Dr. Peter Weinstein owns PAW Consulting and is the former executive director of the Southern California Veterinary Medical Association and the former chair of the American Veterinary Medical Association’s Veterinary Economics Strategy Committee. He teaches a business and finance course at the Western University of Health Sciences College of Veterinary Medicine.Read Articles Written by Peter Weinstein
Looking back on my veterinary education, my first two years at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine were like climbing Mount Everest. The trek was exhausting and unpredictable. Then, in the third year, my confidence grew, my fears began to wane, and the summit loomed larger. I was almost a veterinarian. Almost.
I remember telling my daughter Brooke, then a second-year student at the Oregon State University College of Veterinary Medicine, that the upcoming break would be her last “student summer.” That’s because her transition 12 months later from third-year veterinary student to fourth year would be dramatic. From didactic to diagnostician. From the classroom to clinics. From online testing to laboratory testing.
Visiting Brooke this past summer in Corvallis, I caught her during a rare downtime between rotations. The start of the fourth year was less than a week away for her and the rest of the Class of 2023. They were about to learn during an orientation what to expect over the next 52 weeks, give or take, before they each became a doctor of veterinary medicine.
The Last Lap
The end of the third year at Oregon State is spent deciding which on-campus rotations to sign up for, which approved off-campus rotations are available, and how to use open, unscheduled blocks of time to get additional work experience, check out potential employers and locations, and prepare for the NAVLE. At this stage of the educational process, those five letters send the greatest fear through the hearts, souls and minds of third-year veterinary students. The North American Veterinary Licensing Examination!
Brooke was trying to figure out what to pursue during her open blocks — small animal clinical medicine, shelter medicine, mixed practice or something else. She wasn’t interested in an internship. The second matter was, “Where?” Could she use an open block to get experience near where she’d like to live after graduation? I suggested Orange County, California, where she grew up. “No way!” was her response. She preferred San Diego and started to explore opportunities there.
But wait, she had another open block of about four weeks. What about Australia, which Brooke was passionate about after one visit as a teenager? Could she go back?
Tapping into Oregon State faculty resources and my connections, Brooke searched the country for opportunities. She needed an Australian clinic willing to mentor a fourth-year veterinary student in a location close to the coast. Being able to scuba dive on weekends would be the deciding factor.
It’s amazing what emailing and networking can accomplish. Brooke will be in Australia in early 2023. As of this writing, she’s deciding between a few practices that offer work experience, a place to stay and proximity to the coast. Her not-so-subtle message to me was that she’d love to practice in Australia after graduation. My reply: “Go for it!” I know where I’d vacation at least once a year.
With the open blocks figured out, students must integrate NAVLE into their schedules. It’s usually taken as early as possible during the fourth year, often in November. First, however, they must work out the test preparations — self-studying with VetPrep, practice questions, minilectures, handouts, practice exams. The assessment of three years of education during a test lasting a few hours can define one’s future. Where were NAVLE prep classes in the dark ages, back when I was in school?
I remember my fourth year as like almost being a veterinarian. We scrubbed and mostly watched. Interns and residents routinely critiqued our treatment plans. We had to arrive before dawn and stay late into the evening. Some of my classmates got better cases one week, and I got the good ones the following week. I could clearly see the summit. The steps I took were getting me closer to the top.
The coolest thing for me recently was receiving text messages early in Brooke’s surgery rotation. “I just scrubbed in on ….” “We just removed a ….” “Have you ever seen a ….?” She was becoming a doctor, and I was along for the ride. The excitement and enthusiasm were what you want to see in a fourth-year student. I saw someone eager to get in there and get to work.
Some of my rotations at Illinois were more exciting and hands-on than others. I remember the ultimate determinants of the best rotations were caseload quantity, caseload quality and the aptitude of the interns, residents and attending clinicians. Those all impacted what you got out of and what you put into the week or two.
Brooke still has a long road to navigate until she receives her DVM diploma, a road peppered with several challenging rotations and a huge pothole called NAVLE. In Brooke’s case, the end of the road is a job somewhere. At the moment, the market for upcoming graduates is excellent. Salaries, benefits and bonuses are higher than I have ever seen, even considering inflation. I’ve spoken with third-year veterinary students who already have multiple job offers!
As Brooke sets her path, she’s nontraditional in looking outside the United States for her first job. On the other hand, she’s pursuing U.S. opportunities as a backup. Thinking days, weeks and months, let alone years, into the future is difficult. But, with the marketplace being what it is, veterinary students are in the driver’s seat.
The final chapter in this series will reflect on the education process and look at Brooke’s future. In the meantime, the excitement builds.
DID YOU KNOW?
The North American Veterinary Licensing Examination was developed by the International Council for Veterinary Assessment in cooperation with the National Board of Medical Examiners. Here are a few additional facts:
- 6,639 candidates took the NAVLE during the 2020-2021 testing cycle.
- 92% of senior students from AVMA-accredited schools passed the
- NAVLE in 2020-2021.
- 95% passed in 2019-2020.
- 94% passed in 2018-2019.
- The next testing window is April 3 to 22, 2023.
Learn more at icva.net/navle.
Dr. Peter Weinstein documented his daughter Brooke’s veterinary school journey in previous issues. Readers can catch up with:
- “My Daughter, the Veterinary Student,” bit.ly/Brooke1-TVB
- “An Unforgettable Freshman Year,” bit.ly/Brooke2-TVB
- “Creating Virtual Virtuosos,” bit.ly/Brooke3-TVB
- “Surgeries and Resumes,” bit.ly/Brooke4-TVB