The kids are all right: VPI externs make a good impression

Yes, I know: They’re not “kids.” They’re in veterinary school, which means they’re responsible, highly intelligent and extremely capable adults. But when we get our summer externs, it’s hard not to think of them as kids. At least not until I start talking to them, and then I think, “Wow, these men and women are going to be a real asset to the profession!”

Which is one reason I just love our externship program.

Selected from a national applicant pool, our VPI externs spend a week with us, gaining an in-depth understanding of how we operate and how pet insurance products are designed. Most importantly, the chosen applicant learns how veterinary clinicians, pet owners and pets all benefit when pet insurance is in use. We put the students up for five nights and pay their airfare, and we pay them for their time in our offices as well.

The externs also spend a day off-site at one of Southern California’s most famous beach cities, Santa Monica. That day includes  a visit to the offices of Gatto McFerson, CPA LLC. a leading financial services and management consulting firm for veterinarians, an appointment with the VCA Corporate Office and a tour of VCA West LA Animal Hospital, one of the largest private small animal hospitals in the country.

It’s a pretty good week, in my opinion, and the quality and number of the students who apply tell me that I’m not alone in thinking so. We really do draw some incredibly bright and talented people, so many that it can be very hard to choose from applicants.

Laura Philbin and Mark Lee tour the VCA West Los Angeles veterinary hospital.

This year, we just couldn’t decide on one extern. It was a tie for four candidates, and so four externs it was. Two were in our offices early in June, and the other two at the end of the month.

Here’s more on their experience, in their own words:

Mark Lee, Mississippi State University College of Veterinary Medicine: Passionate!  That is the word that I would use to describe Nationwide/VPI. The passion of the employees was evident in their work and in their attitudes. Equally impressive was the amount of experience and knowledge base that the staff had concerning veterinarian medicine.  After visiting with VPI, I have no doubt that the employees care about pets, their owners, and the veterinarians. Seeing this passion has given me comfort in referring future clients, knowing that their best interests are being looked after.

During my time at VPI, I was able to learn how pet insurance operates from the ground up — through one-on-one conversations with associates in various departments, customer-service calls, and group meetings. The P&WS program I found to be particularly interesting, and I believe the fact that VPI has a program such as that shows the passion the company has to improve pet health and wellness. Along with a better understanding of pet insurance, I was also able to take away great ideas and knowledge about social media marketing, customer service, product development, strategic planning and finances. I am very grateful for these principles which I will be able to apply throughout my career both as a veterinarian and as a future private practice owner.

I would highly recommend this externship to any student who has an interest in industry, private practice, or who wants to build on his or her business knowledge base. This was a great experience, and I want to truly thank everyone who took time out of their schedule to explain and answer questions. It was a great way to get to learn a company and how everyone works together to make it possible for people to afford the very best level of medicine for their pets!

Kyle Ruedinger and MarkBen Paulino with our director of student programs, Nicole Numbers.
Kyle Ruedinger and MarkBen Paulino with our director of student programs, Nicole Numbers.

MarkBen Paulino, Michigan State University College of Veterinary Medicine: The externship was definitely an informative week. I am sure that every externship provides a different experience for the students. The process isn’t exactly a cut-and-paste, everyone adapted well to our personalities and to the questions we had. The employees were great to talk to and well-versed not only in their departments, but the others as well. As the week went on I was afraid that we would be learning similar aspects about Nationwide/VPI over and over again because each department pulls so much from one another, but I was wrong. What was great was that we learned so much about business from many different aspects — and Dr. McConnell is an encyclopedia! She ties everything into business, even our chit-chat of personal views or the small talk that occurs, another reason why I believe the experience is different for every individual. At the VCA headquarters we attended a talk by the CEO, and the tour of  VCA West L.A. was great.

I am very much a visual and hands-on person, so the departments that were able to provide that experience stuck more. Claims was great to learn from, and I do not know how one can stare at a screen and go from image right to the claims screen and just type codes. Sales was also an interesting department — not only was it interesting listening in on a call but also learning about the tracking system.

Our social media marketing lessons were great, and the project assigned made the day more interesting. Learning about the available image editors was insightful, and I plan to use that information in daily life, too! I will have one of the best Facebook cover photos. Marketing, P&WS, and corporate communications were very interesting, probably because what we learned had a strong focus with internal communications and B2B type of aspect. If I  go into industry, I would prefer a position that focused on internal communication and teamwork or lots of B2B type of interaction.

Overall, it was a great experience, and I would definitely recommend it to other students. The experience will definitely be different for every student. I feel having two interns at time was a good change as it allowed more ideas and questions to flow and increased our ability to network with another future veterinarian. The amount one learns also depends on the interests and questions one has to ask. I am grateful to have had this experience.

