How to make mentorship work in veterinary practice

The diagnosis: A new veterinary graduate lacks a structured mentorship program with an existing mentor. The plan: The mentee can put one in place.

In early May, the AVMA’s “My Veterinary Life” podcast presented the webinar “Getting the Most From Your Mentor,” the latest addition to the Grand Rounds series on AVMA Axon.

And coming up this summer at AVMA Convention 2022 in Philadelphia, several sessions will cover the ins and outs of mentorship in veterinary practice.

A mature and young female doctor walk down an elevated walkway together.

The presenters for the webinar were Dr. Addie Reinhard, founder and CEO of MentorVet, an evidence-based mentorship and professional development program that promotes early-career well-being for veterinarians, and Dr. Sara Guillen, a small animal general practitioner in Florida and a member of the MentorVet advisory board.

For this webinar, the audience plays the part of an imaginary patient. You are a 2021 veterinary graduate working at a busy four-doctor practice. The practice recently lost two veterinary technicians. You have been assigned a formal mentor, and you have a yearly performance review next week.

Dr. Guillen presented notes about the case in the SOAP format: subjective, objective, assessment, plan. The subjective observations are that you feel like a burden, feel bad asking for help because your mentor is busy, are concerned that your mentor thinks you are asking too many questions, and are worried about looking incompetent to the rest of the staff. The objective observations are that you have had two 30-minute meetings with your mentor in the past three months, you have asked your mentor three to four clinical questions per day when working together, and other team members have also willingly answered questions.

“In general, you are happy with your first job, but you would like a little bit more structure when it comes to the mentorship relationship,” Dr. Guillen said. “You feel that it would greatly benefit your production and quality of medicine—and most importantly, not to mention, boost your confidence.”

The problem list is that you have no set meetings with your mentor, unpredictable availability of assistance daily, and feelings of worry and concern.

Dr. Reinhard said the first step to developing a structured mentorship program is to set goals. What do you need the most help with? Perhaps time management, client relationships, work-life integration, delegation or leadership, confidence building, or ethical dilemmas.

The next step is to have the first meeting with your mentor. Dig into what you want the mentoring relationship to look like. Dr. Reinhard recommends meeting outside the hustle and bustle of the practice. Establish roles and responsibilities. Discuss boundaries. Ask your mentor how to ask for help, when is the best time to ask, and what to do when your mentor is not available.

Establish a verbal or written mentoring agreement. Dr. Reinhard recommends a written agreement for the best adherence to mentoring protocols. Schedule future check-in times, and set an end date.

Dr. Reinhard recommends that check-in meetings also take place outside the clinic. The meetings are typically led by the mentee. Be proactive about what you need and want. Check in on your initial goals, celebrate accomplishments, discuss new challenges, debrief about tough cases, and think about how else your mentor can support you.

Finally, evaluate the relationship at the endpoint. Dr. Reinhard said, “I think it doesn’t take a lot of extra time to set up these formal structures, but I’ve found that when you have structure around a mentorship relationship, it’s often much, much more effective.”

Further information on best practices with mentorship will be available in the following sessions at AVMA Convention 2022:

Mentorship Power Hour: Breaking Down the Toughest Situations,” 1-1:50 p.m. Friday, July 29, presented by Dr. Laura Pletz, Royal Canin scientific services manager, and Dr. Jeremy Keen, a small animal practitioner and a member of the AVMA Early Career Development Committee.

Integrating Yourself Successfully as a New Associate Veterinarian,” 2-2:50 p.m. Friday, July 29, presented by Tannetje’ Crocker, an emergency veterinarian with a popular Instagram account.

Early Career Wellbeing: Solutions to Help Young Veterinarians Thrive,” sponsored by Merck Animal Health, 10-10:50 a.m. Sunday, July 31, presented by Dr. Reinhard of MentorVet.

Mentorship in a Post Pandemic World: How to Provide New Graduates What They Need to Succeed,” 11-11:50 a.m. Sunday, July 31, presented by Dr. Juskaran Ahuja, a small animal practitioner.

How to Provide Mentorship for Early Career Veterinarians Using the Whole Clinical Team,” 1-1:50 p.m. Monday, Aug. 1, presented by Dr. Kaitlyn Boatright, a small animal practitioner.