Internships – a stepping stone in specialisation

internship surgery
I believe that, much like the American model of veterinary education, internships will become more and more important as the standard and complexity of the veterinary care that we deliver evolves.

My motivation for wanting to promote internships and the integral role they can play in career development came about after a rather heated discussion with a friend who is a human medic. At the time, with both of us one-year qualified in our respective fields, I was berating him about his technical inadequacies; basically suggesting that he was an overpaid phlebotomist who couldn't hit a cow's backside with a banjo when it came to cannula placement! However, once the peacock-like gesturing had subsided, we discussed the intricacies of his planned career development. It was shocking how much support, guidance and structure were in place for the first 10 years of his career. My friend was secure in the knowledge that in 10 years, or so, he would be a consultant in his chosen field; his future would be secure and he would be doing the work he loved. But where would I be in 10 years?

"Internships will become more and more important as the standard and complexity of the veterinary care that we deliver evolves"

Veterinary education is evolving at breakneck speed. Problem-based learning, evidence-based teaching and novel haptic learning methodologies were rare teaching methods even when I qualified five years ago, but are now the backbone of modern veterinary education. The development of the Professional Development Phase (PDP) and the ever-evolving Certificate in Advanced Veterinary Practice have begun in some part to bring the early career development of the young veterinary surgeon in line with that of medics. But how does one go about taking the next step into specialisation?

Specialising in small animal surgery

It was after spending four years in practice that I made the decision to enter an internship programme. Some may think this was a late jump into what has historically been thought of as the preserve of recent graduates, but this was a decision I had not taken lightly. After much soul searching, I came to the conclusion that my career goal was to gain specialisation in the field of small animal surgery. It took me four years to understand fully that surgery was where my passion lay. I love anaesthesia, I feast on the excitement of emergency and critical care work and I have a closet passion for small animal dentistry (no comments please). However, I feel at ease and most fulfilled when in theatre. I am glad I took the time to decide where my true calling lay, although for others this may become apparent a lot earlier in their career.

Entering onto residency programme 

I knew from the offset that to gain specialist status I would need to complete a three-year residency. For me an internship was the necessary stepping stone towards gaining entry onto a residency programme, as the majority of UK-based residency programmes require candidates to have completed an internship.The quality of internship programmes varies widely between institutes, and anyone considering undertaking one needs to weigh up the positives and negatives of what the programme has to offer. There are some prerequisites of internships everyone should be prepared to accept: lower wages, long hours and a heavy workload. However, I strongly believe that there is a quid pro quo when it comes to internship programmes. Any successful programme should be prepared to offer interns the chance to expand their skill set under the tutelage of specialists, the chance to engage in and publish research and, most importantly, an environment that endeavours to nurture career aspirations.

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