There are many ways that a veterinarian can gain valuable hands-on experience after completion of their basic DVM degree. Many veterinarians choose to participate in internships and residencies to learn about their particular areas of interest in greater detail. These training programs are in high demand and tend to draw many more applicants than there are spaces available.
The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) defines a veterinary internship as “a 1-year clinical training program that emphasizes mentorship, direct supervision, and didactic experiences including rounds, seminars, and formal presentations. It provides practical experience in applying knowledge gained during the professional curriculum and an opportunity to obtain additional training in the clinical sciences.”
These one-year veterinary internship programs are designed to prepare veterinarians for practice or advanced specialty training. Some internships are rotating (offering instruction in multiple disciplines), while others are focused on a single discipline (such as surgery, emergency, and critical care, zoological medicine, or other such areas). These internships are usually completed during the year following graduation from vet school.
The AVMA defines a veterinary residency as “advanced training in a specialty in veterinary medicine that is intended to lead to specialty certification in an AVMA-recognized veterinary specialty organization.” There are more than 20 areas that offer a specialty board certification.
Veterinary residencies must be completed under the direct supervision of a board certified specialist in the field of study. Veterinarians must also complete a variety of required elements (that vary by specialty) to become eligible to sit for a board certification exam. Most residencies require a multi-year commitment. Some veterinarians choose to complete an internship before moving on to a residency program. Residents must complete their veterinary studies before they are eligible to begin a residency.
Not to be confused with veterinary internships or residencies, veterinary externships are experiences of a very short duration that are generally completed during the student’s final year of vet school. A typical externship lasts 3 to 6 weeks.
The Veterinary Internship & Residency Matching Program (VIRMP) is sponsored by the American Association of Veterinary Clinicians (AAVC) and coordinates the process of matching potential interns and residents with host sites (institutions and private practices). Applicants rank their order of preference for the programs that interest them and agree to accept admittance to any of the programs that they select for their rank list. The institutions and private practices also create their own rank lists for the applicants, agreeing to accept any applicants that they select for inclusion in their rankings. The program then endeavors to match the highest ranked applicants with their highest ranked institution or private practice.
Foreign veterinary students may apply to the VIRMP without having completed the North American Veterinary Licensing Examination (NAVLE), though some programs do requite completion of the NAVLE for eligibility. Foreign students should research programs of interest to determine if this will be a factor.
To apply, students must create an online account on the VIRMP website. The applications are accepted beginning in mid-October and must be completed by early December. The VIRMP has a tiered application fee system: USD 85 for 10 or fewer applications, $250 for up to 20 applications, and $350 for 21 or more applications. There is no ceiling for how many programs a student may apply for. Matches are announced in early February.
While the training provided during veterinary internships and residencies is highly valued for boosting a vet’s experience, successful interns and residents also gain many other benefits from completing these programs. One important benefit is building relationships and networking with professionals in their specialty field. Another benefit is higher earning potential, as discussed in a 2013 edition of the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (JAMVA). Private practitioners that had completed a residency reported significantly higher earnings than those who had completed only an internship or the basic DVM degree.