The Externs

Since Dr. Gary Norsworthy launched his extern program in 2001, he has had a steady steam of both national and international students who have flocked to the Alamo Feline Health Center in San Antonio, Texas for a reality check in what it’s like to practice feline medicine in the real world.


Brazilian veterinarian graduate Vanessa Pimentel de Faria recently completed a three-month stint under Norsworthy’s watchful eye and is planning to return for a further three months. Her mother, veterinarian Dr. Debora Pimentel, also took time out to widen her experience of American techniques. Together they are planning to open what will be the first feline-only practice in Brasilia, the nation’s capital city in early 2007.

“Prior to my graduation I was required to do a 480-hour externship,” explains Pimentel de Faria. “ I am passionate about cats and Dr. Norsworthy’s reputation is well known. At first, because I was so far away in South America, the idea of actually being able to work with him seemed like an unattainable dream. But I am a very persistent person and was thrilled when he accepted my application. It turned out to be the best experience of my life.

“He was full of encouragement every step of the way. I think he saw in me a reflection of himself 30 years ago — someone full of passion and dreams.”

Norsworthy accepts these accolades modestly.

“ She is the most motivated extern I have ever had,” he says in reply. “Because she was not a student in an approved U.S. school, I could not let her do anything more than a technician can do — no surgery or other procedures.  Nevertheless, every evening she spent hours reviewing every case we had that day and reading about the diseases.  She put more into her externship than anyone else and appears to have gotten a lot out of it. She is definitely my most prized student.”

Most veterinary colleges require senior students (and some junior students) to go to a private practice of their choice for two-four weeks.  The experience is to allow them to see ‘the real world’ and to get exposure to a much larger number of patients than is often seen in veterinary schools.

Norsworthy accepted his first extern in the winter of 2001. He decided to “formalize” his extern program in 2003 and converted an apartment attached to his practice into a home-away-from-home for students to stay free of charge.  It has a large study area and is equipped with a computer and Internet access. He posted the information on his website to draw international students and simultaneously contacted numerous veterinary schools through out the U.S.

“My first motivation was to use this program as a means of repaying the profession for my blessings. Veterinary medicine has been very good to my family and me. Additionally, I enjoy working with young people who are starting their careers.

. “ When I graduated, I saw several of my classmates have bad experiences right out of veterinary school. I enjoy going to work every day and I use the opportunity to show students that private practice can be high quality medicine and surgery in a great working atmosphere.

“ Most of my externs tell me that they see more cats in their two weeks at Alamo Feline Health Center than in all of their senior year in clinics.”

Since the inception of his program, he has hosted externs for approximately 10 months of the year and would be happy to fill the remaining two-month gap.

Norsworthy points out that most of the cases students see in veterinary schools are usually referral-type cases.

“ It’s good for the students to see these, but they also need to see routine cat diseases such as upper respiratory diseases, cystitis, and catfight abscesses.  Our practice is about 15 per cent referral, so our externs get to see a good mix of both.  We also discuss client relations, employee relations, and other business aspects of veterinary practice.

Dr. Debora Pimentel used her time at the Alamo Feline Health Center to see how the hospital operates from a business standpoint.

Mother and daughter say that going into a feline-only private practice is going to be a real undertaking.

“The same resources for diagnosis and treatment are not as readily available South America. Consequently, in Brazil cats don’t usually alive longer than 11-12 years,” says Pimentel de Faria.

“Yes, this is going to be one of Vanessa’s biggest challenges,” confirms her mentor. “She knows what can be found with an ultrasound exam, but most likely she will not be able to afford an ultrasound machine when she opens her practice. However, she will be able to make some educated guesses and some tentative diagnoses. There will be some guessing regarding treatment, but she will still be way ahead of most of her colleagues.”

Norsworthy estimates that c at practice in Brazil is about 20 years behind cat practice in the U.S. because cats are not accepted as pets on equal terms with dogs.

“So all round, it is going to be much harder for them to make a success of their venture.”

In contrast, Norsworthy’s practice is state-of-the-art. Equipment includes a CO2 laser unit, several endoscopes, ultrasound, ECG, blood pressure equipment, multi-parameter surgical monitors and iso and sevo vaporizers on all four anesthetic machines. He also recently purchased Sound Technology’s digital (DR) x-ray system. The office is paperless. The computer system consists of a server and 22 workstations, including Tablet PC’s in each of six examination rooms.

While it is not necessary for externs at the Alamo Feline Health Center to want to go into a feline-only practice, several have followed in Norsworthy’s footsteps.

Dr. Nettie Tebeau spent two weeks at the Center after graduating from the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine.

“Dr. Norsworthy treated me like a member of his family. Veterinary school gives you a background for this career, but having a good mentor who is practicing a high standard in the area you are most interested in is as essential as having the letters DVM behind your name.”

After her externship, Tebeau went straight to work in a feline-only practice in California and is currently an associate at The Cat Doctor Veterinary Center in Federal Way, Washington.

On Norsworthy’s advice Pimentel de Faria has gone on to study for her Master’s Degree.

“ I have strongly encouraged her to pursue her dream of being an internationally recognized authority on feline diseases,” confides Norsworthy. “ I told her that regular lecturing and writing are an essential part of that dream. She recently gave her first three-hour lecture on feline medicine in Brasilia. Both students and veterinarians attended. Even some of her college professors were present. She reported back to me that it was a resounding success.

“In essence, that’s what my extern program is all about; I relish being able to bask in the success of my students. It’s the most gratifying feeling in the world.”

Dr. Norsworthy says the average say of an extern is 2-3 weeks.

The ideal applicant is a self-motivated student.

“It’s my philosophy that a student will get out o the program what he or she puts into it. I do not set a schedule or require case reports. If the student wants to learn there are almost unlimited opportunities.”

More details about is application process and the program can be found on his website


This article is from Veterinary Practice News

Leave a Reply