After graduating from veterinary school, receiving your Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM), passing both the national and state board exams, you can then beginning practicing medicine if you wish. Licensure rules vary from state to state, so it’s important you know which state you want to practice in before taking exams. Plus, certain states require new graduates to work under the supervision of an experienced veterinarian for X amount of time, and other states allow immediate practice once a graduate is licensed.

If you’re a veterinarian who wants to expand their expertise through additional training and become board certified for a specific field of interest, there are internships, residency programs and fellowships you can look into.

Residencies take place over the course of 3+ years and involve medical training in a specialty. Internships take place the first year following medical school (also known as PGY-1 or Post Graduate Year One). Students can enter fellowships as a sub-specialty training program following residency.

The Internship/Residency Process

Each year there is a ‘matching’ system for internships and residencies. Every veterinary school should have a copy of a list that shows the availability for internships and residencies for the next year. Once the list is published, would-be veterinarians need to take the following steps:

  • Wait for the date when institutions begin entering program information
  • Begin the application process
    • Transcripts
    • Recommendations
    • Letter of Intent
    • In order of preference, compile a list of which internships you will accept
  • Schools and Universities also compile a list
  • Matching begins

The matching game begins once both due dates have passed and students and schools have compiled their lists for preference. If you graduated at the bottom of your veterinary class, chances are you won’t be a top competitor for residencies or internships. The competition is high during this process and also depends on the specialty you choose. Internships and residencies are available in private practice and at universities, and an internship is almost always required to get a residency.

Once you’ve been matched with a university or private practice, you must realize that the first year isn’t spent mainly on your specialty. It usually takes until the second year before you really begin concentrating on your field of interest. For most interns, they rotate through different specialties during the first year of residency, internship or PGY-1.

Resident and Intern Duties

As a resident or intern, you’ll be keeping busy for little pay. Generally, residents earn $35,000 per year, and gain $1500 each year after the first. Residents have many responsibilities, including:

  • Rounds talking with patients
  • Rounds with the team
  • Double check with patients and dig deeper into their treatments
  • When new patients are admitted to the team, residents will:
    • Prepare a history of the patient’s medical past
    • Perform a physical examination
    • Write up the admitting orders (instructions for tests and medications)
  • Learn the ‘see one, do one, teach one’ rule (watch a procedure be performed, do the same procedure, teach someone else how to do the procedure)
  • Leave notes or instructions for next shift resident for each patient
  • Attend lectures, meetings and conferences
  • Continue to study at home


This is a form of specialized education that usually takes place during a student’s senior year at veterinary school. The student is able to select a practice or educational institution to do further studies in an area of interest. Generally, externships only last a few weeks (3-5 weeks).