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Mentorship is not a one-sided responsibility
Be proactive with these mentee skills for veterinary professionals
Content submitted by Ready, Vet, Go, a dvm360® Strategic Alliance Partner
Picture this: You have wanted to be a veterinarian for as long as you can remember. You worked hard in school, earned your degree, and were so excited to start your first job as an associate veterinarian. You carefully considered numerous job postings and their benefits packages. Like most new graduates, your number one nonmonetary priority was mentorship. You applied for a job whose ad said, “New grads welcome. Mentorship provided.” But you now find that you are not receiving the support you had hoped for. However, keep in mind that mentorship is a 2-way agreement, and you may not be holding up your end of the relationship.
Like so many (I would argue the majority) of the problems we face in veterinary medicine, the breakdown lies in lack of communication. The mentorship arrangement may not have been clearly defined, and likely was not written down. The practice may feel they are providing mentorship, but you have different wants or needs that they may be unaware of. With some small changes, you can empower yourself, take accountability for your own mentorship needs, and positively change the direction of your early practice years.
Finding and working with a mentor or mentors is incredibly beneficial for new veterinary professionals and can help shape your career in several positive ways. However, developing a strong mentor-mentee relationship requires specific skills that are not taught in veterinary school. By developing these skills, you can gain valuable insights and guidance that will help you navigate your career and achieve your professional goals.
There are 5 important mentee skills new veterinary professionals should develop to make the most of their mentorship experience:
#1: Identify possible mentors
First, identify potential mentor candidates. Your mentor should be someone you respect and admire in the veterinary field. An associate veterinarian, or the medical director or owner of your current practice are obvious choices. However, don’t forget about experienced technicians—they have a wealth of information and have often seen it all.
While you may assume that your mentor should be someone you work alongside every day, also consider thinking outside of the box. Many, and probably most, of the questions you may have do not need to be answered in the moment, so your mentor can be outside the practice, while still maintaining a supportive role.
Networking can help you identify potential mentors by engaging with other veterinary professionals and asking for recommendations. Don’t be afraid to reach out to someone you admire and ask if they would be willing to be your mentor. Former employers, vet school faculty, or remote mentorship programs like Ready, Vet, Go, can all be great remote mentorship resources.
#2: Invite your mentor
Once you identify a potential candidate, you should formally invite them to be your mentor.This invitation shows that you take the relationship seriously. Formally asking someone to mentor you can be nerve-wracking and awkward but remember that many experienced veterinarians and technicians are happy to mentor new grads. Your invitation can be in the form of an email, phone call, or in-person request. Explain why you admire them and what you hope to gain from the mentor-mentee relationship. Be respectful of their time and schedule, but also be persistent in following up if you do not hear back from them. On the other hand, be prepared for the potential mentor to respectfully decline.
#3: Establish relationship guidelines and expectations
After you have found a mentor and they have agreed to work with you, it’s important to establish guidelines and expectations for the relationship. This includes discussing how often, when, and where you will meet, how you will communicate (i.e, in-person, phone, email, video chat), and what goals you hope to achieve. It is important to set boundaries and be respectful of your mentor’s time and schedule. Ensure you are clear about what you expect from the relationship, but also be open to feedback and suggestions from your mentor.
#4: Ask open-ended questions
One of the most important skills new mentees should develop is asking open-ended questions. This means asking questions that require more than a simple “yes” or “no” answer. Open-ended questions allow for deeper discussion and help you better understand your mentor’s perspective. Examples of open-ended questions include:
- Here is my plan for this case. What other things do you suggest I consider?
- How would you have handled this situation?
- How do you suggest I deliver these lab results in a time-efficient manner?
By asking open-ended questions, you can gain valuable insights and perspectives fromyour mentor.
#5: Lead the way
Finally, as a mentee, it is important to take initiative and lead the way in the mentor-mentee relationship. This means proactively scheduling meetings and following up on action items discussed in previous meetings. It also includes taking the initiative to implement their advice. It is not the mentor’s responsibility to offer unsolicited advice or tell you exactly how to handle a case, so if you need guidance, ask for it. Remember that the mentor-mentee relationship is a 2-way street, and it is your responsibility to make the most of the relationship.
While 30% of new grads leave their first job within a year,1 with most citing lack of mentorship as their reason for leaving, I would argue that the grass is rarely greener in a different clinic. By taking small, but concrete, steps to become an excellent mentee, you may be able to change your experience and get the mentorship you need.
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):943–8.