When I graduated from veterinary school in 2013, it seemed like everyone was talking about whether it was better to do a post-graduation mentorship or an internship. Both sides agreed that new graduates need support as young doctors, but no one knew the best way to provide it.
I chose mentorship, and to this day, I have no regrets. My career has benefitted from mentorship, both as a new graduate mentee, and later as a mentor. The practices I have worked for are stronger because they have supported new graduates. A solid mentorship program will positively impact everyone on the veterinary team. In case you’re not convinced, here are four reasons why your practice should provide mentorship.
#1: Early career veterinarians crave mentorship
In a job market where finding associate veterinarians can be a daunting task, what can your practice do to be more attractive to the thousands of new graduate veterinarians joining the workforce each year? The answer may lie in offering formal mentorship.
Veterinarians aren’t practice-ready on graduation day. Even those with high confidence levels and extensive practical knowledge will face hurdles. In a profession where science and technology are constantly advancing, there is simply too much information to cover during a four-year training program. As a new graduate, I experienced a practical knowledge gap, and I have seen many other new graduates face the same struggle. Young veterinarians are well-trained and have a vast knowledge base. But, they don’t always know the best way to apply their knowledge, and they aren’t often exposed to more common conditions while training in a university hospital setting. Moving from an “ivory tower” training to working “in the trenches” at a veterinary hospital presents challenges that new graduates need guidance to navigate. Through mentorship, we can provide support and training for our young colleagues to ensure their success.
New and recent graduates want mentorship, and they will seek it out as a job benefit. Demonstrating how mentorship will be offered to a new associate will improve your odds of a successful hire. Consider including a mentorship clause in your contract or creating a separate mentorship agreement outlining expectations of the mentor and mentee, and how support will be offered. Create a dialogue with your potential hire about what support they want as a mentee, and work with your existing team to determine if this is a level of support you can offer.
It is essential to not over-promise the level of mentorship your clinic can provide. Lack of support and mentorship is a common reason young veterinarians leave a practice. The cost of employee turnover significantly affects a hospital’s finances, staff morale, other veterinarians’ caseload, and the team’s mental health. By delivering the mentorship that is promised during the hiring process, veterinary clinics can reduce turnover.
#2: Mentorship supports one of the most vulnerable veterinary populations
Multiple studies on the mental health and wellbeing of veterinary professionals have found that early career veterinarians are one of the highest risk groups for serious psychological distress. Working in the veterinary profession is stressful for all team members, but the early career period carries some unique stressors.
New veterinarians are expected to simultaneously become competent, confident doctors, leaders of a clinic team, and client communication masters, and start to pay off their immense student debt in a short period after graduation. In addition, many of these young veterinarians are performing their first euthanasia, guiding clients through the decision process around end-of-life care, and managing moral and ethical dilemmas that can arise when clients can’t or don’t want to pursue recommended care. Any subset of these factors can compound to provide immense pressure. While mental health literacy and wellbeing training is improving in the veterinary curriculum, it also must be encouraged and reinforced in the practice setting.
A strong mentor provides support and guidance in clinical skills, and will also help their mentee navigate these challenges. They can offer advice on improving communication with clients and team members, learning to delegate tasks, and improving efficiency during appointments. A good mentor should also model self-care practices, and set clear boundaries between work and home. Data is emerging in the veterinary literature about the positive impacts of mentorship on the wellbeing of early career professionals. Providing mentorship in your practice will help improve the wellbeing and mental health of some of our most vulnerable colleagues.
#3: Mentorship enhances the careers of your experienced veterinarians
I got to mentor my first new graduate veterinarian about five years out of school. To this day, that experience is one of the highlights of my career. As a mentor, not only did I learn from her all the newest information taught in veterinary school, but teaching someone else the things I had previously struggled with provided a confidence boost.
Mentorship requires building a relationship between mentor and mentee, and this relationship is mutually beneficial. The personal satisfaction mentors gain from supporting their mentees and watching them excel can be immense. Additionally, having professional goals is an important part of a burnout prevention strategy, and being a mentor provides an opportunity for experienced veterinarians to set new goals, and help colleagues reach their goals.
#4: Mentorship creates opportunities for team development and advancement
No matter how amazing a mentor veterinarian is, a good mentorship program requires the entire veterinary team’s support to succeed. As a new graduate, I relied on my veterinary nursing team for support every day. They answered questions and helped support my client interactions when another veterinarian was unavailable. When I moved into emergency practice a few years out of school, it was the veterinary nurses who taught me how to be efficient, productive, and confident when working with emergency cases. I would not be the veterinarian I am today without the support of my veterinary team.
Inviting your veterinary nursing and support staff to play a role in mentoring your newest hire will offer them the opportunity to use their skills in different ways, and remind them of their essential role in the veterinary team. Pairing your most experienced staff members with your newest veterinarian is a great opportunity to provide support to your mentee, and allow your staff members to support them as they increase their efficiency and confidence.
Additionally, mentorship doesn’t have to be restricted to veterinarians—it can be offered to any team member. Providing mentorship for your support staff adds an extra layer of support to an existing training program. Furthermore, moving into the role of a mentor for new hires offers existing team members the opportunity for advancement within the practice.
Starting a mentorship program
Offering mentorship to new and recent graduate veterinarians and other team members offers practices the opportunity to set themselves apart in the hiring process, and reduce turnover. Before you market the mentorship your practice can offer, make sure that you discuss with existing team members what availability and support they can provide to a new hire. Once you have identified team members who are interested in being mentors, you can work to identify their skills and the resources they need to provide the mentorship that will enhance the professional lives of your employees, from the newest hired mentee, to the most experienced mentor, and everyone in between.