Internship offers in‑clinic veterinary experience to undergraduates

Ackerman kneeling and smiling at a goat eating grass.
Sydney Ackerman, a neuroscience major who did an internship in the Veterinary Teaching Hospital at WSU's College of Veterinary Medicine, walks a goat from the large animal department who was recovering from surgery. (Photo by College of Veterinary Medicine/Ted S. Warren)

Sydney Ackerman was always drawn to veterinary medicine, but she never worked in a clinic or knew what a career as a veterinarian entailed.

To get a better sense of the field, this fall Ackerman is one of 20 Washington State University undergraduates shadowing veterinary faculty at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital.

Despite a hiatus during the pandemic, for nearly two decades the three-semester Veterinary Teaching Hospital Undergraduate Internship has provided pre-vet undergraduates a glimpse into veterinary general and specialty services for small, large, and exotic animals at the largest veterinary referral center in the Pacific Northwest.

“It’s the highlight of my day,” Ackerman said. “I usually talk to my roommate about all the cool things I learned. That’s all I can think about after I leave.”

Ackerman, a Spokane native pursuing a neuroscience degree in the department of Integrative Physiology and Neuroscience, completed the equine and agricultural animal medicine section of the internship this spring.

She said witnessing the birth of a newborn calf and the care that followed likely tops her list of experiences from her first semester in the hospital.

This fall, in her second semester, Ackerman will observe a variety of general practitioners and specialty service veterinarians handling dog and cat cases, with the third semester of the internship focusing primarily on surgery.

The internship is six hours per week, and, in addition to offering students insight into a possible career in veterinary medicine, it also allows them clinical experience to bolster their chances to get into veterinary school.

Ackerman, who was previously pursuing an astrophysics degree, didn’t have any clinical experience before the internship.

While she was always drawn to the veterinary field, she wasn’t set on the career until her freshman year of college when her family dog, Mickey, had lymphoma and was humanely euthanized.

“I had always loved animals and wanted to be a veterinarian, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to euthanize animals,” Ackerman said. “After that experience, I realized I want to help other people like the veterinarians helped us.”

Now fully planning to apply to veterinary school, Ackerman said the internship gives her that much-needed clinical experience found in competitive veterinary school applications.

“I knew that would count for clinic hours, but also the internship allowed you to rotate through different specialties, including neurology, and being a neuroscience major, that intrigued me,” Ackerman said.

In addition to shadowing WSU veterinarians throughout the hospital, Ackerman said she enjoys insight from fourth-year veterinary students working in the hospital.

“I can talk to them about veterinary school and their experience; the veterinarians are great, but I feel like the students provide good insight for me because they are closer to my position,” Ackerman said.

Sandi Brabb (‘04 MBA), former assistant director of the WSU’s neuroscience program and now the director of internships and career services in the Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture, said the program was created to provide experience to students just like Ackerman.

Brabb started the program in 2005 when she noticed pre-vet students at WSU were lacking clinical experience. She said the program was successful from day one.

“Students wanted to take advantage of this opportunity to see what it was really like to be a veterinarian,” Brabb said. “And they could make their mind up about what area they wanted to be in, or decide that it wasn’t for them, which is important too.”

Brabb said she is happy to see the program thriving.

“The internship was meant to create opportunities for students that didn’t have that opportunity elsewhere,” she said. “I am just proud, for one, that it has lasted, and two, that students still have those opportunities.”

Visit the program website for more information.

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