Written by Jillian Sinclair | Marketing Specialist
One of the most important parts of building a career in veterinary medicine is having a mentor to guide you through the experience. A mentor influences the personal and professional growth of their mentee and plays a huge role in their success. Mentorship can provide many benefits for both mentors and mentees. Developing a strong relationship allows both of you to learn, network, and grow as professionals.
It’s common for mentorships to start during veterinary school because students seek guidance from professors, through internships, or in the veterinary community. Dr. MarthaMallicote, an associate professor at the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine (UFCVM), is very involved in her students’ growth and has become a mentor to many of them. She says a mentor is a unique role that is different from a supervisor or boss.“A mentor is someone that will both advocate for the mentee and have hard discussions with them about their skills and weaknesses,” says Dr. Mallicote. “They play an important role in helping a mentee plan a career path, make choices that support that career path, and achieve happiness in their ultimate professional role.”
Mentoring a Student
Dr. Mallicote says one of her favorite parts about her current role at the University of Florida is working with students and coaching them as they complete veterinary school. As a mentor, she helps prepare students for their clinical careers and what they will face after graduating. According to Dr. Mallicote, “An effective mentor listens more than they talk. They help the mentee figure out the needed solution, as opposed to dictating it.” Allowing the student to think through the issue and find the solution with their mentor’s guidance is one of the best ways to instill confidence in the mentee. This will teach them how to find the solution, without simply handing them the answer. Mentoring students this way is a great way to prepare them for working on their own without throwing them into the deep end too soon.
Another tip Dr. Mallicote has for student mentors is to start with a clear plan. She suggests talking with students about their mentorship needs and planning how often they need to meet in order to achieve their goals.“A good mentor is committed to regularly meeting with their mentee and providing focused attention to the mentee’s-concerns and questions.” Dr. Mallicote says that it’s easy to put talks like this on the back burner, so it is best to set up a course of action from the beginning to ensure both parties understand the goals and needs of each other.
“It’s important to discuss exactly what a successful mentor-mentee relationship looks like to both parties. That includes both the time commitment expectations and what intensity of support will be offered,” says Dr. Mallicote.
Advice For a Student Mentee
As a student, finding the right mentor can be a daunting task. Students are quickly introduced to many professors and leaders who might all seem like good mentors. Before moving forward, Dr. Mallicote says it is crucial to discuss what a successful mentor-mentee relationship looks like to both parties. She suggests students talk about their goals and the intensity of support the mentor is willing to offer. Similar to a mentor asking the student what kind of time commitment they are looking for, a student should always ask the potential mentor what amount of time they are willing and able to give to the mentorship. Some veterinarians might want to meet daily, weekly, or even monthly depending on the type of mentorship. Students need to think about how much interaction they are going to want with their mentor before starting the mentorship. If they expect daily conversations with a mentor and they are only able to meet with them once a week, both will be disappointed in the relationship. It’s necessary to be on the same page so both parties know exactly how much they can expect. This also allows students to be respectful of their mentor’s time
It’s important to remember that mentors are usually established, working veterinarians and professionals who have many responsibilities other than mentorship, and students should always be respectful and courteous of the time they are being offered.
Mentoring a Recent Graduate
Now FVMA President and former FAEP President, Dr.Jacqueline Shellow has been practicing veterinary medicine for over 35 years. Throughout her career, she has been a mentee and a mentor to many veterinarians. Dr. Shellow says that one of the most important things an established veterinarian can do for mentees is to give back by sharing their knowledge and experiences while helping them grow professionally.
“Help someone gain as much experience and confidence as you can give them through yours,” she says. Sharing your knowledge and practical experience will help prepare mentees for a long-term career in veterinary medicine.
Dr. Taylor McLendon graduated from UFCVM in 2019. As an experienced mentee and mentor, she says, “As a mentor, never forget that you are shaping the mind of the future of our profession. It can be so easy to focus on the negative and point out all of the downfalls and shortcomings of being a veterinarian, but we have to focus on the positive. If you discuss a shortcoming, focus on solutions and discuss a path toward improvement.”
The support you give to your mentee at the beginning of their career will affect the way they grow as a veterinarian. Being able to guide them through hardships and mistakes will help them become independent and confident enough to succeed in the profession.
Advice for Recent Graduates
As a recent graduate, Dr. McLendon knew she needed a veterinary mentor, but also wanted to learn more about business ownership. She knew that owning her own practice was one of her career goals and wanted to gain experience from someone who would be able to show her the ropes of running a veterinary practice as a business.
“There are so many things that we learn throughout our curriculum,” Dr. McLendon says. “However, nothing can compare to experience. The one-on-one relationship between a mentor and a mentee cannot be captured in a textbook. Learning from the experience of a mentor is invaluable.”
She recommends finding a mentor who exemplifies a similar lifestyle to what the mentee would like to achieve in their personal and professional life. For example, if their goal is to be a working mom, seeking out a working mom as a mentor can teach them how to successfully accomplish that goal. Finding a mentor who is successfully doing what the mentee wants to accomplish in the future is one of the best ways to learn what they need to be doing in their career.
Dr. McLendon also suggests abiding by the “actions speak louder than words” saying. She recommends paying attention to the day-to-day actions of mentors. A young veterinarian will probably know the correct answer to a problem, but being able to walk through the solution with the guidance of an experienced veterinarian is an invaluable opportunity.
Mentoring in Equine Veterinary Medicine
The American Veterinary Medical Association’s (AVMA) 2022 State of Profession Report shared data that highlights how equine veterinarians are struggling.
- 1.4% of new graduates work in equine practice.•16% of internship positions were in the equine sector.
- The average companion animal-exclusive practice salary is $103,881. Equine practitioners’ average salary is $54,539.
- Only 6.8% of practice owners are equine-specific.
- Equine practitioners work the most hours of all vets with an average of 54.3 per week.
- 49% of equine practitioners have considered leaving the veterinary profession.
While mentorship is important in all veterinary sectors, it is especially needed for equine practitioners today. Dr. Mallicotefeels that equine practice has to change in order to improve the attention of veterinarians.
“These changes require a change in culture that we are starting to see in action,” she says. “Mentors can help support these changes by demonstrating to newer practitioners another way to practice equine medicine – one that does not require a 24/7 devotion to the practice at the expense of personal life and health.” Sharing ways to effectively practice equine medicine while keeping an appropriate work/life balance will allow equine practitioners to thrive in both their work and personal life.
Dr. McLendon also believes that helping equine veterinarians achieve a healthy work/life balance will play a big role in bettering the profession. “Equine veterinarians are stereotypically hardworking, suck-it-up, grit-your-teeth kind of people,” she says. “As a mentor, I try to remind my students that it is okay to take a break sometimes and focus on yourself.”She suggests trying to do one thing a day that makes you happy, but that is not related to veterinary medicine as it’s important to take personal time away from your job and focus on your personal life. “This is something that needs to be seen and not taught,” she says. “Mentorship is essential to decreasing the work hours of the equine veterinarian.”
Overall, effective mentorship for equine veterinarians is needed to improve the state of the profession. In reference to 49% of equine veterinarians considering leaving the profession, Dr.McLendon says she feels it is because of how the profession has been portrayed for so long. “Younger graduates see retirement age veterinarians still working 50-60-hour weeks, working weekends, and seeing late-night emergencies.” She continues, “If we can change the narrative [through mentorship], we can retain more practitioners.”