Educating the Veterinarians of Tomorrow While Caring For the Horses of Today

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Photo © Erin Gilmore

Palm Beach Equine Clinic Internship Program Brings the Best to Horse Sport

BY LINDSAY BROCK/JUMP MEDIA

When Dr. Scott Swerdlin of Palm Beach Equine Clinic considers the most rewarding part of being an equine veterinarian, he doesn’t only think of the horses he has saved and the difficult cases he has solved. What Swerdlin, president of one of the world’s leading equine veterinary clinics, treasures most about being a veterinarian at the pinnacle of multi-discipline competitive horse sport is shaping those who will follow in his path. 

While Palm Beach Equine Clinic, based in the heart of Wellington, FL, may be known for the 30 headline-making veterinarians who call it their professional home, they are also a driving force in educating the next generation of equine medical professionals. Through a world-renowned internship program, Palm Beach Equine Clinic helps shape new veterinarians every day.

Dr. Scott Swerdlin. Photo © Jump Media

“What I like best about what I do is having the opportunity to mentor young veterinarians,” said Swerdlin, who spearheaded a program that welcomes four veterinary interns to Palm Beach Equine Clinic each year for a 12-month immersion into the happenings at one of the busiest equine clinics in North America. “They come to the clinic from all over the world. It is great to see them leave here with confidence and competency. Being a mentor, teaching young veterinarians and trying to help them in their careers, gives me the greatest satisfaction.”

Prospective interns qualify by doing externships that usually last up to two weeks and serve as an introduction to the practice, or through references from top veterinarians across the U.S. and abroad. The Palm Beach Equine Clinic internship program attracts a diverse group of the most promising young vets in the field.  

Weston Davis. Photo © Jump Media

“We really have the cream of the crop because they have big opportunities here,” said Palm Beach Equine Clinic veterinarian and board-certified surgeon Dr. Weston Davis, who leads the internship program. “A lot of internships can offer work with one or two vets, but what’s special at about this clinic is they can pick from the collection of doctors we have.”

Palm Beach Equine Clinic’s interns rotate through three phases including hands-on application of hospital anesthetization, imaging – both on ambulatory duty and elective, and working with a doctor of their choice based on their specific interests. Dr. Davis has been with Palm Beach Equine Clinic for six years and immediately took interest in making the internship program the best it could be. In that time, he has created an environment that attracts vet students from the U.S., Canada, Argentina, Scotland, and beyond.

“My goal was to ensure that each intern could get as much out of that year as possible,” he said. “The general rule is that doing a one-year internship puts you three to five years ahead of those that come out of school and start out on their own. Interns come out of school with a handle on book knowledge and the internships give them a good clinical appreciation for those same topics. They see a lot and do a lot under the supervision of seasoned vets while they are here.”

While Palm Beach Equine Clinic internships offer obvious perks for the interns themselves, they also have added benefit for the veterinary staff at the clinic. 

“The value for the interns is they get to see a tremendous amount of cases in short time, but it’s also valuable for us because they come out of school with fresh knowledge and new ideas. They help keep us current and on our toes,” said Dr. Davis.

Traditionally vet students will fulfill their internship requirements and move on to find a full-time position at other practices. But one veterinarian completed her internship at Palm Beach Equine Clinic and didn’t have to go far to find her calling in a full-time position.. Upon the completion of her year-long training, Dr. Marilyn Connor made South Florida her permanent residence and Palm Beach Equine Clinic her professional home. 

Dr. Marilyn Connor. Photo © Jump Media

“Opportunities like this are optional in veterinary medicine, unlike human medicine where you have to do an internship and then residency in order to get certified,” said Dr. Connor. “In veterinary medicine, day one out of school you can go out and buy your own clinic if you want or be a solo practitioner or just get a job. I felt to be a good, quality equine vet it was smart to do an internship so I could get those additional hours of mentorship. It’s estimated that an equine internship – because of the high case load and number of hours – you gain anywhere from three to five years of experience. Because I was a nontraditional student with a career before I started vet school and not starting until I was 30, I really wanted to jumpstart my career and get good quickly.”

Dr. Connor’s undergraduate studies started at Tulane University in New Orleans, LA, before she transferred back to her home state of Texas to graduate in 2006 with honors from Texas A&M University with a Bachelor of Science degree in biomedical science and minors in chemistry and business. Dr. Connor broadened her horizons by spending three years as a research analyst and junior stock trader at a New York-based hedge fund. It was during her time volunteering at the therapeutic riding program while in New York that Dr. Connor ultimately, followed her passion for horses back to Texas A&M University where she attended four years of veterinary school.

“I considered quite a few practices but met Dr. Swerdlin at an American Association of Equine Practitioners conference in Las Vegas. He told me about Palm Beach Equine Clinic,” explained Dr. Connor. “Florida was not really on my radar – I wanted to go to California or Colorado — but he invited me to come down for a visit, and I went during the spring break of my third year of vet school. I thought the practice was the perfect balance of mentorship and getting to do things as a veterinarian. 

“One thing that’s nice about Palm Beach Equine Clinic is that we have a full staff of technicians day and night, so I knew I wasn’t going to be spending my time feeding horses, cleaning stalls, and administering meds that do not require a doctor. Instead, I was getting hands-on experiences that were directly and immediately benefiting my experience as a full-time veterinarian,” said Dr. Connor. “During the peak of season, there are roughly 40 doctors here to learn and gain experience from. You can’t get that at many other clinics.”

Dr. Ryan Lukens is another Palm Beach Equine clinic veterinarian and familiar face in the barns of competitive sport horses in Wellington who started his time at the practice as an intern.  After earning his DVM from The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine, he began an internship with Palm Beach Equine Clinic in 2012.

“It was basically another year of school where I got to focus on exactly what I wanted to do,” said Dr. Lukens, who specializes in sports medicine, lameness, and diagnostic imaging. 

Palm Beach Equine Clinic takes pride in being a one-stop shop for the diagnosis, treatment, and recovery of horses. The clinic is home to a standing MRI machine, nuclear scintigraphy (bone scan) camera, and computed tomography (CT) machine, that help make up an arsenal of imaging tools at the fingertips of veterinarian working with the most common and rare diagnostic cases.

“When I came to Palm Beach Equine Clinic, I had access to all the newest equipment,” said Dr. Lukens. That gave me more tools to improve my skills under the direction of a full network of senior vets. When you leave vet school, you have a question every hour of the day, and I had a number of vets who were either down the hall or a phone call away to answer those questions. I never had to second-guess myself because they were there to help me learn.”

Thanks to Palm Beach Equine Clinic, horse owners in South Florida and beyond have access to well-educated veterinarians with hands-on experience that is unmatched by many other vet school graduates.

“When I was graduating from vet school, I never imagined I would be leading a facility with a group of people with the skill sets we have today,” continued Swerdlin. “It’s a dream come true for me to watch people, many of whom started as interns, develop into some of the most talented veterinarians in the world.”

For more information on Palm Beach Equine Clinic, please visit www.equineclinic.com.

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