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Externship Advice

"Being a successful diagnostic extern veterinary student
for the Department of Veterinary Sciences"


The Department of Veterinary Sciences at the University of Wyoming operates the Wyoming State Veterinary Laboratory. This full-service, nationally-accredited animal health laboratory operates under Wyoming statute to provide services to veterinary practitioners, animal owners and wildlife managers in Wyoming. Most faculty members and essentially all of the diagnostic staff have a major time commitment to run the diagnostic laboratory (typically, 100% of staff members’ time; up to 60% of faculty members’ time). We typically accept 2 – 4 diagnostic externs a year. Our strong preference is to take students attending veterinary colleges in the United State or Canada. We have, in the past, accepted students from Europe and Latin America, but this is at the discretion of the department. Our goal in taking on veterinary student externs is to give them an opportunity to see how a diagnostic laboratory operates, incorporate that understanding into their knowledge of veterinary medicine, and perhaps decide whether this is a career path they might like to follow. The faculty and staff of WSVL receive no teaching or other credit for taking on externs. Our reward is to know that veterinary students see firsthand how a diagnostic laboratory operates before they are unleashed on an unsuspecting world.

Typical activities

The most useful activity for diagnostic externs is to work the necropsy floor. This entails post-mortem examinations, and writing up a draft necropsy findings. The write up will be reviewed by the pathologist and finalizing it in the laboratory’s data management system. After the pathologist reads the slides, he or she usually passes them to the student for review. Other activities are: cutting in surgical accessions and necropsies-in-a-bag; reviewing histology slides of diagnostic cases; updating PowerPoint presentations given by the faculty as part of their regular teaching commitment; literature searches; field visits (if opportunity arises); examining Western Round Robin and/or AFIP case slides; teaching pre-veterinary students; necropsy examinations of previously frozen wildlife carcasses under supervision of a WSVL pathologist or Dr. Cynthia Tate with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.


  • Bring a positive curious attitude about diagnostic veterinary medicine, and how veterinary laboratories function.
  • Safety is important. You may be exposed to potentially serious infectious agents. You are working with sharp instruments. Follow all instructions regarding safety issues, particularly with regard to eye protection, biological safety cabinets, and personal protective equipment.
  • Ensure you have medical coverage will be in the event of an accident at the WSVL. You will not be covered under the Wyoming workman's compensation program. We need prior assurance you have medical coverage in the event of an accident on site.
  • Be prepared to give a short informal seminar on your home institution or some past veterinary experience to staff, faculty and pre-veterinary students while you are here.
  • Come vaccinated for rabies. You MUST have a protective titer to work in necropsy.
  • Bring histology, pathology and other veterinary textbooks.
  • Bring your own boots. We provide eye protection and coveralls.
  • Follow ALL instructions from faculty members and from staff, particularly technicians in the necropsy laboratory. If an issue arises with a staff member, you should in the first instance try to resolve it yourself. If that does not work, bring it to the attention of the faculty member who mentors you.
  • Some of what we ask you to do may appear menial, such as cleaning necropsy tables or the necropsy floor at the end of a post-mortem, or cutting in surgical or necropsy samples. Remember you are a guest in the laboratory. Anything you can do to reduce the work load on others is appreciated. Doing unpleasant tasks, such as cleaning up after yourself, is part of the job.
  • Show up on time.
  • Some faculty members teach didactically, others by asking questions, or by doing the job and having you assist. Be prepared for different teaching styles and personalities. We are not attempting to embarrass you when we ask you questions; often this is the only way to find out what you know. We are keen to learn from you and from your experiences. This helps us in training our own pre-veterinary students.
  • Be flexible about the uneven case load flow. Some days (esp. February – April) can be busy in necropsy, in which case having an extra pair of hands (yours!) is valuable. Some times necropsy is quiet. When that happens, the faculty mentor may give you slides to read, ask you to cut in tissues, or give you some on-line or library literature work to do. Refusing to do this will be reflected in your evaluation.
  • Understand there are constraints on the time of our faculty and staff. Our primary function is to do our jobs and serve the laboratory's and department's clients. This includes activities such as writing pathology reports, responding to clients’ requests, preparing and giving lectures, and writing papers.

The best extern is one who does not have to be told how to stay busy and engaged. In other words, a self-starter who helps out, is flexible, follows instructions and is willing to learn. It is helpful when you are interested in pathology, diagnostic medicine, and food animals and wildlife, and have a background in histology. We do a substantial amount of companion animal pathology, but the externship is designed for students interested in all facets of diagnostic medicine, regardless of species. Coming here “just to see dog pathology” or “to learn about diseases of range cattle” will not work. You will be expected to help deal with whatever comes through the pathology service.

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