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.
To get started, contact your local veterinarian to see if they allow students to shadow at their clinic. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, most clinics allowed students to shadow, although they may have restrictions on how old you need to be in order to come shadow for a day. Not all clinics are back to normal operations, but many are allowing students back into their clinics.
If you are worried about how to ask to job shadow a veterinarian, check out these email templates I created in order to help you out.
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. Please note that this list is tailored toward job shadowing at a small animal clinic (cats and dogs), so advice may vary slightly if you are job shadowing a large animal veterinarian (cows, pigs, horses, etc).
Veterinary Job Shadowing Tips
Wear appropriate clothing. If you own a pair of scrubs, wear them. You will fit right in at most clinics. If not, don’t worry, just dress in a neat and professional manner. Jeans are okay at most clinics – 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 should 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. I can’t speak for everyone, but I enjoy having a job shadow 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. If you need help thinking about good questions, here is a list of 36 questions to ask during a veterinary job shadowing experience.
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, most of the time 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.
Don’t worry too much about “being in the way.” Veterinary clinics are often small spaces with a lot going on. We all understand that there is never a really good place to stand when job shadowing. Most veterinarians and staff would prefer that you are close and engaged rather than worrying about being in the way.
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, and as mentioned above, make sure you are old enough. 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. I find that students younger than 9th grade generally don’t enjoy the job shadowing experience as much, and would likely benefit more from a program geared for younger students to learn about the field. However, each individual clinic may have its own guidelines.
If the job shadowing experience goes well, keep coming back. If you are planning on applying to veterinary school, the more hours that you log in a veterinary clinic the better your application will look. And be sure to keep a record of all of 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). As an added bonus, this app will also help you find locations that allow students to job shadow.
Additionally, once you have your foot in the door, you are more likely to be hired as a kennel assistant or later on 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.
Sources for More Information about Job Shadowing in a Veterinary Clinic
Also, check out the student doctor network pre-veterinary forum. This veterinary forum has several threads about job shadowing struggles and suggestions.
Finished this post and still want to learn even more about job shadowing expectations? Vet Set Go has created some amazing courses to help prepare you to get the most out of your shadowing experience.