Externships, Internships, Residencies, & C=DVM

I’m the type of person who constantly needs reassurance of everything, even if I know something for sure.  If a syllabus says that a test covers chapters 1 – 5, I’ll ask the professor twice to make sure he’s not going to sneak Chapter 6 on there.  So if you’re anything like me, allow me to reassure you of something you may have heard about vet school.

Grades don’t matter.

Fireworks, Colorful, Sky, Night, Japan, Festival

Reel it back, guys.  I wasn’t done.

What I should have said is that grades don’t matter as long as you don’t plan on pursuing a post-graduate residency or internship.  In addition, quite a few scholarships you apply for during vet school focus on grades.

So let’s start breaking this down for you future vet students (and current ones like me who always feel like you’re missing a bunch of critical information).  There’s a lot of confusion out there about the difference between externships, internships, and residencies.

An externship is done during the clinical phase of veterinary school (the last year or year and a half depending on the school).  During this last phase of your education, you spend most of your time getting hands-on experience at your vet school’s hospital.  However, you can also get externships at places off-campus.  You can pretty much do absolutely anything related to vet medicine in an externship.  Work at a practice back home, go to South America to help wildlife, research stuff in labs; it’s all game.  You just have to set it up with your school and keep a journal of what you do.  And again, to be clear, this is done during the clinical phase of your schooling.  This means that you absolutely do not get paid for it.

An internship is a paid position done after graduating vet school.  Internships can serve one of two purposes: they can prepare you for a residency or serve as a source of extra education before going into practice.  Internships last one year and are done at veterinary colleges or participating private practices.  The average salary for a veterinary intern is $26,191.  Like I said, some residencies require internships.  But some people who aren’t interested in a residency will start an internship anyway because they want a little more practice before starting a job as a clinician.  I am not a fan of this approach.

I am certain that I will not be fully prepared to be a veterinarian once I’m done vet school.  But I’ve been assured by multiple doctors and fellow students that your first year while on the job is usually considered a sort of “unofficial internship.”  You’re considered an investment during this time; you’re not expected to be as good or fast as a doctor with years of experience.  Most practices will help you learn and grow during this time while paying you a real salary.  (The average starting salary for a practicing veterinarian is $65,404.)  In addition, internships don’t usually result in an increase in salary.

Since I have no interest in pursuing a residency, I don’t see the point of an internship.  I’ll be 25 years old when I graduate and ready to earn real money so I can start a family. That’s not the case for everyone, but after having been in a relationship for seven years (and three of those having been long distance) I’m ready to settle down and start making a life.  It’s hard to do that on $26,000 a year.


But you’d make $31 more a year than a crossing guard!

Lastly, a residency is a post-graduate path to becoming a board-certified specialist.  These usually take about three years and allow you to become specialized in things such as dermatology, oncology, and avian medicine.  So they’re similar to internships except they take longer and let you become a specialist when you’re done, thus almost assuredly earning a much higher salary.  But during that residency, the average salary is $30,487.

I briefly considered pursuing a residency during my first year of vet school, but as I said before, it’s not for me.  I am just very, very tired of school and putting my life on hold.  The last thing I want is to be 29 years old when I’m fully starting my career and stable enough to start a family.  Also, I cannot do a residency because my grades in vet school sucked.

Yes, let’s get back to what I originally intended the major point of this article to be.  If you don’t plan on doing a residency or internship (and don’t mind possibly missing out on some scholarships), grades really don’t matter.  At all.  I spent a lot of time first year on veterinary message boards and trying to research this topic, and absolutely every single thing I ever read is clear on about this.  Apparently no practice ever wants to see what your grades were in vet school.  They don’t ask and they recommend you don’t put it on your application.

Kuwait, Fireworks, Display, Lights, Pyrotechnics, Night

Now you can celebrate.

I really can’t stress how much of a relief this is.  Like I’ve said before, in order to get into vet school you really want to have a GPA of at least 3.5.  That means you really never want to dip below an A- in any class.  You need to get really high grades in 90% of your cases to offset the dip that organic chemistry is going to cause.

organic chem

“Managed an A in orgo!” – Said by literally no one ever.

Having spent the entirety of undergrad worrying about getting a single B+, it was such a huge shock to find out that grades matter so little in vet school.  As I (and the rest of my class) quickly found out, C=DVM.

Here’s what you need to do to get through the vet school curriculum, at least here at MSU.  First of all, if you get a 2.0 or above in all your classes, you’re fine.

grading scale

Knowing 76% of the material is good enough!

You’re also allowed to get a single 1.5 or 1.0 grade each semester.  Full disclosure, this happened to me twice.  (Once in first semester anatomy and once for virology.  It’s hard to study when you’re working on a novel and scripts; also video games.)  All that happens with that is you have to meet with an adviser for about five minutes and they tell you to do a bit better next time.

Now am I saying that you should stop studying after you’ve reviewed 76% of the material on each test?  Of course not.  But vet school is hard and draining, so you should not feel bad at all if you’re pulling a C in half your classes (or all your classes!).  If you just want to get a job right out of vet school, this not going to have an effect on you in the slightest.

Again, you want to study and actually learn things.  But no matter how good you do in a class, you’re going to forget most of the specific things you learned by the time you get to clinics.  I strongly feel that as long as you learn the basics in the classroom (such as general anatomy, basics of the immune system, and overall surgical technique) you’ll be fine.  Once you go into things way more in depth in your rotations (or externships!) you’ll start to really feel like you’re mastering stuff and becoming a doctor.  But in the classroom, just focus on the fundamentals and don’t beat yourself up for never getting that elusive A.

Out in the real world, no one is going to care about your grades.  As long as you work well with others, are willing to keep on learning, and have a handle on the basics of veterinary medicine, odds are you’ll be fine.


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I'm a 24 year-old veterinary student, novelist, & aspiring screenwriter. I'm trying out this blogging thing in my spare time.

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