AAEP Wellness Coverage: Responsible and Intentional Leadership for Early-Career Veterinarians 
At the 2023 AAEP Convention, Dr. Jesse Tyma discussed the importance of being a positive and supportive mentor for early-career veterinarians.
Two early-career veterinarians smiling and standing next to a horse.
It is important for experienced practitioners to mentor early-career veterinarians so they feel encouraged to stay in the field. | Getty Images

Jesse Tyma, DVM, Dipl. ACVS, of Rhinebeck Equine, delivered a powerful presentation at the 2023 AAEP Convention on the need for every veterinarian to “take responsibility for their impact on up-and-coming equine practitioners.” She spoke about the statistics of early-career equine practitioners leaving the profession, noting they’re often judged as “not willing to work hard enough, that they don’t want it bad enough, or they don’t have what it takes to cut it and be a successful equine veterinarian.” Tyma suggested a new perspective is necessary and challenged experienced equine veterinarians to be more supportive and inclusive to help new practitioners see a path to staying in the field. 

Responsible Leadership for Early-Career Veterinarians 

Tyma spoke about her responsibility as a leader when she mentored interns as a resident and when she became a staff surgeon in private equine practice. In these leadership roles, she made a significant impact on her mentees. She also recognized the initiatives taking place on an organizational, community, and individual level to make equine practice a more sustainable career. Each of us is a leader, she added, and we have a responsibility to those entering the industry. It is essential to “recognize what we are modeling in our words and behaviors and consider what we hope to achieve from these interactions and relationships,” she added. 

Creating responsible and intentional leadership includes honoring generational differences, promoting teamwork over individualism and ego, exercising healthy professional boundaries, rejecting perfectionism and toxic positivity, cultivating psychological safety, and eliminating “hustle” culture, Tyma explained.  

Intergenerational Inclusivity 

Intergenerational misunderstandings and tension are roadblocks to inclusivity. Much of the judgment between generations occurs because of differences in experiences and learned approaches, said Tyma. These judgments cause young veterinarians to feel as if they don’t belong. Because belonging is such an important human need, this can stop a budding career in its tracks. Differences in communication styles, work-life balance, and work ethic can be vastly different between generations, which can foster negative feelings between those generations. It is critical to recognize the strength in diversity and challenge your own beliefs, she said. Early-career veterinarians desire collaborative approaches, mentoring, regular feedback, and the opportunity to have lives outside of the workplace, she shared. 

The Role of Teamwork in Equine Practice 

Teamwork is very important for the future of the equine veterinary industry. “Ego needs to be checked,” Tyma stated. When clients have been trained to want one veterinarian who resides on a pedestal, early-career veterinarians will struggle to find a niche. “As leaders, we need to walk the walk of celebrating teamwork over individualism and ego,” she said. It is connected to the “hustle” culture, defined as the belief that the primary means of success is working long hours and lacking self-care. “In this culture we give a badge of honor to those who honor work and productivity above all else,” she added. Tyma cautioned veterinarians to be cognizant of what they are normalizing. 

Setting Intentional Boundaries 

When considering boundaries, it is important to be intentional about what you are modeling for early-career veterinarians, because they have little experience so will look to your example, Tyma continued. Because they often feel the need to impress or please their boss, they might adopt porous boundaries that lead to burnout. “Show them it is normal to have limits,” she said. 

Rejecting Toxic Positivity 

Rejecting toxic positivity, defined as a “good vibes only” culture, is important, because having space to feel authentic feelings is necessary to well-being. In this type of culture, people experiencing negative emotions begin to think “there is inherently something wrong with us for feeling them,” Tyma explained. She then relayed a personal story of experiencing negative emotions following a surgical complication early in her career. She was told she simply needed to be tougher if she wanted to be a surgeon. This response made her question whether she belonged and if she could enjoy being a surgeon as a career. Using that example, the speaker encouraged leaders to normalize these emotions and create space to talk about them with early-career veterinarians. 

Psychological Safety for Early-Career Veterinarians 

Tyma explained perfectionism is really fear of not measuring up. Many veterinarians are perfectionists and struggle with judging their performance as lacking. When young veterinarians see perfectionism embodied by their mentors, they feel an “unspoken pressure to perform to unattainable standards,” she lamented. She recommended leaders acknowledge and share their mistakes, because we all inevitably make errors, and being honest and humble will help others immensely.  

By cultivating psychological safety, hard conversations will become more comfortable and take place with more ease, said Tyma. Creating a space where communication doesn’t lead to negative consequences is a key element of a good culture. Inviting input from the entire team creates trust and ensures the best outcomes.  

Final Thoughts 

In summary, Tyma encouraged all veterinarians to consider themselves responsible as leaders and mentors to early-career veterinarians, and she urged them to model behaviors that are healthy, humble, welcoming, and supportive. 

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