Stay Safe during Externships & Summer Volunteer Work

Summer is coming! For many students, summer brings the opportunity to explore all that the veterinary profession has to offer. Whether you’re traveling to an exciting and unfamiliar location or simply networking right in your hometown, it’s important to be prepared for whatever might come your way.

Familiarize Yourself with Local Rules

Take time to review the state practice act for the location where you will be working or volunteering. If you’ll be working in a foreign country, this step is even more important. Laws that dictate what volunteers and externs can or cannot do vary from place to place. It’s important to know not only what you’re allowed to do as a veterinary student but also the level of supervision you’ll need while performing such activities.

Prepare for Illness or Injury

Be sure to share emergency contacts with the practice or externship coordinator. If you sustain an injury while working, it’s essential that you alert someone right away so that you can receive appropriate and timely care. Powering through an injury or illness often puts you at risk of further injury or passing on an illness to others.

  • Health insurance is your first line of defense if you become sick or injured. If you haven’t yet turned 26, you may be eligible to be covered under a parent’s health insurance plan. Alternatively, many colleges offer health insurance programs. Before signing up, verify what the coverage provides when you’re away from campus. Individual health insurance can also be purchased through the state or federal health insurance marketplace. To find coverage in your state, visit
  • Disability insurance responds in the event of a covered illness or injury that results in an extended absence from school and work. Disability insurance may provide income replacement if you suffer a covered injury or illness and if you’re unable to return to school, it may provide you with payment to help offset your continued living expenses.

Learn from Your Mistakes

Practicing good medicine under the supervision of a veterinary mentor will help you develop a wide set of professional skills and minimize the likelihood of mistakes being made. However, mistakes can happen. If you make a medical error, alert the supervising veterinarian immediately. Many mistakes can be remedied if they are noted and addressed right away.


Admitting to a medical mistake does not mean that you’re incompetent or that you won’t be a successful veterinarian. Learn from the error and help provide the patient with the best possible care. Discuss the mistake with your supervising veterinarian and learn what can be done to reduce the risk of it occurring again. Errors can rattle our professional identity, and it’s okay to be upset. Taking time to reflect and learn from an error will make you the best veterinarian that you can be.