Mentorship in Veterinary Medicine
By Dr. Rebecca Stinson, Student Services Representative, AVMA Trust
Finding the right mentor matters – especially in a field like veterinary medicine. In fact, gaining a mentor is one of the most commonly cited goals of graduating veterinarians pursuing their first position in the profession.
Yet, when you ask what mentorship means to these graduates, you will get a variety of answers. Some focus on clinical case management, others on clinical decision making, and some on identifying the “zebras” in veterinary medicine. But is that all there is to mentorship?
What is the appropriate role of the mentor? How do you identify a mentor? And what actions can you take to promote the development of a mentorship relationship?
The role of a mentor
Providing guidance on case management is a key role of a mentor. The transition from veterinary student to veterinarian can be challenging. It can feel overwhelming to manage patient care while researching bloodwork, ruling out possible conditions, and looking for the best course of treatment –all while wishing that a favorite clinician was there to answer your questions.
Colleagues within a practice can be a great source of mentorship around case management. They can offer insights on personal experiences with disease processes, share their experience in working with clientele, and help you acclimate to the practice culture.
But true mentorship can – and should – go beyond case management to help you develop the knowledge, skills, and mindset for a successful career. An effective mentor can help you develop skills that support your growth as a clinician and as a person. They may provide a listening ear after a difficult day and offer guidance on how to communicate through difficult conversations. Mentors may help you create a plan for career growth and development, such as identifying training opportunities, providing letters of support and recommendation, and introducing you to new colleagues or opportunities. Mentorship can take on many roles.
How to identify a mentor
Finding a mentor can take some effort. And finding the right mentor may mean looking outside your workplace.
Many practices will provide mentorship around clinical case management. Don’t undervalue this resource. But your practice colleagues may not include the person you can talk to about negotiating a raise, working with a difficult colleague, or dealing with challenges in your personal life.
Take time to identify mentors outside your workplace as well. Consider joining professional or community organizations to increase your opportunity to meet potential mentors both in and outside the field of veterinary medicine. Making connections in more than one field can help you connect with mentors who are able to help you develop as you move through your career and personal life.
Promoting a mentorship relationship
The mentorship relationship is a two-way street. You must take an active role in cultivating and nurturing the relationship. That may mean stepping outside your comfort zone and inviting someone out for coffee to learn more about them.
When getting to know a potential mentor, you will want to identify areas where you have common ground as well as the areas of knowledge the mentor may bring to the relationship. Do not expect that one person will be able to fulfill all aspects of mentorship throughout your life. Look for people who can support you in both your professional and personal life.
I once had a veterinary student approach me after giving a presentation. The student walked up to me and said, “You’re going to be my person.” I have been honored to be their “person” for nearly 10 years. Over those years, we have laughed and cried together. We have discussed career goals, professional development, balancing life as a working mom, and so many other things. She has taught me a lot, too!
Successful mentor relationships require that you are honest and comfortable sharing your questions and concerns with the individual. Remember, mentors do not have to be in the same building – or even the same town – to provide mentorship. The essential piece is the ability to communicate and connect in a way that is satisfying and comfortable for both of you.