“There’s a world of difference between being a student and being a vet”

Student Bart Veenstra and veterinarian Ruby den Besten talk about their experiences with the new junior internships outside of the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine

Since September 2022, new classes of veterinary students dive into the professional field at the start of their master’s training as well, once they have completed their basic internships. By doing this, the future vets can gain practical experience earlier in their training. How do students and vets view this? Student veterinary medicine Bart Veenstra and veterinarian Ruby den Besten share their experiences.

On the Facebook page of the Culemborg Animal Clinic they announce each new intern with a photo, in this case Bart Veenstra’s photo.

“When I grow up, I want to become a vet”, many children say. Yet only a select group realises the dream, and only after years of hard work. Unfortunately, the reality does not always meet their expectations: as a vet, you are often also an entrepreneur, you work together with other companies and you often have to hold difficult conversations with animal owners. Therefore, the content of the master’s programme has been revised to better prepare students for the realities of the profession: students now do internships at veterinary clinics at the start of their master’s and not just at the end.

“Some of my fellow students had already taken the initiative to work at a veterinary practice, but this was my first time”, says Bart Veenstra. Before he started to work in the practice, he received support from the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine to ensure he was well prepared. “We received a plan for the internship period, for example. I spent my first week at the practice observing, and after that, I conducted an easy consultation, such as a vaccination consultation. Later, I did a consultation about a sick animal, which is more difficult. With this approach, I gradually learnt more and more and became less dependent on my colleagues.” The students also returned to the faculty each week to discuss their experiences.

Puzzle things out together

“I was particularly curious about what sort of patients I would see”, says Veenstra. “At the Academic Veterinary Hospital, we mainly see complex cases, whereas at the veterinary clinic, I saw simpler problems: ear infections, vomiting and diarrhoea.” However, occasionally there are patients with complex problems for which it is not easy to provide a diagnosis. “I can, for instance, remember a hormonal problem in a patient where the symptoms were visible externally. Together with the vet, I puzzled out what it could be and, fortunately, the blood tests confirmed our suspicions. That was really cool!”

Being a vet doesn’t mean you know everything. You’re always allowd to ask things or look them up

From student to vet

Together with two other colleagues, Ruby den Besten has now been working as a vet at the animal clinic in the Dutch town of Culemborg for three years. Just a few years ago, she was in Bart’s shoes. “I think it is good that students see that as a young vet, I do not know everything either. That you are allowed to ask things or look them up”, explains Den Besten. She can still vividly recall her own master’s. “I really wanted to graduate, but I also found it nerve-racking. There’s a world of difference between being a student and being a vet.” Looking back at her time as a student, she says she would have liked to have had internships at a veterinary clinic earlier during her training. “Your head is full of theory, but being able to act quickly during simple consultations and to establish contact with the client is something I only learned during the first months of working as a vet.”

Quite a switch between patients

Some things surprised Veenstra during the transition from studying to working as a vet. “At the Academic Veterinary Hospital, you are less concerned about time as many different tasks are allocated across a large team of vets, lecturers and students. During the internship in Culemborg, that was very different because we try to work as efficiently as possible in a small team”, he says. “Everything has to happen quickly and that also applies to euthanasia. So then Ruby and I first of all administer a sedative, and meanwhile, while the sedative is taking effect, we go to see another patient”, he explains. “So the one moment you’re standing between crying adults and the next moment between lively puppies; that’s quite a switch.” In addition to that, he found the social aspect of the work surprisingly pleasant: “I hadn’t imagined that I would enjoy a friendly chat with animal owners so much.”

Veterinarians who have just graduated need to have a realistic idea about what the profession involves

A lot of freedom with the intake

Every five weeks, a new master’s student starts with the junior internships at Culemborg Animal Clinic. “We enjoy a lot of freedom in selecting the students who come to us for an internship: for example, we will soon welcome a student from abroad, and we can equally decide not to receive students from the faculty for a while. We really appreciate that flexibility.”

Vets who want to supervise students follow a training at the university. In two half days, Van Besten was informed about the educational philosophy, providing feedback and assessing the students.

There are plenty of reasons to have students in your practice. “It is important that vets who have just graduated gain a realistic idea of what the profession involves to prevent their early exit from it; in other words, that alumni enter the profession with a good feeling. I am very happy to contribute to that ”, she says. “Besides, an extra pair of hands is always welcome.”

Text: Juliet Joosten and Jelle Boontje

Do you have any questions after reading this article? Please contact Annemarie Revet, the coordinator extramural education, via a.j.revet@uu.nl.