Let your mind wander for a moment, and drift away from the dreary winter day of study or work you’re actually stuck in. I’m going to tell you about an awesome opportunity for ALL my readers: vets, vet students, and undergrads.
It’s a bright sunny morning, cool but comfortable, as you walk out on the floating docks in the San Diego Bay. A splash to your right catches your attention, and just then a sleek gray bottlenose dolphin flies out of the water, whistling at you happily before completing a graceful arc and disappearing into the deep blue depths. Across the water you hear the excited barking of sea lions ready for breakfast. Soak it in. This is your life.
Or could be, I should say, if you apply for an internship with the National Marine Mammal Foundation (NMMF) in San Diego, California!
The NMMF is the civilian organization representing the Navy Marine Mammal Program. You’ve probably heard rumors that the Navy uses dolphins and sea lions for their underwater expertise, and the rumors are true! These incredible creatures are still better than any man-made machine for certain underwater tasks. The Navy has been working with them for over 50 years, and the scientists and veterinarians working with the program have contributed a TON of valuable research to our knowledge and understanding of these animals.
Fortunately for all of us whose career dreams routinely alternated between veterinarian, dolphin trainer, and marine biologist, the NMMF now has a number of training programs available for the public.
I was able to spend six weeks there as a vet student doing an externship and had an amazing time participating in all sorts of procedures and routine care for the animals.
For Vets and 4th Year Vet Students: Veterinary Internship with NMMF & SeaWorld San Diego
The deadline for this unique opportunity is coming up fast: February 28, 2014. But wait, don’t roll your eyes and think, “That’s impossible!” just yet. Yes, it will be a major undertaking to get your application together in time, but this would totally be worth the effort.
This yearlong internship program is relatively new, and it has not been very widely advertised. If you know anything about zoo and wildlife medicine internships and residencies, you’ll know that they are very competitive and can be hard to get into.
This one is not part of the regular Veterinary Internship & Residency Matching Program and it is also not advertised on the American Association of Wildlife Veterinarians list, which is one of the other primary sites for this kind of experience.
All of that means that you probably have a pretty good chance of getting accepted to this program if you can get your application submitted on time.
The internship is a joint effort of SeaWorld San Diego and the NMMF, so you will split your time between SeaWorld and the Navy docks just a few miles away. You’ll get exposure to an incredible diversity of species and some of the highest quality aquatic animal medicine being practiced in the world.
The position comes with a salary of about $30,000 plus generous benefits. You also have to be a U.S. citizen and be eligible for a secret clearance. You won’t be rolling in money but that should definitely be enough to get by. And you should have a pretty good chance at a residency position with the zoo/wildlife program of your choice coming out of this.
For 3rd & 4th Year Vet Students: Veterinary Medical Externship
This is what I did while I was in vet school. It is set up as a typical externship program. Basically, you spend all day hanging out with the seven full-time veterinarians who work with the NMMF while participating in all the medical and research activities of the program. I got to do a ton of blood draws, ultrasounds, and physical exams on the dolphins and sea lions.
My favorite activity was probably preparing a couple of dolphins for an overseas deployment and getting them loaded up into a huge C-130 for their long trip. It could have been quite the logistical nightmare, but they have it down to a perfect science.
Unfortunately there isn’t any funding for the externship program. That said, you should be able to find a way to utilize the small research project you’re required to do during the externship to get funding through your school or one of the programs I’ve discussed on the site.
I was lucky because I did it as one of my required “Active Duty Training” experiences as part of my Health Professions Scholarship Program for the Army. That means I got paid a regular officer’s salary and also had travel and living expenses reimbursed.
There is a rolling application process for the externship program, so you’ll have to get in touch with the program administrator to find out more details.
For Undergraduates and 1st & 2nd Year Vet Students: Animal Care and Training Internship
I got to know some of these interns during my veterinary externship and they were all having the time of their lives. Although it seemed like a lot of their time was spent preparing diets (not for anyone who can’t stand the smell of fish!), they also got to participate regularly in all the other activities of the program: training, husbandry, medical care, open ocean exercises, etc. It is a pretty formal internship program with lectures and field trips included, and you need to be able to arrange to receive college credit in order to participate.
There are three terms: spring, summer, and fall, and the application deadlines are October 1, March 1, and June 1, respectively.
Phew, that turned into an epic post! But I had to get the information out there, especially for the yearlong veterinary internship. That is an awesome opportunity for someone to snag.
I know I have a bunch of vet student and pre-vet readers who should also consider applying for the externship and internships.
This is your chance to work very closely with marine mammals, just like you’ve always dreamed about.
Before I send you back from your daydreams to the cold wintry day we started out with, just answer one question:
What’s holding you back from actually doing this?