Learn the intrinsic traits that define a mentor in veterinary medicine and beyond (and no, they don't come from a dictionary definition).
I’ve spent nearly 2 decades working in veterinary practice. I started out as an over-eager and know-it-all assistant that later bloomed into a freshly minted CVT who was educating assistants. Finally, I received training that then allowed me to conduct veterinary training solely by myself. As I continue the process of finalizing this chapter in my life, I can’t help but reflect upon what a remarkable ride it’s been.
Throughout my career, I’ve come to know many individuals within all the veterinary niches: supervisors, senior nurses, managers, administrators, directors, co-workers, teammates, and friends. Of that large and incredibly talented group, there were a few that donned the mantle of mentor.
First, a brilliant (and let’s be honest, somewhat terrifying) surgeon who quite literally changed the course of my life. Second, a kindred spirit and truly gifted clinician who was there for me when I didn’t know I needed her most and pushed me to do better. Finally, a gifted academic, and hugely talented writer who showed me the truth behind the saying that the "pen is mightier than the sword because of the mind who wields it." These exceptional women were with me at vastly different stages of my life—and their examples, teaching, and guidance are what shaped me into the person I am today.
So, what defines a mentor? A generalized textbook definition cannot suffice, and perhaps neither can my own. The term “mentor” cannot be simplified into a version you or I claim it to be, and thus, I cannot give you a proper definition. Instead, I can give you my personal anecdote on this impactful, and at times, heavy moniker.
My mentors were strong and to me, even fearless. They fought to find the potential in people, and once they found it, they helped curate that potential into something extraordinary. Giving up wasn’t in their vocabulary, whether it was on myself, themselves, their patients, or dreams. Each one shared the best parts of themselves with me. They opened doors, windows, and in some instances, quite literally pushed me out so I could achieve what they already knew I could.
A mentor is not someone who stands upon a soapbox or behind a podium to relay their pearls of wisdom, nor is it a performer who feeds off praise and admiration. No, a mentor is someone who willingly gets their hands dirty by cleaning up the messes despite the many other options that allow them to stay clean. It is a person who takes the mirror and turns it outward, forcing us to see our true selves. That same individual who makes us uncomfortable, and even angry at times, is the same person pushing us to become the best versions of ourselves.
Most recently I’ve had the amazing experience of coaching and training some truly astounding human beings. I tried my best to emulate what my mentors had done for me, and yet make this a unique experience for everyone I worked with. What happened? I failed on occasion. I learned (A LOT). I got dirty, literally. I broke down. I built back up. And I hoped beyond hope that I made a difference.
My thanks to those who’ve been with me thus far, especially to those who didn’t give up and in turn, wouldn’t let me give up. May the opportunities I’ve been given and the mirrors that have been held up for me, as well as those I’ve held up for others, continue to be shared and shown. Mentorship isn’t a job, it’s a calling, and it’s one I aim to answer.
Alyssa Mages, BS, CVT, is cofounder and chief visionary officer of Empowering Veterinary teams. She's known by her colleagues for developing content and ensuring skills are taught and messages heard. When she's not creating, teaching, or saving furry lives, she's hanging out with her family and their blind Cane Corso pup Kekona.