From scrubs to skills: Navigating veterinary mentorship with Dr. Sushicat


If you work in a facility that may not offer formalized training for students, technicians, or new graduates, just dipping your toe into a mentoring role can elevate yourself, your practice, and the mentee.



Do you remember that first time you got to neuter or unblock a cat, or diagnose a dog with Cushing’s? Did you have a pet owner look at you, knowing they understood what was happening with their pet because you had the words and skills to help? Do you remember how scary it was when you did not feel you had those skills? Did you have someone with you who helped you navigate that and pushed you past the face of imposter syndrome?

We will refer to my someone as Dr Sushicat, to protect me after Dr Sushicat reads this. She may have seemed unapproachable at first but was exceedingly kind and filled with the knowledge and experience from a lifetime in the emergency room. Dr Sushicat was always ready with pearls of wisdom that, to this day, 20 years later, I still share because it is as pertinent today as it was then.

I was scared to death of surgery and countless times, Dr Sushicat scrubbed in with me for moral support until the last time. I can still see her through the surgery window, “Just get into the abdomen, Bauer, stop messing around!” Which now I know meant, “You got this, I’m going to go eat sushi.” Dr Sushicat was right; I was fine, and so was the patient.

Most of us do not set out to teach and mentor, but by default, as veterinary leaders, we fall into those roles with our colleagues, technicians, receptionists, clients, new graduates, and veterinary students. I imagine most of us are where we are today because a veterinarian somewhere in our past took the time to mentor us. It can be daunting to think about taking on that role voluntarily, especially when we are struggling just to get through appointments, but getting a little uncomfortable may be just what the vet ordered.

What could mentoring look like in your facility?

Are you a 1 doctor practice that can handle 1 extern at a time? Are you an ambulatory practice that spends a lot of time on the road? Are you an emergency room facility with senior doctors who want to train? Or do you have an amazing technical staff that can partner with a local tech school? Inviting externs, interns, and new graduates into your practice keeps everyone on their toes. Students and new graduates are like kids; they ask the darndest things, and if we listen, they may make us see things that have become so commonplace that they have become invisible.

I am fortunate to be a part of a veterinary care network that values lifelong learning while consistently striving to find balance and elevate the profession. Thrive Pet Healthcare understands that training fosters excellence. They are constantly developing and revamping programs to make it easier to provide training in our hospitals.

It takes time to host veterinary student externs and mentor new veterinary graduates. Fitting that into an already busy schedule takes planning. In my experience, the best way to combat this is to have a strategy in writing that is communicated with all parties (local leaders, learners, teachers/mentors). Everyone takes part in learning and feedback.

So, you decide you want to take on student externs from the veterinary school near your practice. Who takes the lead on accepting, booking, and setting up those expectations? Once you have them booked, what is their stay going to be like? What are they allowed to do (based on state laws), and what do they want to do?

At Thrive, we have a short survey that is sent to each extern that asks about their training and what three things they would most like to learn. When you ask, you will be surprised every time, and then you will cheer when you get one that wants to scribe your records or learn how to put in catheters.

The information from the survey is incorporated into a written document for the entire local team, as well as the learner, that lists those expectations and what the learner is not allowed to do for the visit, so there are no gray areas. This serves as a contract and holds all parties to certain standards for the experience.

To make this a positive experience, use this visit to put your clinic's best foot forward. Set everyone up for success with a person dedicated to welcoming them, giving them a tour of the facility, and making proper introductions. You want to avoid mentee experiences like, “I was just thrown in the kennel and told to fold laundry while standing in the snow.” If that did happen to you or someone you know, it should not have, and I apologize for that happening to you.

Communicate during the visit about how things are going and follow-up after the visit. Feedback can tell you what works and what does not. That extra effort, while small at the time, may set up a relationship that grows into your next associate or job referral, or even the mentee paying it forward 10 years later as a mentor.

Can you simultaneously be a lifelong learner with a growth mindset, elevate the profession, set realistic expectations, and have work-life balance while being a veterinarian mentor? I believe you can, and mentoring may give you the boost to see this profession we worked so hard to attain as not the “work” we are trying to escape.

I am thankful that some of my treasured life moments are spending the evening scrubbed with a new graduate while my sushi waits for me in the fridge, Dr Sushicat would be proud.

Leslie Bauer, DVM, DABVP, is the Medical Director at Emergency Pet Clinic in San Antonio, Texas, a Thrive Pet Healthcare partner. She is also Thrive’s Director of House Officer Training Programs and ER Academy National Director. Dr. Bauer earned her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from the University of Georgia. She completed a small animal internship at the University of Pennsylvania Veterinary School prior to joining the Emergency Pet Clinic. She is certified as a Diplomate by the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners (ABVP) in Canine and Feline Medicine and is also a certified veterinary acupuncturist from the Chi Institute in Florida.

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