A Day In the Life of an Intern at Encina Veterinary Hospital

Each year, Encina Veteirnary Hospital welcomes about 6 newly graduated doctors of veterinary medicine for a 1 year rotating internship with our specialists where interns gain more clinical experience and see quite the diverse palate of cases which will help with his or her career down the road.

At Encina Veterinary Hospital in Walnut Creek, an intern typically starts his or her day by waking up early in the morning for a very busy and productive day at work. The morning of the work day begins with daily rounds at about 7:00am regarding the cases that are currently in the hospital with the overnight, attending emergency clinician and the internal medicine specialists. After the daily morning hospital rounds, some mornings are filled with topic rounds given by the various specialist and general practitioners. These topics can range from general veterinary medicine to emergency medicine to specialized topics. The interns are challenged during these topic rounds to answer questions about the subject in order to ensure they understand important points about the covered topic.

After topic rounds or after morning cases rounds, the interns then work for the remainder of the daytime with their designated veterinary specialist to observe the daily appointments, go over the history and physical examination findings for each case, review the most common differentials for each of the cases, review how these cases are treated, and discuss the relative outcome of these cases. During part of the daytime, some of the interns may be challenged to see emergencies that might walk through the door, they may have to help the specialist with various procedures like endoscopy or surgery, or they may have their own surgeries to perform on certain designated cases.

At the end of the day when all the appointments have been seen and all the pets have been treated or cared for, the interns are responsible for helping senior doctors write up some of the medical records for the patients seen today, review and ask questions about the cases with their attending clinician, and help to round the cases that are transferring over to the overnight emergency doctor.

After nearly 12 hours of hard work, it’s about time for an intern to start heading home for the night, rest up and repeat the next day. This is a typical day in the life of a veterinary intern but day-by-day, there are always new changes to the daily schedule that could always challenge an intern to change his or her thinking or be presented with new cases that could challenge the way they learn. This is the life of a veterinary intern.

Jonathan MacStay, DVM

Meet Our 2011-2012 Interns!

Every July, we welcome 6 newly graduated veterinary doctors for a one year rotating internship in our hospital. Once someone graduates from veterinary school, they are free to practice veterinary medicine but a select few decide to continue their education; those select few are our interns.

During their one year rotating internship with us, each intern spends some time with each of our doctors; internal medicine doctors (Dr. Roger Johnson, Dr. Peter Nurre & Dr. Jenifer Wang), general practice doctors (Dr. Jill Christofferson & Dr. Blythe Jurewicz), dentist (Dr. Katrina Hall-Essoe), neurologist (Dr. Filippo Adamo), oncologist (Dr. Stephen Atwater), surgeon (Dr. Carl Koelher), emergency doctors (Dr. Gerry Martin Del Campo, Dr. Molly Priest & Dr. Dorothy Hoppe) and even get to help manage the Antioch emergency clinic (East Bay Veterinary Emergency).

Often times, veterinary students graduate and begin practicing without much “real world” experience; they receive impressive grades, excel in school work and clinics but they haven’t seen the inside of an exam room and a concerned owner. Our rotating internship not only broadens their educations and improves their techniques, but it also gives them an opportunity to ask for help, guidance and advice in their first year as doctors.

Meet our 2011-2012 interns!

Dr. Cindi Hillemeyer
I went to college at the University of Colorado in Boulder and attended veterinary school at St. George’s University in Grenada, West Indies. I grew up in Anchorage, Alaska but have called Sun Valley, Idaho home for about 15 years – I love the mountains! I wanted to be a veterinarian for many reasons, most of all because I love the job and people involved. I have a curious/medical mind and enjoy helping people as a past EMT, but much much prefer working with animals and their people!
Growing up in Alaska, wildlife was a part of me; I’ve always wanted to help with their conservation, so while in veterinary school I decided to pursue a masters degree in conservation medicine. I was one of 3 people to get a ‘dual degree’ DVM/MSc and part of that was a summer in Africa, learning about conservation in Africa as well as wildlife handling, poaching and the problems Ugandans face with the human population encroaching on wildlife habitat. It was an eye-opening experience and the people were amazingly appreciative of what little they had. Ultimately I’d love to incorporate those experiences with veterinary work down the road working with wildlife conservation, reintroductions, etc. For now, I’m enjoying learning top notch medicine for small animals and next year may incorporate some large animal work as well. I love surgery as well as the huge variety involved in this career. There are so many fun options to choose from being a veterinarian!



