Memorable Moments and Lessons From My Externship: DVM Externship Blog Series, Part 3
August 16, 2022
Part 3 of a 3-part blog series following a student veterinarian through her eight-week externship gaining hands-on experience in a mixed veterinary practice. Read Part 1 - Living the James Herriot Lifestyle and Part 2 - All About Heartworm.
Final year Ontario Veterinary College student veterinarians begin their clinical year with an eight-week externship where they have an opportunity to practice their skills in a real world setting as part of a veterinary team providing animal care to the public. Dr. Morganna Turner, OVC DVM 2022, completed her externship in the summer of 2021 at the Paris Veterinary Clinic in Paris, Ontario.
My two-month externship was filled with expanding my knowledge, teamwork, excitement, and some very cool cases. I spent a lot of time on the road learning about large animal medicine, including many dairy and beef herd health and pregnancy checks, various equine primary care and emergency calls, and even working with some goats, sheep, and pet pigs! I also spent many days in the clinic on the small animal side of the practice, including participating in wellness appointments for dogs and cats, working up medical cases, assisting and getting experience with a variety of procedures, and even observing some specialty medicine such as chemotherapy and orthopedic surgery. Because I embraced the variety of different species and specialties and balanced my time amongst working with them all, I discovered a lot about myself and my interests in veterinary medicine. I think most importantly, I started to gain some confidence as I began to step into the role of a veterinarian in the clinic.
Below are a few things that I came to appreciate over the course of my externship, that I hope other student veterinarians s reading this will also consider:
- It is very okay to not know everything. In fact, one of the best ways to learn and remember something is by having to look it up, or by making mistakes and answering questions incorrectly, but then talking it through until the right answer is discovered. I found that by trying to embrace the learning process and let go of any expectation of perfection, I was able to focus on the things I learned each day rather than dwelling on the things I didn’t know.
On that note, you know so much more than you think you do. Break things that seem overwhelming into pieces that are less complicated to tackle, and don’t be afraid to use every resource available to you to help with this. For example, early in my externship I was involved in an appointment for a vomiting cat. After some diagnostic tests a diagnosis of pancreatitis was reached. Initially, I could not remember the specific treatment protocol for cats with pancreatitis and was overwhelmed when asked to make a treatment plan. But then I took a step back, and wrote the cat’s problems out one by one, and slowly came up with a plan. With the history of continued vomiting and physical exam findings, the cat was assessed as dehydrated, so it needed intravenous fluids, and anti-nausea medication. Also, based on bloodwork, we knew that the cat had inflammation and likely an infection, so it needed antibiotics. Finally, a drug was needed to control pain and ensure the cat was comfortable. I listed some medications that would be appropriate under each of the categories I had identified, with the aid of browsing the clinic pharmacy, and then I checked my drug reference book for dosages. When I presented my plan to the veterinarian who was overseeing the case, she said it looked great, and that’s how we treated the cat!
Embrace the cool and special moments that you will experience on your externship! When you’re at the beginning of your clinical career, there are so many “firsts” that you have yet to experience. I took the approach of being excited and celebrating those firsts when the opportunity arose, rather than feeling worried that I hadn’t yet done something. When I went out to a cow call and actually heard a ping through my stethoscope when I flicked the flank in a particular location - something we are taught in school as indicative of a common condition called a displaced abomasum - I knew exactly what it was. When the vet asked me what my diagnosis was, I excitedly stated that this cow had a left displaced abomasum, and this was the first one I’d ever actually seen. I was able to help surgically fix that cow’s problem, and the whole experience was fascinating for me, particularly because it was my first time witnessing a case like that. Another special first I experienced was having the opportunity to perform artificial insemination on a horse. I had gone on many horse breeding calls prior to that day, and had watched the procedure many times, so I knew the steps very well. One day, the vet I accompanied on the farm call told me that I was going to do this insemination if I could tell him the exact protocol in the car on the way there. I could and so I did the insemination. h I was so excited! That in itself was very cool, but what happened a few weeks later made it even more special. On one of the last days of my externship, the vet I had done the artificial insemination with d told me he had just checked the horse that I bred, and she was pregnant! That experience was a great way to end a whole externship’s worth of memorable moments and firsts, and I know that I will remember that for a long time.
Although it is so easy to doubt ourselves as students and it often feels like there is an insurmountable amount of knowledge and clinical experience to gain before we will be ready to be practicing veterinarians, the transition from student to veterinarian happens slowly but surely, and we all will get there! We are taught the skills and knowledge in school that we need to succeed. l, and then need to develop confidence in ourselves to apply those skills and knowledge to cases and patients and start doing what we’ve been working towards during our studies. The externship course marks a pivotal point in the vet school journey, as it is the first official time that students immerse themselves in clinics in the role of a veterinarian. I can definitely say after completing my externship I felt much more ready to tackle the challenges of fourth year and the working world beyond it.
I am so thankful to the clinics that open their doors to students on their externships, the farmers and pet owners who allow students to help treat and learn from their animals, and of course, the veterinarians who take the time to mentor and teach student veterinarians.
Find blogs from previous student veterinarians at the OVC Externship Blog Project.