Mentorship, internship models evolving to meet needs

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Dr. Kristen Britton went to work for her mom, previously a solo practitioner, after earning her veterinary degree last year. Regardless of the relationship, the new associate was looking for a mentorship arrangement. So she turned to the Mentorship Toolkit that she co-founded as a veterinary student.

Dr. Britton told her story at the annual conference of the American Animal Hospital Association in March as part of a panel on mentorship and internship models.

Dr. Kristen Britton (right) joined the practice of her mother, Dr. Bobbi Konzek, after earning her veterinary degree last year. The two veterinarians worked out a mentorship arrangement.(Courtesy of Pet Care Clinic-Kuna)

Mentorship arrangements sometimes result in unmet expectations for mentors and mentees, said panelist Stith Keiser, co-founder of the Mentorship Toolkit and manager of career development for AAHA.

Keiser recapped a few findings of a 2012 AAHA survey on mentorship. The survey revealed that practices with mentorship programs usually pay mentees a full starting salary. Other practices generally say they would pay mentees less if the practice started a program. The survey found that mentorship programs increase mentees’ confidence, productivity, and longevity as well as buy-in potential.

AAHA and VetPartners, a practice managers’ and consultants’ association, developed the Mentorship Toolkit in conjunction with the National Veterinary Business Management Association, a student association, to help practices implement mentorship programs. One goal of the initiative is to offer an alternative for recent graduates seeking internships specifically in hopes of receiving mentorship.

Dr. Britton presented a simplified mentorship plan in which a mentee’s compensation increases as the mentee makes progress on goals for the number of appointments per day and time to complete a sterilization procedure. Dr. Britton then gave an overview of the resources available in the Mentorship Toolkit, including customizable inventories of goals and expectations for mentors and mentees.

“I like to have clear expectations, and I think a lot of times that’s missing,” she said.

Dr. Jon Geller, owner of three emergency practices in Colorado, shared his perspectives on models for internships.

Dr. Geller co-authored the JAVMA commentary “A call for internship quality control” (JAVMA 2012;240:939-942), which concluded that the AVMA and other veterinary organizations should develop a system of accreditation and oversight for internships. An AAHA task force, led by Dr. Geller, currently is looking into issues with internships.

Within a decade, Dr. Geller believes, internships will be a mandatory part of veterinary education in some form. Oregon requires new graduates to practice under supervision for a year. Other models would be internships that last just six months or an additional, second year of internship for veterinarians going on to enter residency programs within the veterinary specialties.

Dr. Britton wrapped up the discussion by describing her first year in practice. She works at Pet Care Clinic-Kuna in Kuna, Idaho, with her mom, Dr. Bobbi Konzek. The clinic is the only practice in a town of about 15,000, and it was overbooked before Dr. Britton joined the team.

There were growing pains with the addition of a second veterinarian. Dr. Britton would hear from the staff, “But Dr. Konzek does it this way.”

After an initial few weeks of shadowing, Dr. Britton took full responsibility for her caseload. She asks for a “consult” when she needs guidance, and clients never refuse the second opinion. Since she arrived, the number of patients and practice income have increased.

Throughout the past year, Dr. Britton has used the Mentorship Toolkit to track her progress on goals. The toolkit helped with “seeing where I was, where I needed to go, and then asking for that guidance on those clinical skills or surgical skills.”

The Mentorship Toolkit is available at Anyone can access the basic tools. Mentees and mentors need to be AAHA members to access the full functionality of the site.

Related JAVMA content:

Toolkit created to encourage mentorships (May 15, 2013)