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Externship Experience at Animal Medical Center

During my last semester break, I completed an externship at The Animal Medical Center in Charlotte, North Carolina. The hospital is a very busy ten-doctor practice that is open 24 hours. The practice has a separate intensive care unit with a doctor on staff at all times, which also serves as a post-operative ward so patients are monitored around the clock after procedures, and offers medical boarding for patients with special needs.

The AMC has a well-established clientele of dedicated pet owners and it was clear from the beginning that they operate at a high standard of care. During my time there I shadowed a different doctor every day, so it was really beneficial to see many different styles of communication and work with people of different backgrounds. On the days that I observed appointments, I learned about wellness plans offered, and reviewed vaccine protocols as well as other recommendations for preventative medicine. I was able to see allergic skin testing performed on a dog which was a new experience for me. I also watched an abdominal ultrasound and two echocardiograms. One of the patients had mitral valve disease and I was able to appreciate the thickened heart valve.

Several days I worked in drop offs, so I was able to see more urgent cases, and observe how the doctors prioritized treatments based on their severity. Emergencies were handled often by the drop off doctor, but there were plenty of staff around seeing appointments, so they would all come together as a team to see that patients received timely care.  A couple of emergency cases I saw were a cat in respiratory distress and 2 dogs which were bitten by snakes. Sometimes, I was scheduled late in the evenings so I could shadow the doctors working in the intensive care unit. This was helpful to see how hospitalized patients were managed. Some of the cases I saw included acute pancreatitis, gastric foreign body, diabetic ketoacidosis, and a dog with a ruptured spleen.

My favorite day at the Animal Medical Center was when I shadowed a traveling board certified surgeon on two surgeries. He performed a splenectomy and took liver biopsies from multiple liver lobes, and the other surgery was a spay with gastropexy on a large breed dog. He worked skillfully and efficiently, and it was a pleasure to watch. It was interesting talking with him about his education as a surgeon and he also had his own set of surgical gadgets he brought with him, such as a TA stapler. Additionally, I really enjoyed being in the critical care unit because I had time to sit in on the doctors’ rounds and observe all aspects of the case. I made it a habit of doing palpations and auscultations on each hospitalized pet so I could feel what was normal.

One of my goals was to build up my clinical skills, so repeating these actions day in and day out helped me achieve this. Sometimes I would listen in on the doctor’s phone calls with clients to hear them talk about the treatment options and prognosis. It was helpful to hear them communicate to clients in laymen’s terms to understand the whole disease process. Many times, the causes were unknown, and the patients were treated symptomatically, so it was interesting to see this perspective as well.

One of my favorite aspects of the externship was the networking experience. Everyone was very interested in hearing about my experiences at Ross, and I was excited to represent my school. The doctors treated me as an equal, often asking me for my thoughts on the cases and included me in rounds, meetings, and in-hospital continuing education. I had a conference with the business owner, who has owned veterinary clinics for over 30 years. He was free to offer me recommendations on externships and connections for landing my first job out of school. Additionally, I was able to spend some time with four interns and hear their thoughts on their experiences there. I felt like I could really relate to them because they were just fresh out of school and starting new careers.

The entire staff at the AMC were welcoming and accommodating. They were very helpful in answering my questions, and also gave me the resources to work through things on my own. One example was a day when it was a bit slow with appointments and I spent a couple of hours reviewing sets of digital radiographs and then comparing them to the radiologist’s reports. Overall, it was a well-rounded experience with plenty of action as well as enough down time to allow me to process everything I was seeing. I especially appreciate that they were flexible, because if there was a specific case that interested me, they encouraged me to pursue it.

My experiences at the AMC were an amazing addition to my studies. I felt so energized being able to apply information I studied to real cases and being encouraged to think critically. I think it helped me boost my confidence, as well as showed me areas I need to work to improve. I am so grateful for my time there and all of the lessons I learned.