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Behind-the-scenes advice for your journey to become a vet

I Don’t Have a Vet Recommender for my VCMAS and I’m Freaking Out

You should be! Just kidding. 

Freaking out doesn’t help, but it actually IS important to have a veterinarian as one of your recommenders on your VMCAS, or your vet school admissions application.

Why? Veterinarians went to vet school. They have a good idea of the rigors of vet school and what the process entails and requires of you. They also know about the challenges of being a veterinarian and, if they know you well, are in a good position to assess whether you have what it takes to meet those challenges and thrive in a veterinary career.

Professors can be valuable recommenders, as can other veterinary professionals that you’ve worked for, the managers or owners of animal facilities where you’ve worked or volunteered for an extended time, advisors that have supervised you in a research capacity, or other folks who can speak to your work ethic, intelligence, academic ability, professionalism, and ability to work with animals, work with other people, and manage challenges in an academic or professional environment.

Ideally, at least one of your recommendation letters will be from a veterinarian who knows you well and has observed you grow within your academic and professional goals related to veterinary science.

“Great,” you said, “but this article is literally titled for people like me who don’t have that. I don’t have any time to build a relationship with a veterinarian who can write a letter like that!” Well, as long as you have a few weeks, you might! (And a few months? Even better.)

Let me start by saying that it’s true that no one can really get to know you fully within two weeks, and that your recommendation letter will be stronger if you have known your recommender for a longer time. If you are seeking a recommendation from a veterinarian who has known you for only a short time (less than a year), you should make sure your other recommender has known you longer. That combination will help to show a more full picture of who you are as a candidate.

While you would ideally have time to build a relationship organically, the last few years have been far from ideal for most pre-veterinary students. Many clinics have been closed to shadowing and volunteers, which has severely limited the ability of pre-vet students to build relationships with veterinarians.

A Loop Abroad program can give you the chance to interact with a veterinarian within a small group of students, so that the vet can spend many hours with you in a short period of time and get to know you and your abilities. Are you guaranteed a recommendation letter? No. Are you guaranteed that your vet will get to know you and be able to speak to your abilities? No. Does everyone who comes on a Loop Abroad trip get a recommendation letter? No. 

BUT if you are a strong candidate for vet school, you can use your Loop Abroad program as an opportunity to actively show your abilities to your teaching veterinarian or veterinarians, to form a personal relationship with them, and to make it likely that when you request a recommendation letter, they will be able to give an honest, positive overview of your abilities.

If you are going into a Loop Abroad program (in-person or virtual) with a recommendation letter as a goal, it is important that you are proactive in demonstrating the qualities you want your veterinarian to observe.

“But there are no programs this summer because of COVID!” Not true! Loop Abroad has in-person programs in Costa Rica, Panama, Thailand, and Belize, and as of publication they are still enrolling for this summer.

“But I can’t travel!”. There are lots of reasons you might not be able to travel right now, but don’t worry! Loop Abroad has virtual veterinary internships that offer live vet shadowing experience. Those are a perfect opportunity to spend lots of hours with a veterinarian whose primary job is to teach you and your cohort!

“But I can’t afford the virtual options!” The virtual vet shadowing experience tuition funds our teaching veterinarians’ time and helps to provide essential support to our conservation partner projects around the globe. However, we know that not everyone has the funds available for supplementary educational experiences. If you are interested in a virtual experience but unable to afford the full tuition, please contact us and let us know what you are able to contribute, and we will assist you whenever possible in looking for options that help make the tuition manageable for you.

Now, let’s look at what the recommender is going to be asked to evaluate and see how a Loop Abroad veterinarian on a two-week travel program or a virtual program might be able to evaluate you, and what you’d want to do to maximize that evaluation. (I am not including every question on the evaluation here, but some of the more important points.)

  • How long have you known or observed the applicant? This one will be short. Virtual programs can give you the opportunity to work with your veterinarian for 6 weeks, and you might continue that relationship after the program.

Many of our students make connections to veterinarians who they then volunteer for, intern for, or work for. But that won’t just happen! If you are interested in continuing to be involved with your teaching vet, you’ll have to impress them during class time, make an effort to get to know them and for them to get to know you, and then you can inquire about available opportunities and apply for them.

  • In what capacity have you known the applicant? Your Loop Abroad veterinarian will have worked directly with you and observed you directly in a veterinary setting, which is great! 

If you are seeking a recommendation from your veterinarian, remember that everything counts! You’ll want to uphold your best standards of professional behavior even during down time that you spend with your veterinarian, such as during meals. These are good opportunities to ask questions, talk about your goals, and build a strong connection. You should also remember that any assignments or projects that are part of your virtual or in-person program will be one of the few opportunities your veterinarian has to evaluate you on such projects, and for that reason you’ll want to be sure that you do your best and demonstrate what you’re capable of.

  • Initiative/Originality: This is probably not somewhere that your teaching vet can speak to very well, but you might think of opportunities to show initiative and originality within your projects or assignments.
  • Motivation for becoming a veterinarian: This is an important piece of the reference, and it IS a piece that you have opportunities to show your teaching veterinarian. You can show that you are not “uncertain of career goals” through your actions, questions, attention, work, and conversations with your teaching vet (if you make the effort to do so)! Basically, if you think of your entire program as an interview with your veterinarian, you have a chance here to really shine.

Note: it could be that participating in a virtual option when in-person options are limited, on its own, demonstrates your motivation and focus on your career goals!

  • Intellectual Capacity: A successful recommendation will rank you as “above average” or higher. You have the opportunity to learn a LOT of information and ask great questions in a Loop Abroad program, as your vet is focused on teaching your small group in a field course setting. So use the opportunity! Listen to the instructor, work to apply what you’ve learned, ask great questions, and look for opportunities to learn more by making connections between concepts. Even in a virtual program, your veterinarian should be able to make an assessment of your intellectual capacity if you bring your best to the experience. (If you just sit in the virtual class and listen passively, your vet really won’t be able to say much about you in this regard!)
  • Dependability and reliability: This is an important area of the application, and it’s something you CAN demonstrate (albeit over a short time) to your teaching vet. Show up each day, with everything you need, having read the material and prepared for class. Follow directions reliably. Turn in your assignments on time. Be there to support your classmates and team members. 
  • Emotional stability, character and integrity, and leadership. Your teaching vet in a virtual program likely will not be able to speak very well to either of these (which is fine, and doesn’t make their recommendation bad). However, your teaching vet on an in-person program will get opportunities to observe your behavior working with a new, diverse team, working across cultures, working long days in a challenging environment, needing to be flexible, helping other team members who are struggling, and helping your team members get along and work together. This might be one of your best opportunities in the short-term to demonstrate these qualities!

These are just examples of some of the ways you’ll be assessed by your recommender. I think you can see that your Loop Abroad teaching veterinarian would be able to answer many of these questions with helpful, thoughtful information! And while a virtual instructor may not be able to assess some qualities, they will be able to assess many of them.

Many students right now are in the same boat – after more than a year with no shadowing or volunteer opportunities, they have missed the chance to connect with a veterinarian in a meaningful way and show their skills. But don’t give up hope! A Loop Abroad in-person or virtual program is an opportunity for you to build a meaningful relationship with a veterinarian who can speak to your ability and potential, but it’s not a guarantee! You have to impress your vet and work to show them what you can do in order to make yourself a memorable student and ensure that your vet feels comfortable providing you an honest, positive recommendation. 

We love seeing how many of our students build on their Loop Abroad program experience to pursue future internships, volunteer opportunities, and jobs with their teaching staff. Maybe you will be next!