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How To Be A Good Veterinary Mentor (And Mentee!)

Being a Good Mentor is a Two-Way Street.

We have finally all agreed that strong mentorship is the foundation of a rich and dynamic career in veterinary medicine.

You hear about it at school. You learn to seek it out when you are a new grad looking for your first, second, or maybe third job. And many clinics include it in their ads when they are hiring a vet. We have all seen that ad: ‘New grads welcome. Strong mentorship opportunities.’ Yet, many of us don’t even know what that truly means, other than a checkmark on a list of must-haves when seeking out a clinic in which to hang your stethoscope.

I must admit that I didn’t know what mentorship truly was until I intentionally sought out to be a good one. And as I started to learn more about how to be a good mentor, I realized that good mentorship is actually a two-way street. There are just as many ways to be a good mentor as there is to be a good mentee.

How To Be A Good Mentor

Being a mentor is a very special gift. You have been given the opportunity to have an infinitely positive impact on another veterinarian’s career. It is a relationship with built-in trust, friendship, and mutual respect. And though certain parts of being a mentor may come quite naturally, there are a few things that you can do intentionally to ensure that you are helping your mentee in lasting and meaningful ways.

Set The Stage Early

How are you going to be available for your mentee, and how will you be communicating with them? This is particularly important for those times in which you may not be physically in the same building.

If your mentee has a question that needs an urgent answer, do they know which senior clinician they can ask in your absence? If the question is of particular importance, have you made arrangements as to whether they should call or text you? And what about for those clinical questions that might just need a reliable resource to provide an answer?

Set aside a list of your favorite go-to references so that your mentee can easily do their research. These may include online resources, professional forums, favorite textbooks, or complimentary telemedicine consultations.

Have these conversations in advance so that your mentee can be confident in their decisions on where and how to have their questions answered.

Schedule Mentorship Time

It is very easy to get caught up in the vortex of clinical cases, and we lose sight of the importance of setting aside valuable mentorship time.

Schedule this time in the same way that you would schedule a wellness appointment, and treat it with the same respect. Use this time to review cases that your mentee is working on. Discuss treatment plans, case questions, and communication tips. This is also the perfect time to make and update a list of goals that your mentee has for themselves. Are they working on dental extractions this month, or are they working on finishing their medical records in a timely manner?

Review the list and keep it updated, and make sure to check in with them on their progress regularly.

This is also a good time to show your mentee how their work contributes to the health of the clinic as a business. As veterinarians, we are often uncomfortable discussing the financial side of our profession. After all, we all know that we got into this for the love of animals. But, it is important to understand how our hard work to ensure the health of our patients, also contributes to the health of our business and the livelihoods of all staff members who work with us.

Review the mentee’s production reports, and how they are essentially reflections of the excellent medicine that they practice. Mentors that teach their mentees about the business side of their careers offer a better understanding of the profession. You don’t have to own practice to appreciate the business of practice. But then again, maybe more young veterinarians would be interested in practice ownership if mentorship in this department was simply part of the norm.

Checking In Personally And Professionally

You don’t have to be a ‘helicopter mentor’ to make your mentee feel supported. Checking in may be as simple as a text message asking how they are doing at the end of the workweek. Be intentional and available, so that your mentee feels comfortable in receiving as well as seeking feedback. When reviewing medical cases, ask questions about their plan and then let them take the lead.

Great mentors can guide their mentees into becoming comfortable with a certain amount of discomfort. The discomfort of learning a new skill. The discomfort of not knowing everything. The discomfort of making mistakes. Great mentors are cheerleaders and safety nets. And great mentors teach their mentees to know when they don’t know the answer, and how to find guidance.

How To Be A Good Mentee

I said it was a two-way street; so let’s briefly explore the flipside of the mentor-mentee relationship.

Set Goals And Make Lists

Make a list of all of the things that you think you’re good at, the things you need improvement on, and the things that you have never seen before.

Don’t forget to include the things that make you lose sleep at night, such as the ten-year-old obese Sharpei spay. Now turn these lists into goals, and set realistic weekly/monthly targets with your mentor.

Veterinarians are naturally ambitious and suffer from extreme perfectionism, so your mentor can help you to decide on realistic goal-setting for the lists you have made.

Show Up!

Bring your best self to your scheduled mentorship times.

Keep a running tab of questions or cases that you would like to review. Ask for guidance with both clinical and communication skills, because both are of equal importance. It is so important to make sure you take an active role in receiving mentorship. Take responsibility for your learning and appreciate the time and care that your mentor takes to ensure your success.

A great mentor and mentee will positively and infinitely impact each other’s lives. So let’s learn to be great together.

If you need advice from a mentor or are simply looking to find like-minded individuals in the veterinary community, why not join our 'So You're A Vet... Now What' Facebook group and community. Send us a request to join, here.

About the author:

Dr. Samyra Stuart-Altman is a veterinarian and veterinary practice co-owner. Her volunteer activities have taken her as far north as polar bear country and as south as the Mayan Riviera. She is passionate about the human-animal bond, animal welfare, mentorship, and workplace wellness. Samyra enjoys writing for her blog (read it here), and drawing custom pet portraits for her humble art business called Ink Naturally.


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