Dr. Christine Fabregas
I grew up in Northridge, CA which is part of the San Fernando Valley just North of Los Angeles. As I was growing up, my family bred Shih-Tzus and as soon as I saw those little puppy faces, I knew wanted to take care of them. The runt of the second litter became sick a few days after she was born. She needed special attention with bottle feedings, heat support, urination/defecation. Unfortunately, she passed away the following days after treatment. This event solidified my goal to becoming a veterinarian in the future. I also enjoyed Mathematics and the theory behind the science. I graduated with a Bachelors in Mathematics from University of California, Los Angeles and then perused my degree in veterinary medicine at Ross University, finishing my clinical year at the University of Pennsylvania. During my time in veterinary school, I joined numerous clubs such as the SVECCS (worked emergency shifts throughout semesters, coordinated a speaker for multiple day talks to the student body), Pathology Club (working with green vervet monkeys, green sea turtles, dogs, and cats), and the Feline Club. Every Friday in the afternoon, I played beach volleyball with other students. It was just the right balance I needed to keep me stress-free during the week. I am currently deciding between General Practice, Emergency Medicine, and Cardiology. This year will guide me in the right direction, I’m sure of it!



Dr. Ruth Dunning
I grew up in Milwaukee, WI but luckily, my entire family now calls California home. I am a proud graduate of the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine (GO BULLDOGS!!!). I knew I wanted to be a vet because I love working with animals AND the people who love them unconditionally. Plus, medicine is fascinating! When I wasn’t busy studying in veterinary school, I found time to work on animal welfare reform and issues. One of my proudest moments was when I was named the Humane Society of The United States 2011 Veterinary Student Advocate of the Year. General practice medicine is what I enjoy the most, so I will probably focus on that once I’ve finished my internship at Encina Veterinary Hospital.



Dr. Nadia Rifat
I am originally from Laguna Niguel in Southern California and went to veterinary school at University of California, Davis. I was one of those kids who wanted to be a veterinarian and then just never grew out of it! I have always had a love for animals and a desire to help them and their human companions. Although I enjoy working with companion animals, I also have a passion for zoo/wildlife, particularly marine mammals. During veterinary school, I had some really amazing opportunities: I was able to work with seal pups in Washington, work at Sea World in San Diego, and work at a wildlife sanctuary in Australia.

After this internship, I would ideally like to go into private practice and/or emergency with a bit of wildlife work in the mix.



Dr. Maryam O’Hara
I grew up in the Bay Area and attended UC Davis School of veterinary medicine. I’ve always wanted to be a veterinarian and help animals in their time of need. Although I grew up in the Bay Area, I call Moscow, Russia my home as it is my birthplace.

While in veterinary school, I had the wonderful opportunity to work with the Food Safety and Inspection Service of the USDA. This was a great experience as it showed me what the veterinarian’s day to day role is in maintaining the safety of our nations food supply. I plan on working in small animal general practice after completing my internship here at Encina Veterinary Hospital but in the future, I hope to expand my knowledge and work with small mammals and exotic pets.



Dr. Erica Chiu
I’ve always been an avid dog lover my whole life and as I got older, I began developing an interest for medicine, science and weird infectious diseases — it seemed natural to become a veterinarian! I completed my undergraduate education at UC San Diego and graduated veterinary school right here at UC Davis. One of the greatest experiences I had in veterinary school was the educational opportunity to spend a summer at the San Diego Zoo researching Avian Tuberculosis. Once I complete my internship in July of 2012, I am hoping to practice small animal (cat and dog) general practice and emergency.

