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Choosing a veterinary internship in the time of COVID-19

We are getting close to that time of year.  The dreaded match.  

Even before COVID-19 making a decision on internships was one of the most challenging things.  As a student you need to evaluate programs and find the best fit for you.  Maybe it has to do with where there is a strong residency in your area of interest.  Maybe it is what is close to family.  Maybe it is where your partner is headed. Maybe its just whoever will take you. And, maybe its some combination of the above.

The calculus has always been challenging, but COVID has thrown another wrench in the mix.

So how should we approach internships and the match in this new world?  I don’t know the answer but I know there are a few factors I would encourage everyone to consider.

Factor 1: The unknown future

As much as we might like to think we know what will happen with COVID-19, the fact is we don’t.  We are now in a race between vaccination and viral mutation.  Many of you in your clinical year are finding yourselves in schools which have altered workflow to maximize physical distance. For our team at OVC, this means maximizing our digital resources.  Depending on your location, you may be running business as usual.  Regardless, there is a large degree of uncertainty.  If rates continue to spike, mutations continue to occur, or vaccinations cannot be performed quickly enough we could find ourselves just about anywhere over the next few years.  This uncertainty means that whatever choice you make, being flexible in the coming year will be important.  Don’t let this bring on unneeded stress.  It is not in our control.  But keep it in the back of your mind.  We don’t know what will happen.  But flexibility will be the name of the game.

Factor 2: Travel limitations

If you are considering moving internationally for an internship, the limitations on travel will need to play a role. In terms of you leaving home, its probably not going to be an issue on your end for a single year, we can all be away for a short period without the ability to travel.  But many of us might have family things arise that require us to return home, deaths, weddings, illnesses, our overall mental health.  With quarantine restrictions imposed by governments or institutions, considering the effect that such restrictions might have on your upcoming year needs to be a factor.  

The one piece that will be out of everyone’s control is whether or not institutions will accept international applicants in the current climate.  Many institutions in the US and Canada have for a long time treated the border like the unguarded toll booth it is.  But COVID has changed the calculus there.  Check in with the institutions you are interested in attending, see what their policies are.  If you are overseas and looking to come to North America, or in North America looking to go over seas, the challenges only grow.  Think about these factors before submitting the rank list.

Factor 3: Interviews and external rotations

This is going to apply to both interviews and external rotations right now to choose an internship, and rotations while you are in your internship. This will be the same across the board so should keep an even playing field when it comes to future applications.  But this should also weigh in on where you choose to intern.  Perhaps one option would be to try to intern at the institution where you want to continue your training, or at least in the same state or province.  Travel restrictions within an single state or province are likely to be minimal so thinking ahead to where you might want to be in the future is a good idea to allow yourself the best chance for success in the future.

Factor 4: Backup plans

Hopefully with vaccines rolling out we are beyond this.  But what will happen if everything shuts down and travel grinds to a halt.  That means not just border crossing limits but also between states or provinces.  I would recommend having a backup plan to consider.  Sorting that out is challenging and I honestly don’t have a concrete answer. For each individual I think it is best to ask a mentor what they think might be best for you specifically in your geographical and specialty areas. This can help take into account the specifics of your country, your school, everything. One thing I would consider and would advocate to my students or interns is to proactively reach out to your home institution and local private practices. Perhaps even after the match but before leaving.  If you are a student, most institutions will understand if you chose to continue your education elsewhere (in most years I would actively encourage this). But you might mention that if travel grinds to a halt, and the school or practice are unable to fill their positions, AND subsequently you are unable to attend your planned position, you would love to remain on.  It’s a shot in the dark, but it puts the idea on their radar.  Try not to do this before the match unless its been clear you wont be ranking your home institution anyway.  Otherwise might get a bit awkward.

So overall…

There is no one answer here.  There is a lot that will go into this decision.  But I believe that thinking through what might happen can help us set expectations for ourselves and deal with any challenges that might occur appropriately.  

If there is anything else you are thinking about during this challenging decision I want to hear from you.

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