The Value of Mentoring Early Career Equine Veterinarians 

Dr. Kate Boatright explains how veterinary practices can work as a team to support new veterinarians personally and professionally.
equine veterinarians receiving mentorship.
Mentorship benefits mentees by supporting professional skill development and providing timely feedback. | Getty Images

Mentorship is a critical aspect of equine veterinarians’ early careers. It’s also essential for veterinary practices that want to recruit and retain young practitioners. In a 2022 AVMA survey of graduating seniors, the top reason they accepted a job offer was mentorship. Another study showed more than one-third of new veterinary graduates will leave their first jobs within 1.4 years, and lack of mentorship is the main reason (Jelinski et al, 2009). 

“If we want to recruit new grads, we do it by offering them mentorship and we keep them by doing it well,” said Kate Boatright, VMD, associate at Penn Ohio Veterinary Services and founder of KMB Veterinary Media LLC. She discussed the value of mentorship and how to execute it effectively during a presentation at the 2024 Midwest Veterinary Conference. 

The Benefits of Mentoring Young Veterinarians 

The 2023 American Animal Hospital Association’s mentoring guidelines define mentorship as: “A two-way relationship and type of human development in which one individual invests personal knowledge, energy, and time in order to help another individual grow and develop and improve to become the best and most successful they can be.” 

“I like to point out that it really is a mutually beneficial relationship that promotes professional and personal growth. It’s more than just training,” said Boatright. “I benefit just as much from my mentorship relationships when I’m on the mentor side as I did on the mentee side.”  

Mentorship helps ease the veterinarian’s transition into the clinic and provides them with confidence-building and a network of support, she explained. On the mentor side, it offers professional satisfaction and the potential for two-way learning. It can also be personally rewarding. 

Mentorship benefits mentees by: 

  • Supporting professional skill development.  
  • Working toward specific, individualized goals that are important to what they want to do in their career. 
  • Providing timely and specific feedback. 
  • Providing support through personal and professional challenges. 
  • Creating connection and building trust. 

Mentorship takes many forms, Boatright added, including: 

  • Traditional mentorship: More experienced individual supports a less experienced individual. 
  • Reverse mentorship: Less experienced individual serves in the “teaching” role. For example, a new grad might have new techniques they can share. 
  • Peer mentorship: Individuals of equal experience support each other. “This is especially important for the current population of early career veterinarians, because their education was directly impacted and disrupted by COVID,” she said. 
  • Remote mentorship: Mentor and mentee in different locations. 
  • Mosaic mentorship: A combination of different types of mentorship, often involving different mentors playing different roles. 

“The nice thing is mentorship is not a menu that you have to pick from,” said Boatright. “It’s more a buffet.”  

How Do We Mentor Well? 

To be effective mentors, seasoned practitioners must first understand the challenges early career veterinarians face, said Boatright. Of course they have the common challenges of starting a new job, learning new technologies and workflows, and getting to know a new team and client/patient base.  

“Then layer on top of that early career challenges such as financial pressures and large amounts of debt, practical knowledge gaps, imposter syndrome, and confidence-building. A lack of confidence should not be equated with a lack of knowledge,” she added. “Make sure we make that distinction.” 

In a 2021 research report, Reinhard et al. determined the three most critical skills new veterinarians lack are client communication, conflict management, and self-care. “These are the things we need to be aware of as mentors and work to support,” said Boatright. 

Early career veterinarians are also at higher risk of mental health distress than older colleagues, have lower levels of job satisfaction, and have higher levels of burnout. “This is why we need mentorship and why it’s so important,” she reiterated. 

When entering into a mentorship, Boatright recommended creating an agreement that: 

  • Defines the length of the formal mentorship program—at least three to six months but ideally a year, she said. 
  • Sets a general mentorship schedule. 
  • Defines the mentor’s and mentee’s roles and responsibilities. 
  • Includes feedback plan. 
  • Specifies how to terminate the agreement if things aren’t going well. 

In her mentorship programs, Boatright said she starts by having the mentee work alongside her rather than simply shadowing. “This benefits the mentee but also allows you as the mentor to see how they work and communicate, assess their skills, and build some of that trust up before you let them fly free.” 

Then she puts her mentees on preventive care and wellness appointments only, progressing to minor illness and injury cases and more complex cases and emergencies over time. 

The Team’s Role in Mentorship 

Whether your practice comprises just two veterinarians or an entire team of vets and support staff, it’s important to set expectations when bringing on a new grad. Have a team meeting to discuss each member’s role, the general mentorship plan, and whom to provide feedback to, said Boatright.  

Encourage your team to create a welcoming environment, which might include meeting for introductions prior to the veterinarian’s start date, wearing name badges, and introducing frequent clients. 

The team should also promote confidence-building, Boatright said. “Young doctors may frequently ask for advice on case management or do extensive research on what may seem to be a routine case to experienced staff members,” she explained. “These actions should not be interpreted as a lack of knowledge, but instead a lack of confidence. Building confidence will take time, and young veterinarians should not be expected to enter the clinic with the same confidence, efficiency, or skill of an experienced colleague.” 

Boatright said the primary mentor’s role involves: 

  • Providing case support. 
  • Being the go-to person for feedback. 
  • Reviewing cases and medical records.  
  • Modeling communication and leadership skills. 
  • Advocating for the mentee’s needs. 
  • Acting as a liaison between mentee and team. 
  • Supporting mental health and well-being. 

“Other veterinarians can serve as mentors as well, providing as-needed case or procedure support, mental health support, and communication and leadership skills,” she added. 

If you have veterinary technicians on your team, pair your most efficient, experienced techs with new grads to teach them technical skills, share experiences and observations, make respectful suggestions, and provide support during difficult client communications, said Boatright.  

Final Thoughts 

Mentorship improves recruitment and retention for early career veterinarians and helps support their unique needs.  

“All team members have a vital role in supporting early career vets,” said Boatright. “Having a mentorship plan in place will help execute exceptional mentorship.” 

Brought to you by CareCredit.

 

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