner. I now work at the Animal Health Laboratory coordinating the Ontario Animal Health Network. 

TD - I practiced in the Cayman Islands for 10 years and then made it full circle round, back to the Ontario Veterinary College where I currently work as a clinical veterinarian at the OVC Primary Healthcare Centre.

LV – I completed three years of mixed practice and then worked for 10 years with a large pharmaceutical company as the technical services veterinary manager. When the company was sold, I went back to school to complete a graduate degree and did some sessional teaching. For the past three years I have been working for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) as an animal health veterinarian and I am currently also the CFIA Liaison to the University of Guelph. 

What advice do you have for DVM students when they are searching for their externship practice?

MB - Take any opportunity given to you to learn; everyone has something to show you. Be eager, be curious. Ask questions in the truck. If your mind isn't always thinking of what you can learn from each situation, you're not making the most of it. It's such a rich eight-week experience, stay late, enjoy the work. You won't regret it!

TD - Look for a team that works well together and that enjoys practicing veterinary medicine. You can always learn veterinary medicine, but you need to experience a productive and cohesive team environment. Communications is everything! 

LV - Talk to students who have done externships and learn which are good places to go. And when you get to the practice take full advantage of every learning opportunity you are given. Go on as many after-hours calls as possible and get lots of hands-on experience.

Catch up with some of our OVC Externship Blog Project alums this week at the Externship Blog Project.

Read more about the 2018 Externship Blog Project here.