May 15, 2013


 Toolkit created to encourage mentorships


Posted May 1, 2013

A free mentorship toolkit will soon be available that aims to create a viable, applicable mentorship program that educates both practice owners and new veterinarians, and can be used just before and during a new graduate’s transition into the workforce.

The American Animal Hospital Association created the resource to address the perceived disparity between the skill set of new graduates and the skills they need to be successful in today’s private practice environment. 


“Mentorship has been a buzzword for recent graduates over the last four to five years,” said Stith Keiser, business manager for AAHA Career Development and chair of the VetPartners Career Development Special Interest Group. VetPartners is a practice managers’ and consultants’ association. 

“It’s something that new grads want when they get out of school, because they feel like they don’t have the skills, necessarily, when they graduate to go out and be practice-ready veterinarians. I think a lot are perfectly competent to do it; it’s more of a confidence issue.” 

The program is meant for veterinary students who are considering internships but don’t intend to pursue a residency or go into a high-end equine practice. Keiser said, in these cases, students are rolling the dice, because an internship doesn’t guarantee mentorship. Plus, the mean internship salary in 2012 was $29,116 compared with $65,404 for starting salaries in practice.  

“So we have these students with already high student debt going out and taking really low-paying internships to get extra coaching when it’s a 50-50 shot,” he said. 

AAHA also hopes this new initiative can stem turnover among new graduates and its cost to practice owners, shorten the time it takes for new graduates to become productive in practice, and create an “exit strategy” for practice owners who are unsatisfied with a new hire’s work. 

AAHA first attempted to address the lack of mentorship when it released mentoring guidelines in 2008. 
Keiser said the association found that the guidelines did a good job defining what mentorship should be, but practice owners and recent graduates said the document wasn’t action-oriented and they couldn’t do much with it. 
In response, AAHA sent a survey to 6,000 practices this past September to measure the success of past mentorship programs and their willingness to participate in a mentorship program and to solicit their opinions regarding the most efficient method for introducing such a program. 
What the association found was most practices don’t have a formal mentoring program set up. 

“Mainly it was because they didn’t feel like they had any guidance to put one in place, or they didn’t know how to track results,” Keiser said.

AAHA took that input and worked with its Recent Graduate Task Force, along with VetPartners and the Veterinary Business Management Association to create the toolkit, which comprises the following:

  • A white paper with an executive summary and results from the September 2012 AAHA survey.
  • A mentorship “introductory” letter for both practice owners and new graduates.
  • A detailed, measurable, and customizable mentorship program.
  • Tools to track and measure results of a mentorship program by focusing on skill sets, knowledge base, and 
  • benchmarks such as average client transaction, production, and number of new clients. These tools include a mentee and mentor skils inventory and an “Is my practice financially ready to hire?” worksheet.
  • AAHA  mentorship guidelines. 
“In the past, mentees were big on mentorship, but the mentors were wondering how it will help them if they’re spending time mentoring. It costs them money and time. So we wanted a way for mentors to track the progress of mentees and see how mentoring them benefits their practices,” with tangible, hard numbers, Keiser said.

The mentorship toolkit is scheduled to be available at starting in June and will be password protected. 
AAHA is asking that mentees be AAHA members, with membership being free for recent graduates. Mentoring practices do not have to be associated with AAHA.

AAHA plans to promote the toolkit to students and practice owners by sending speakers to every U.S. and Canadian veterinary college as well as national veterinary conferences.

Elise Ackley, Student AVMA president, said she wants her organization to be involved in promoting the toolkit and that students are already excited about it.

“I feel this is the solution to the internship crisis,” she said. “I feel like a solid mentorship program in place could mitigate feelings for a need of an internship, in some cases.”