Are you ready to become a superstar mentor?

February 26, 2021
Amanda Carrozza

Amanda Carrozza is a freelance writer and editor in New Jersey.

Becoming a mentor can be easy, rewarding, and monumentally influential.

“Mentorship matters” is a catchy use of alliteration, but what does it really mean? That is the question that Kate Boatright, VMD, and Tannetjé Crocker, DVM, explored during a presentation this week at the Fetch dvm360® virtual conference. As both mentors and mentees, the doctors agreed that the role of mentors in the veterinary profession is pivotal to its continued success.

“Mentorship has been vital, especially early on in my career, to ensure a strong foundation,” said Crocker, who practices at Northwest Animal Hospital and the Animal Emergency Hospital of North Texas, both in Grapevine. “I think I could have potentially been a veterinarian who stopped practicing or burnt out. But instead, I had a group of people who were there to support me, cheerlead me, and guide me in a new direction.”

It is without a doubt a symbiotic relationship, added Boatright, an associate veterinarian, freelance speaker, and author in western Pennsylvania. “Being a mentor has helped revitalize my career from time to time when I start to get a little bored or burned out. Mentorship is all about the relationship. You can get so much more out of it than teaching someone or learning from someone.”

Why mentorship?

Early-career veterinarians, recent graduates, and veterinary students face myriad challenges in the transition from school to clinical practice that mentors can help guide them through successfully. According to Boatright and Crocker, novice veterinarians face several challenges that a mentor can help them overcome:

Imposter syndrome: The belief that they are a fraud is a feeling described by many new veterinarians during the first years of their career. “It is important to encourage mentees and remind them that they do know what they’re doing,” Boatright said. A lack of confidence should not be equated to a lack of knowledge.

Financial stress: Recent graduates are often overloaded by student debt. “We choose this profession because we love the animals and the people we work with, but it can be daunting for a new graduate to have all of these bills,” Boatright said. Having a mentor who is reassuring and can relate to the burden of creating a financial roadmap is a huge relief.

Varying levels of clinical confidence: Many factors will affect a new veterinarian’s confidence in their skill level, including school curriculum, externships, internship training, and personality. A 2018 survey conducted by dvm360® asked readers what areas of clinical practice they felt least prepared for as recent graduates. More than half of respondents said they felt unprepared for dentistry, 49% for behavior, and 33% for nutrition.1

Why become a mentor?

Young veterinarians need mentors

In a survey Crocker conducted through her Instagram account (@CrockerPetVet), she asked what graduating veterinarians look for when searching for their first job. Mentorship was consistently among top responses, she said, yet only 46% of respondents said they already had a mentor. “It is important to realize that there is a need out there and that you can help fulfill that need as a mentor,” Crocker added.

Financial benefits for hospitals

Crocker said she would like to see more hospitals promoting mentorship programs in their job listings and discussing the program during new-hire interviews. Not only does having an established mentorship program attract new staff to your practice, it helps keep them. Mentorship reduces turnover and drastically reduces the high cost that hospitals incur from hiring and training new associates.

A study published in The Canadian Veterinary Journal reported that less than one-third of new graduates surveyed remained with their initial employer for longer than 12 months. Lack of mentorship and support was a primary reason for leaving.2 “We know that if we can provide mentorship we can help bond these veterinarians to our practices and retain them for longer,” Boatright said.

Mentors also grow as veterinarians

Mentorship provides opportunities for the mentor to learn by being exposed to new ideas and the current veterinary education curriculum. “I have fallen more in love with veterinary medicine since engaging as a mentor,” Crocker said. “It has reminded me of why I went into veterinary medicine and why I love what I am doing. I think the idea of mentoring can be overwhelming, but it is definitely worth it if you look into it.”

Types of mentors

People are generally convinced that becoming a mentor is a big commitment. But that is not the case, Crocker said. Mentorship can be conducted in many ways, both virtually and in person. The doctors also reminded attendees that mentorship is not always a long-term relationship. There are 3 common types of mentors.

Pocket mentors

These are virtual relationships that are primarily communication-based and conducted via text messages, emails, and social media. This type of mentorship is ideal for a mentee seeking advice and guidance without hands-on skills training.

“I have veterinary students who I consider mentees but have never met in person,” Crocker said. “I think that even if you are very busy and don’t have a lot of face time to give somebody, you can still take a few minutes to say, ‘I am open and available if you have questions or concerns or need a listening ear.’ You can do all of that virtually.”

“A virtual relationship can be really valuable,” Boatright added, confessing that even she and Crocker have not had the opportunity to meet in person.

Short-term mentors

Some mentorships occur through a single event or brief time period to help a veterinarian get through certain stages in life. It is not a maintained relationship, but it is valuable in the short time that it lasts.

Long-term mentors

In some instances, mentorships may span for a year or more and may even extend through multiple phases of a career. These mentorships tend to vary between in-person and virtual communication as time progresses.

How to connect with mentees

There are many ways to connect with potential mentees, Crocker assured attendees. She recommended attending job fairs or offering to speak at school events. “Clubs are always looking for practicing veterinarians to share what their life is like,” she said. “You don’t have to be a well-rehearsed speaker. The students are hungry for your stories.”

Social media offers a way to engage with numerous students simultaneously. “I have found it very rewarding to interact online,” Crocker said. Through Instagram, she has shared her professional experiences and received positive feedback. “That is the main way students will reach out to me and ask to come and spend time at our practice or just ask questions. People are fearful of social media, but it is a more positive place than you might imagine, especially when working with the younger generation of veterinary professionals.”

Mentorship structures

In some instances, a mentorship program might benefit from a structured guide and well-defined agreement. “But it doesn’t have to be that way,” Boatright explained. “It can be a more casual structure.”

When establishing a mentorship program or individual relationship with a new mentee, she encouraged attendees to ask the potential mentee about their expectations. Do they want to schedule regular meetings to review cases? Or do they want conversations to be more relaxed? The American Animal Hospital Association Mentoring Guidelines provide a comprehensive framework for developing a structured mentorship program.3

Mentorships apply to teaching clinical and technical skills as well as soft skills. Different clinicians have strengths in varying areas, and it can be beneficial to have several doctors in a hospital mentor a young veterinarian.

Initiate the mentorship cycle

Boatright and Crocker hope to see an ongoing cycle of mentorship develop within the veterinary profession. “You meet young veterinary students and help to encourage them and invest in their careers, and then they will go on to become mentors and reach back to the next generation to want to give back to the profession,” Crocker said.

After all, mentorship matters.

References

  1. Be prepared: A look at what you didn’t learn in vet school. dvm360®. May 7, 2018. Accessed February 26, 2021. https://www.dvm360.com/view/be-prepared-look-what-you-didnt-learn-vet-school
  2. Jelinski MD, Campbell JR, MacGregor MW, Watts JM. Factors associated with veterinarians' career path choices in the early postgraduate period. Can Vet J. 2009;50(9):943-948.
  3. Tait J, Carpenter T, Davidson S, et al. The American Animal Hospital Association mentoring guidelines. Trends. 2008;May/June:1-7. https://www.aaha.org/globalassets/02-guidelines/mentoring/mentoring-guidelines.pdf