If you’re interested in veterinary medicine as a career, the first step is making sure you know what the job actually entails. A career as a veterinarian or a veterinary technician can be glamorized with sweet pictures of adorable pets, but a career in veterinary medicine is about a lot more than playing with puppies and kittens every day. The best way to decide if veterinary medicine is the right career for you is to spend time inside a veterinary clinic.

We love to share our profession with students who are interested in a career as a veterinary assistant, veterinary technician or a doctor.  We invite high school and college students to contact us if they are interested in spending the day at one of our clinics.  We limit our job shadowing opportunities to one student per day, and schedule job shadowing based on our availability.  We do not offer long term internships but do offer half and one day experience opportunities.

Once you have a date scheduled for your shadowing experience. It’s time to start preparing for your job shadowing opportunity. The following recommendations will help you get the most out of your experience.

Veterinary Job Shadowing Tips

Wear appropriate clothing. If you own a pair of scrubs, wear them. You will fit right in. If not, don’t worry, just dress in a neat and professional manner. Jeans are okay – just make sure they are clean and not full of holes. Don’t wear sweatshirts or old t-shirts. I recommend a polo shirt or a buttoned shirt. But whatever you wear, wear something that you don’t mind getting pet hair on. Shoes MUST be closed-toed (no flip-flops or sandals).

Show up on time. You may just be coming for a day. But if things go well, the veterinary clinic staff that you are shadowing may just become mentors and future colleagues. Start off with a good impression.

Bring questions. We enjoy having our students speak up and ask questions in between appointments. It shows interest and opens up fun conversations. It will also help you learn more. Just be mindful that if the staff is extra busy, they may not have a lot of time for long answers. If you have trouble thinking of questions on the spot, you can think of some ahead of time.

Be respectful during appointments. When you are introduced to clients, a short greeting is appropriate. Say “hello” and smile. Although it is important to be friendly, please remember that most veterinarians are on a tight schedule, and talking too much during the appointments can make it harder for the veterinarian to stay on time. So, say a quick greeting when introduced and then watch respectfully. Feel free to write down any questions you have during the appointment so that you can ask your questions in between appointments.

Please wait to touch and handle animals until you are invited to do so. Many animals at the veterinary clinic are stressed and may be more likely to bite or scratch than they are at home. We never want our job shadows to get injured. Additionally, our liability insurance doesn’t cover job shadows. If it is okay for you to handle an animal, the veterinary staff will let you know.

Be upfront if you are queasy and don’t want to observe a specific task. There is no shame in disliking needles at first or opting not to watch a surgery. We would rather have you speak up than watch something that causes you to feel faint.

On the flip side, if there is something that you are specifically interested in, let us know. Don’t hesitate to follow a doctor or technician into a room if you have already been invited once (unless specifically asked to wait for a special reason). I see a lot of job shadows afraid to follow a doctor in unless asked every time. Many doctors have such a routine when it is busy that they may sneak into a room without you. Ask a staff member if you can head into that room behind the doctor. If the answer is yes, keep following the doctor.

Leave your phone behind. Job shadowing can be difficult in that it can get hard to stand and watch when you don’t have an active role in the procedure. But playing on your phone indicates to the staff around you that you aren’t interested in your job shadow experience. Even if you are taking notes or looking something up, staring at your phone means that you are interacting less with the people around you.

If you aren’t actively involved in observing an appointment or procedure, ask if you can help with anything. The answer might be no, but we all appreciate you asking.

As an additional note, Veterinary clinics are often very busy places, and it is important that you are prepared to do a lot of quiet observing in between more active interactions.

If the job shadowing experience goes well, you may be allowed to keep coming back. If you are planning on applying to veterinary school, the more hours that you log shadowing at a veterinary clinic the better your application will look. And be sure to keep a record of all these hours so you remember all of them when it comes time to fill out your veterinary school application. A great way to keep track of all of your veterinary and animal-related hours is to use an app, such as Vet Volunteer (created by Vet Set Go).

Additionally, once you have your foot in the door, you are more likely to be hired as a kennel assistant or later a veterinary assistant. Developing a good working relationship with a veterinarian is also great when it comes to getting letters of recommendation for veterinary school.

All students must fill out the Job Shadow Program Application to be considered.

What questions should you ask while job shadowing a veterinarian?

A quick note about asking questions during a job shadow experience: it is often best not to ask questions in an exam room in front of clients (pet owners). That time is for the veterinarian and clients to talk together. Save your questions for downtime or in between appointments.

Questions about the day to day operations of a veterinary clinic

There are so many questions that you can ask about the day to day operations of a veterinary clinic. These are just some suggestions to help get you thinking about questions as you prepare for your job shadowing opportunity.

These questions are great for when you are job-shadowing a veterinarian seeing scheduled appointments:

  1. How much time do you schedule to see a wellness (healthy) appointment vs a sick pet?
  2. How does the veterinary clinic handle emergencies? Do they see them themselves or is there a local emergency clinic?
  3. What vaccines do you recommend for dogs (or cats or horses or whatever species the veterinarian sees at this clinic)?
  4. How do you deal with aggressive or scared animals?

Questions for when you are observing lab work being run:

  1. What are you looking for in a stool sample?
  2. What are you looking for in a urine sample?
  3. For bloodwork, ask which veins you can collect blood from in that species.

If you are watching surgery, ask the veterinarian or veterinary technician some of the following questions:

  1. Are all animals given the same drugs prior to surgery?
  2. What pain medications do pets receive during/after surgery?
  3. Do the animals get an antibiotic with or after surgery? Why or why not?
  4. What are the purposes of IV fluids during surgery?
  5. What are the monitoring machines measuring?
  6. What different types of surgeries do you perform?
  7. At what age do you recommend spaying or neutering animals? And why that age?

Questions about individual cases

These questions can vary significantly depending on what you are observing, but below are some general questions that can be applied to most cases. The veterinarian may explain some of these answers to the client (animal owner), but if you don’t know or hear the vet already answer these questions, consider the following:

  1. What medications are being prescribed? And why/what do these medications do?
  2. How common is this disease?
  3. Ask about bloodwork results. What does an elevated (or decreased) value mean?
  4. What does bloodwork test for? Why is it recommended?

Questions about a veterinarian’s personal experience

Most veterinarians are willing to share their personal experience about getting into veterinary school and are happy to give aspiring veterinarians tips.  Here are some questions you can ask the veterinarian about him- or herself.

  1. What veterinary school did you attend? And how did you choose that school?
  2. What type of veterinary experience did you have before you applied to veterinary school?
  3. What is your undergraduate major in?
  4. What recommendations do you have for a student at my stage of veterinary career preparation? Any tips for me?
  5. What do you like the most about your job?
  6. What do you like the least?
  7. Have you always worked in this type of veterinary medicine? If not, what did you like and dislike about your previous job?
  8. What’s your favorite species to work with?
  9. What species do you see?

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