Mind Over Miller: Veterinary internships—one question to assess them all

Mind Over Miller: Veterinary internships—one question to assess them all

Dr. Robert Miller muses on the benefits his group practice reaped from its internship program—and how he was able to cut the wheat from the chaff when it came to candidates.
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May 19, 2017


(Photo--Getty Images)Once my goal of establishing a group practice had been achieved, we had a staff of four doctors. The practice was incorporated—each of us owning 25 percent of the stock and 25 percent of the hospital real estate. We hired additional doctors as the practice grew and, at one point, decided to start an annual internship program. We recruited recent graduates from many different schools, including some from Europe.

It was brilliantly successful. For 25 consecutive years, each intern profited immensely from the experience working with a team of older colleagues, each having special skills and interests, in a practice that was two-thirds hospital-based (mostly dogs, cats and the small exotics) and one-third ambulatory (horses, food animals and a thriving zoo practice).

Every single intern contributed something to our practice. It could be a treatment learned at their school, a bookkeeping method or even the logo design on our stationery and doors. It was of mutual benefit.

A cut above the herd

We always tried to have all four partners interview the applicants for internship, but this was not always possible. For example, one year Dr. Larry Dresher was going back to his alma mater for a CE meeting. We asked him to recruit while he was there and told him we’d accept his decision. He selected a graduating senior.

When he returned, I asked what she was like.

He asked me, “Well, you’ve worked on dairy farms, right?”

I said that I had.

“You know how there’s a boss cow in every herd?”

I said, “Yes.”

“Well, she’s the boss cow in the senior class at Kansas State,” he said.

As every one of our interns were, she was very satisfactory. She was one of several we invited to stay on, which she did. We also offered eventual partnerships to a few of our interns, but only one accepted the offer. As one put it, “That would be like marrying the first girl you ever dated.”

Asked and answered: The rating game

As chief of staff and founder of the practice, I also usually did a personal interview with the applicants. At the conclusion, I would ask, “What are your goals?”

I'm going to tell some of the answers to that question, and reveal my score on a scale of 0 to 10:

Interview 1

Me: What are your goals?

Applicant: My goals? Well, I have two passions—golf and surfing. I've already checked out the three golf courses closest to here and I like them. I also know that there is a surfing beach a half hour’s drive over the mountains. So this is the right place for me.

Me: I've never golfed or surfed. [Note: I did caddy once as a pre-vet student for 10 days during spring break.] Can you do those things in the dark?

Applicant: In the dark? Why would you want to do them in the dark?

Me: Because you will be working from before sunrise until long after sunset if you intern here.

Score: 0


Interview 2

Me: What are your goals?

Applicant: My goals? To pay off the $40,000 debt my education cost. To find a job in a practice that offers the caliber of medicine I was taught. That’s why I’m here. Also, to get my mother out of Harlem.

Me: You’re hired!

Score: 10

[She was with us several years, but her mother refused to leave Harlem.]


Interview 3

Me: What are your goals?

Applicant: To become an equine surgeon. To read in a newspaper that a horse I've operated on won an important race.

Me: But this is a mixed-practice internship.

[At this point he refused to pet my own dog who was seeking attention.]

Applicant: I can endure that for a year.

Score: 0

[He became a successful equine surgeon.]


Interview 4

Me: What are your goals?

Applicant: To be my own boss in a veterinary practice. I grew up having to feed chickens, hoe the garden, pick strawberries, shovel manure—I’ve had it!

Me: [Silence.]

Score: 0


Interview 5

Me: What are your goals?

Applicant: My goals? To get all the experience I can in a high-quality practice, interning with a good team of dedicated professionals, and, if it’s mutually agreeable, maybe to stay on afterward as some of your interns have.

Me: Sounds good.

Score: 10

[At the end of the year we offered him the chance to stay on, which he did. A few years later, we offered him a partnership. He said, “This is the greatest dilemma in my life. I love this practice. But both my and my wife’s family are in the same town in another state, and we feel compelled to go back home.” I said, “We’ll really miss you, but my advice is to go home.” He did so.]

Robert M. Miller, DVM, is an author and a cartoonist and speaker from Thousand Oaks, California. His thoughts in "Mind Over Miller" are drawn from 32 years as a mixed-animal practitioner. Visit his website at www.robertmmiller.com.