Dr. Jen Wang Becoming Board Certified

I’ve wanted to be a veterinarian since I was a child. I was always drawn towards stuffed animals and the very first one I got was of the Snoopy character from Peanuts, which I just LOVED to death. Over time, Snoopy’s neck got very limp and worn out from playing with him so much so I performed surgery on his neck using cotton and sewing materials.

My parents didn’t allow me to have pets growing up but one day, my high school Spanish teacher was giving away hamsters. I said, “Two please!”, and brought home 2 female hamsters appropriately named “The Black One” and “The White One”. Oh, how I loved these hamsters! They were great! I made a homemade harnesses and a yoke and let them run around strapped to each other. After 3 years, they passed away but I had no access to a veterinarian back then. My high school teachers knew how much I loved those hamsters because I talked about them so much, they had a moment of silence for me when they passed. It didn’t really dawn on me to be a vet until then – I guess it was always just an underlying assumption everyone had about me.

I completed my undergraduate courses at UC Berkeley and then went to Ross University in the Caribbean (St. Kitts Island). After that, I did a one year clinical at University of Wisconsin and graduated in 2007. When I first started attending veterinary school, I thought I wanted to specialize in surgery but as the classes went on, I found that I was much more interested in medicine (and better at it). Then while in clinics, the medicine rotations were much more interesting to me than any other ones, that’s how I knew Internal Medicine was the specialty for me.

To become board certified means that you have dedicated more time to studying medicine at a deeper level. It’s far from easy too; once you graduate veterinary school it’s required that you do a 1 year internship (optional additional 1 year medicine internship), 3 year residency, 2 huge tests, 1 published paper and then board certification!

The hardest part of the entire board’s process was disciplining myself to read and study after working full-time (plus more) while trying to balance my family, friends and pets. It wasn’t east but I am so proud to have done it!

Dr. Jenifer Wang

How to Become a Veterinarian

As I continue my journey to one day becoming a veterinarian, I am often asked about what it takes to become one, both at Encina and dinner parties alike. People tend to have a general concept of how one becomes a human doctor, but even I was unclear about veterinary school when I began my career as a kennel technician so many moons ago. So, for all of you with a dream to become an animal doctor (or a niece/friend/neighbor with one), this blog is for you! I have broken down the process step-by-step, so you will know more about the person on the other side of the exam table next time you bring your pet in to see us.

Basic Formula: 1) High school diploma, 2) Undergraduate College degree, GRE test, Fulfill Vet School Requirements for admission (4+ years), 5) Veterinary school (4 years), 6) Internship (optional unless you are planning on specializing, 1 year), 7) Residency (optional for general practice doctors, required for specialists, 3-4 years)

High School: If you are struck by the veterinary bug early, there are a few things you can do before college to help ensure your chances at getting into the veterinary school of your choice. 1) Maintain good grades and get as many AP science classes out of the way as you can, as this will optimize your time spent in college. Chemistry, physics, and biology are all requirements for veterinary schools across the board. 2) Get some work experience by applying to work at a veterinary hospital over the summers or on weekends as a kennel technician. Dr. Atwater, Dr. Nurre, and Dr. Christofferson all started out this way, I can remember Dr. Atwater once telling me you could “eat off of” the kennel floors he scrubbed because they were so immaculate. Kennel technician duties vary from animal restraint, cleaning and restocking duties, to caring for the hospital’s boarders.

College: Choose a degree program that will enable you to get as many veterinary school requirements out of the way while obtaining your BS or BA. It helps to have a school in mind so that you can make sure that your degree program meets the admissions requirements. For UC Davis, the lower division science requirements are as follows: 1 year each of biology, general chemistry, and organic chemistry, all with labs, and 1 year of physics without a lab. Upper division science requirements for admission (also at UCD) include 1 semester each of biochemistry, genetics, and systemic physiology. Also required are statistics, English, humanities, and social science classes. Some majors that enable you to meet all of these requirements include general biology, physiology, and of course, pre-veterinary. Tantamount to taking the classes is doing well in them, although most vet schools only require a 2.5 GPA for both science and cumulative coursework, the unwritten minimum for many schools is a 3.5 GPA because admission is highly competitive.

