Mind Over Miller: The importance of exceptional veterinary interns

Mind Over Miller: The importance of exceptional veterinary interns

Dr. Miller expresses the value of the interview in finding caring candidates.
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Jun 01, 2014

For 25 years, our practice had an internship program. Annually, we recruited recent graduates. Usually the candidates met with our entire group in order to get as diverse an opinion as possible. There were exceptions, however. Once, one of our partners attended a graduation at his alma mater. He volunteered to interview applicants for our internship in the senior class, but he expressed concern that if he made a poor choice, we would blame him.

We reassured him, and when he returned, he told us that he was confident he had made a good choice.

“What’s she like?” I asked.

“Well,” he said. “You’ve worked on dairy farms. You know how in every herd there’s a boss cow?”

“Yes,” I agreed.

“Well, in this class, she’s the boss cow!”

Not only did he choose well, but we never had a poor intern. They came from many schools in the United States, plus Sweden, Finland, Germany, and Hungary. Moreover, every one of them gave us some new idea or technique they had learned in school.

We offered permanent jobs to several. Some stayed on for a while, but only one became a permanent staff member and, eventually, a partner.

We never had to dismiss an intern, but one left us at the eleventh month. He went on to work in several practices, and then came back to us to ask to be rehired.

He said, “I didn’t appreciate the quality of this practice until I had worked for several others.”

We couldn’t use him, so he went on to practice successfully on his own.

Although every one of our interns was an asset to our group practice, just as we were to them, some of the applicants managed to disqualify themselves.

For example, one of my key questions when interviewing applicants was “What are your goals?”

One young man said, “My goals? Well, there’s two things I love. One is golf and the other is surfing. I’ve already checked out your golf courses and there are three good ones within a reasonable distance. And I know the ocean is just over the coastal mountain range and half an hour’s drive from here. That’s why I’m interested in your internship.”

“I see,” I responded. “I caddied one Christmas vacation as a pre-vet, but I’ve never played golf—and I’ve never surfed. So I don’t know much about those sports. Can you do them after dark?”

“After dark?” he asked. “Not usually. Why do you ask?”

“Because,” I explained, “we work from before sunrise to long after the sun sets. If you’re our intern, when would you do these things?”

By contrast, I asked the same question of Dr. Lorraine Watson, a petite young woman who looked like a teenager. I was concerned her youthful appearance might cause a loss of confidence with some clients because of my own experience. I started practice at 30, but looked 20. One townsperson said, “Doc, when you get more experience, I’ll start using you as my vet.”

I said, “But if everybody thought that way I’ll never get any experience.”

Anyway, when I asked Lorraine what her goals were, her answer was unforgettable.

“My goals?” she thought for a while and then counted three goals on her fingers: “One, pay off the debt my education cost. Two, find a practice where I can utilize the state-of-the-art medicine in which I’m trained. That’s why I’m applying here. And three, to get my mother out of Harlem.”

We hired her.

She stayed with us for several years, and even though my sister-in-law lived an hour and a half away, whenever she made an appointment for her dog, she would ask for Dr. Watson.

One day I asked her, “We have a large staff of excellent doctors. I’m curious, why do you always ask for Dr. Watson?”

“Because,” she explained, “she cares. She really cares.”

Robert M. Miller, DVM, is an author and a cartoonist, speaker and Veterinary Medicine Practitioner Advisory Board member. His thoughts in "Mind Over Miller" are drawn from 32 years as a mixed-animal practitioner. Visit his website at robertmmiller.com.