Laura Philbin, College of Veterinary Medicine, Western University of Health Sciences:  From sitting in on some fun customer care calls to learning about underwriting it was quite the busy week! I had a great time at Nationwide/VPI, and I feel like I  got a really comprehensive look at pet insurance and everything it entails. I now feel as if I can confidently walk into a practice and  talk with clients about their pet insurance options as opposed to simply handing them some pamphlets. This will help me to empower them to be able to provide the best care for their pet.

When I arrived I knew very little about the company and pet health insurance as a whole and was really looking forward to learning what everyone had to offer. Throughout the week we sat with a number of great people from all different departments who walked us through every aspect of the process and gave us not only an inside view of how pet insurance really works, but first-hand experience and advice on the key business principles that make a company successful. One of the things that made this externship truly great was the fact that Dr. McConnell was willing to spend so much time showing us around and discussing various aspects of the business side of veterinary medicine with us. Being able to not only learn so much from the company, but also have a very knowledgeable veterinarian to discuss it with made everything that much more valuable.

I particularly enjoyed being able to spend so much time with a designated social media expert, having the opportunity to learn so much about social media and targeting an audience. I would have loved to learn a little bit more about increasing search-ability on Google as I think that is becoming more and more important to clinics.

One of the most interesting things I learned was actually about the P&WS program. I am so glad we got the opportunity to discuss this program as I had no idea Nationwide/VPI was involved in creating wellness plans for hospitals. I was so surprised at how easy they make it for hospitals to start offering wellness plans and how invested they are in the successes of the programs.

I really appreciated being able to talk to Lou Gatto, CPA, about practice management and how to keep ourselves happy, healthy and successful. He is definitely a wealth of knowledge, and I am very glad we were able to get some one-on-one time to pick his brain.

The highlight of the week was definitely the tour through VCA West Los Angeles. I had never been in a hospital of that caliber — it was truly amazing! We had a fantastic tour guide, and being able to discuss what made it such a successful hospital with Dr. McConnell made the whole experience unforgettable!

I had a phenomenal week and I would definitely recommend this externship to any student who is interested not only in pet insurance but in learning some fundamental business principles taught by those who do it best. (My note: Sorry we didn’t get a picture of Laura! I don’t know how we missed that!)

Kyle Ruedinger, University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine: Given the limited exposure to business concepts in the typical veterinary medical curriculum, I found a week immersed in the veterinary business world  a welcome experience. Before this experience most of my business learning had been through my involvement with the Veterinary Business Management Association. This organization has exposed me to a variety of basic business concepts vital to running any business, particularly veterinary hospitals. Spending a week with Nationwide/VPI in California allowed me to spend time learning from business professionals and see a large corporation functioning daily.

I enjoyed being able to spend some time with all of the different departments within the company.  I was largely expecting to learn about pet insurance, but I was also able to learn about a myriad of other business concepts. These included dealing with disgruntled customers and complaints, marketing, compliance with various regulatory bodies, using social media to better your business, and learning about VPI’s P&WS plans to help practices develop and execute wellness plans for their clients. It was eye-opening to see how all the different departments in the office work together to serve the customer effectively and efficiently. Listening in on phone calls between sales and customer care allowed me to be on the receiving end of a customer calling in to a company. It was interesting to see how all the different employees work together toward a common goal.

I learned an enormous amount about pet insurance in the beginning and to current day in the industry. All of the insurance lingo from every other industry is basically the same in the pet insurance industry with simple modifications to make it applicable. I was happy to sit in with product development, group plans, and marketing to discuss how Nationwide/VPI is working to adapt to the future market and changing plans as consumer demands change, and to  serve pet owners better. Medicine has been evolving, and the products and businesses that serve pets and people are adapting.

The day spent in Los Angeles with the VCA corporate office and touring the VCA West LA hospital was a lot of fun and informative as well. Given that VCA is one of the largest providers of veterinary care in the country, they absolutely need to have all the basic and complex business concepts in proper order to coordinate throughout their hospital network to provide high quality care and run an efficient business. Being able to speak with VCA leaders and veterinarians was also a welcome experience to see how they balance quality medicine with a sound business model. I really enjoyed touring the hospital and seeing all the instruments available for them to serve animals in the area.

I would absolutely recommend this externship to any and all veterinary  students seeking to work in companion animal medicine. The business concepts and exposure to corporate markets that is learned throughout the week is truly applicable to any veterinary student who seeks to work in any practice or for any business one day.

Interested in our externship?

Veterinary students can learn more about the 2016 summer externship by contacting our Veterinary Education Program Specialist at Candidates will be asked to submit, via e-mail, a cover letter and resume. The application period  is now open, and the final deadline for submissions is February 15th, 2016, at which time all cover letter and resume submissions will be reviewed.

Chosen candidates  will be notified by March 15th, 2016, and will then be asked which weeks (Monday through Friday) they are available during the months of June to August. We understand how demanding school schedules can be, and we do our best to accommodate our extern’s school commitments.

This year’s externs were outstanding, and I’m already looking forward to meeting next year’s students.