Ah, you know how FaceBook reminds you of your past life? Five years ago we could freely travel without worrying about this pandemic. In the summer of 2015, I travelled to Cincinnati for a veterinary externship in zoological medicine. The biggest reason I wanted to go to the Cincinnati Zoo was due to the CREW facility, the Center for Conservation and Research of Endangered Wildlife. In case you cannot recall, I was pursuing my Master of Science specifically in reproduction, and ultrasonography was my interest.
During my externship I stayed in the zookeeper intern house. Facebook had reminded be that we made giant s’mores. This was also one of the most fun veterinary rotations that I took.
For those of you interested in wildlife, zoo or exotic veterinary medicine, I arranged my zoo externships while I was in second year. The administration at my school told me not to think so far ahead, but I had one mentor who coached me and told me, if you want to do an externship in a zoo, you need to arrange it early.
How to arrange an externship
If you are looking for a highly competitive externship, you should start arranging something while you are in your second or early third year. If you wait until you have your start dates for your clinical year or draft day, it may actually be too late and you will have missed that opportunity. I am talking mainly about zoo externships.
You can find a few opportunities listed on the AAZV's website. For opportunities in the U.S.A. head here. For outside the U.S. you can try here. Given COVID-19, you may have restrictions on travel, so ensure you are checking to see what each state or province has for restrictions. If you're Canadian, on the AAZV you have two contacts, one for Granby Zoo and one for Toronto Zoo, but that does not mean that there aren't others available.
For me, as I said above, I was looking for something that would overlap with my Master's work, which allowed me to see how we apply reproductive techniques to wildlife. I was able to shadow CREW when they were training their female polar bear to accept an ultrasound scan, seeing an ultrasound performed on a pregnant aardvark, and monitor anesthesia for one of the ocelot laparoscopic inseminations.
Be sure to check with your college to ensure that you aren't stepping on anyone's toes. If they have a built in externship in their draft, they do not want you going around to the back door to try to skip this - giving all of the students equal opportunity. Other facilities will not be listed in the draft because they would like to interview or select individuals for their externship spots. It is risky, however, to leave it up to the day of the draft, because you may really want a particular rotation as one of your electives, and not get it, leaving you feeling bummed. So either be prepared in advance and choose an externship outside of the list, or be prepared for some level of disappointment.
Cincinnati Zoo Veterinary Externship
Here are a couple YouTube links of the animals I got to see and help treat for wellness, prevention or illness.
Harapan (Sumatran Rhino): Zookeepers Preparing for Shipment and Saying Goodbye to the Sumatran Rhino program with CREW
Ali (Aardvark): Needed a dental (I'm in this video!)
Dale (Baby Takin): Dale was reared in the nursery and needed his blood checked for iron levels, so I got the opportunity to take blood samples.
Faru (the male Black Rhino): He was in quarantine while I was there. The introduction would have happened after I left.
Red Panda Cubs: This was their first exam. I helped with their vaccinations.
I watched the zookeepers handle their venomous snakes, and took blood from one of the non-venomous constrictors. I assisted with hoof trimming and teeth floating for a zebra. Assisted for wellness examination for the Aye-Aye. Watched a technician-in-training take blood from the dorsal coccygeal vein in a penguin. Darted a polar bear for its vaccination. I honestly cannot tell you what the most memorable moment was for me, but I would do it all over again in a heartbeat!
I do have photos from 'behind the scenes' but we're not supposed to share those ones!