Other Requirements for Admission:

As mentioned above, the GRE (Graduate Record Examination) test is required for admission to veterinary schools. The GRE is sort of like the SATs for graduate school, it contains verbal, quantitative (mathematical), and analytical sections, all taken on a computer at a registered testing site. If your GPA is below 3.5, a high score on the GRE may be used to counterbalance your grades.

Also required by UC Davis (and most veterinary schools): 180 hours of veterinary experience, 3 letters of evaluation (one from a professor, one from a veterinarian, and one from either a professor or veterinarian of your choosing), and a personal statement.

Why is getting in so hard?

Getting into veterinary school is a dog-eat-dog race (pun intended), in fact, it has been said that getting into veterinary school is harder to get into than medical school. If I had a dollar for every human doctor or professor I’ve met that told me they wanted to be a vet but couldn’t get into to school, not only would I be making money in a very strange way, I would have amassed enough to catch a movie with popcorn. There are over 150 medical schools in the US but only 28 veterinary schools. The number of veterinary school applicants is smaller overall, but with fewer spots available the odds of getting in are stacked against the future veterinarians of the world. Many people get master’s degrees in science to increase their chances of getting into vet school.

Veterinary School: Once you are in, veterinary school takes 4 years to complete, the light at the end of the tunnel being a doctorate degree. Programs are considered to be highly involved and rigorous as a result of the fact that a veterinary doctor must master the inner workings of more than one species. The first two years of veterinary school are mostly spent in the classroom, studying subjects from animal nutrition to virology. During the last two years the student spends more time in a clinical setting, learning how to communicate with animal owners, as well as the evaluation and treatment of patients, all while under the supervision of attending veterinarians. After veterinary school the graduate must complete veterinary boards, at the national and state level.

Internship: Spend enough time at Encina, and you will catch a glimpse of a herd of white-coated interns trailing Dr. Johnson or one of our other specialty veterinarians in and out of exam rooms. These doctors are graduates of veterinary school who wish to further their education by completing rotations in oncology, internal medicine, emergency medicine, neurology, surgery, and dentistry, among others. Encina is unique in that we are a teaching hospital, and has had an internship and residency program in place for several years. The internship program provides our top doctors with an opportunity to teach another generation of vets about what they love the most, be it oncology or ear infections. Dr. Nurre has told me that some of the most important lessons about being a vet are learned after school, and our internship is a place where these vets are able to do just that in a safe environment where they are overseen by experienced veterinarians. Internships are not required, and a veterinarian may legally begin practicing right out of veterinary school.

Residency: Encina currently has one resident, Dr. Jenifer Wang, who is studying to become an internal medicine specialist. Dr. Wang joined us the year she graduated from veterinary school, as an intern, and decided to embark on her residency immediately after. She is overseen by Dr. Johnson and Dr. Nurre, and sometimes goes up to UC Davis for various aspects of her training. Other specialists such as Dr. Atwater and Dr. Johnson, completed their residencies at veterinary schools. The process takes 3-4 years to complete, and requires the resident to publish work, as well as pass a myriad of tests.

Feeling overwhelmed just reading this? If you did your math correctly, you probably figured out that a general practice vet spends about 8 years after high school in college to become a veterinarian (that number is increased to 10-11 years if that person got a master’s degree prior to attending veterinary school). Specialists such as Dr. Johnson spent 8 years in college and another 3-4 in an internship and residency, making for an impressive 11-12 years in school (increase that to 13-14 if a master’s degree was procured). Still interested in becoming an animal doctor? It is a rewarding job that is unique in that you get to help animals and the people who bring them in. If you or someone you know is thinking about becoming a vet, come in to our clinic for a free tour any day of the week between 8am and 10pm, and feel free to email your questions to us at encina@encinavet.com.