Mentoring Equine Veterinarians: 5 Common Mistakes 

Learn about five common mentorship mistakes and ways to avoid and correct them.
Equine veterinarian receiving mentorship.
Identify a primary mentor to coordinate the mentorship efforts for the new veterinarian. | Adobe Stock

Practices that don’t offer their early career veterinarians effective mentorship are at risk of A) the new grad leaving the practice, or B) the new grad being unhappy.  

“You put that investment in setting them up with mentorship and they leave,” said Kate Boatright, VMD, associate at Penn Ohio Veterinary Services and founder of KMB Veterinary Media LLC. “The alternative is the new grad stays but is unhappy, which impacts overall morale, may lead to turnover of other staff, and can have mental health ramifications for not only the new grad but the rest of the team.” 

During a presentation at the 2024 Midwest Veterinary Conference, she described common mistakes practices can make and how to avoid them, so neither mentee nor veterinary practice find themselves in this situation. 

Mistake 1: Failure to set expectations 

Set clear expectations for the mentor, mentee, and clinic management’s roles and responsibilities at the start of the mentorship. Doing so will improve the likelihood of all parties being satisfied with the outcome, said Boatright. One way to do this is by creating a mentorship agreement that: 

  • Defines the length of the mentorship program. 
  • Sets a general mentorship schedule. 
  • Defines the mentor’s and mentee’s roles and responsibilities. 
  • Includes a feedback plan. 
  • Specifies how to terminate the agreement if things aren’t going well. 

Boatright advised both mentor and potential mentee to define mentorship for each other. 

“If the new grad’s expectation of mentorship is having a very formalized program where you have coworking time and go through things step by step, and the practice’s idea of mentorship is having a doctor available to answer questions, you’re not going to be happy because your expectations don’t line up,” she said. 

Boatright then listed other questions to consider: 

  • What resources will you provide the mentor and mentee? 
  • How soon will you expect the mentee to work alone? 
  • How often will you hold mentor meetings? 
  • What is the mentorship timeline and progression? 
  • How frequently will feedback be given? 
  • How will goals be set and evaluated? 

Mistake 2: Refusal to adapt the plan 

Every mentee is going to progress at different speeds, Boatright explained, and refusal to adapt the plan to fit that individual’s needs can lead to frustration for the mentee, mentor, and team. 

“Some mentees will be ready to move along, see complex cases more quickly,” she said. “If we tell them ‘No, we agreed you’d only see wellness for a month,’ that’s not supporting them. Others will need to extend time in certain areas. Flexibility is essential.” 

She advised assessing the mentee’s current schedule at each mentoring meeting. Get the mentee’s perspective, collect feedback from the team and clients, encourage the mentee to share their concerns and feelings about their schedule at any time. Then discuss when and how any changes will take place. 

Mistake 3: Not including the team 

New veterinary graduates can be great assets to a practice, but make sure you prepare your team for what to expect. “New grads are going to be less productive, efficient, confident, and direct,” said Boatright. “But they’re also going to be more enthusiastic and creative and have new ideas and the latest knowledge.” 

Make sure your team feels comfortable giving feedback and suggestions to mentees as well as expressing concerns to the mentor or practice management, she added. Ensure they’re aware of the mentorship plan and timeline. 

Mistake 4: Failure to provide feedback 

“No one can fix or change what they don’t know isn’t working,” said Boatright. The right balance of positive feedback and constructive criticism can let young veterinarians know what they’re doing well as well as where they need to focus on improvement. 

Boatright gave the following advice: 

  • Feedback should be timely and specific. It can be about certain cases, client communication, technical skills, time management, and more. 
  • Give positive feedback frequently and in the moment, which can help build a new veterinarian’s confidence. “Be sure to pass along positive client feedback as well as discussing specific cases or communication wins,” she said. 
  • Give feedback on opportunities for improvement in a timely manner but in a private setting. “Clear is kind,” she added. “Even if it’s a little uncomfortable for us to deliver that feedback, make sure it’s clear and direct. If you don’t give specific examples of what you’re talking about, it doesn’t land as well.” 
  • Address concerns about client or staff safety immediately. 

Determine your mentee’s preferred way to receive feedback, and schedule a time to circle back after giving difficult feedback. “This gives the mentee time to digest feedback and create a plan for responding,” said Boatright. 

Mistake 5: Avoiding conversations about mental health and well-being 

Mentee veterinarians have higher levels of psychological distress than older colleagues (17.3% in vets under 35 years of age vs. 10% across the board, according to the most recent Merck Veterinary Wellbeing Study), Boatright stated. So, how do we support these individuals? 

  • Create psychological safety. Young practitioners should feel like they can come with ideas and not be afraid of ridicule, can make mistakes and not fear facing retribution, and can talk with you about situations that bother them, said Boatright. 
  • Encourage goal setting, which can decrease burnout. 
  • Discuss financial planning resources that are available to young vets burdened by debt. 
  • Encourage and model work-life balance. 
  • Help vets develop stress-coping mechanisms. 
  • Monitor for signs of burnout. 
  • Be aware of imposter syndrome—the feeling of being a fraud and at any moment someone is going to figure that out, despite evidence of success (e.g., having a license to practice medicine). “Imposter syndrome can be experienced by anyone but is more likely in first five years out of veterinary school and in female vets,” she said. To combat imposter syndrome, share your own experiences and support confidence-building through things like positive client and team feedback. 

Take-Home Message 

Lack of mentorship is a top reason new veterinary grads leave a practice, Boatright reiterated. To retain young vets in equine practice, be clear on what you can offer a new grad before they begin, identify a primary mentor to coordinate the mentorship efforts, and involve the whole team in the mentorship process, she said. Be willing to adapt the plan to meet individual needs, provide regular, timely, specific feedback, and don’t forget to be open about mental health and check in on mentee well-being. 

The Value of Mentoring Early Career Equine Veterinarians  

Mentoring New Veterinary Grads Effectively 

Brought to you by CareCredit.

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