Veterinary Mentorship at Your Fingertips: Why Every Veterinary Practice Needs a Mentorship Backup Plan

Jun 30, 2023 at 1:43 pm

The world we once knew in veterinary medicine is rapidly changing. Roles are being redefined, corporations are snatching private practices up left and right, and educated, qualified veterinary professionals are in higher demand than ever before. The pressure on new veterinary graduates to fill the gaps is immense, and if you’re lucky enough to hire one, your main focus should be to keep them around. 

One of the best ways to support a new veterinary graduate is to provide consistent, reliable mentorship that focuses on their specific needs, skill level, and goals. In practice, this is incredibly difficult, time-consuming, and costly for practice owners to provide. They need their veterinarians on the floor, so mentorship often falls by the wayside. Lack of appropriate support and putting new grads into situations for which they are not ready are the top reasons veterinarians leave their first jobs, and it’s about time we address this long-standing problem.

The “day-one ready” fallacy

The goal of every veterinary school program is to create graduates who are prepared for the demands of day-to-day practice—the “day-one ready” veterinary graduate. To do this, we shuttle students through rotating clinical externships and experiences in their final clinical year, hoping that “real-world” clinical scenarios will do the job. Students are told at graduation that they have the skills and knowledge they need to operate independently in a veterinary practice, but the unfortunate reality is that most simply do not. 

A student’s clinical rotations are critical to their career success, but they aren’t enough to truly prepare graduates for the rough seas that lie ahead. Practicing as a student under direct supervision is one thing, and being asked to shift into a leadership role where your clinical decisions are left entirely up to you is another. Without adequate guidance, new grads will falter and lose confidence in themselves.

Professional development through peer mentorship

One of the best ways we can prepare students for real-world situations is through a veterinary internship program. I regard my internship as the most formative year in my entire veterinary career because it provided me with valuable post-graduate clinical training in a structured format and allowed me to go on to pursue a specialty. However, internships aren’t financially or logistically possible for every student, and there aren’t enough internships available to make this a scalable option. 

Enter mentorship.

Peer-to-peer veterinary mentorship is a practical way to help new graduates get up to speed, build their confidence, and sharpen their clinical decision-making skills. A solid mentorship program is incredibly important for new veterinarians and can often mean the difference between them choosing your practice or another one down the road. Robust mentorship not only provides immediate answers and help but also uses logic-driven questioning to guide thought processes and boost skills in all areas, including:

  • Case management skills
  • Client communication
  • Leadership and team communication
  • Time management
  • Mental health and well-being

The role of technology for modern veterinary grads

Few veterinary practices have the time or resources to create a mentorship program that will accomplish the goals of the practice and the individual veterinarians. Be honest with yourself and critically evaluate your new graduate performance. Do they struggle to meet production goals, lack confidence, or leave within one to two years of their start date? These are signs that your mentorship program could use a boost.

Our profession has long lagged behind human medicine in leveraging technology, but the pandemic forced a shift in our thinking and created more opportunities for us to digitally connect and support one another. Through this connection, we’ve seen the rise of structured mentorship programs that place new grads together in virtual communities and provide the support they need to thrive in practice. 

Virtual support groups and web- or app-based mentorship programs are also on the rise, and they can help to fill the gaps in your practice’s current offerings. In some cases, you can even purchase a membership for your associate veterinarians that allows them to connect with a peer mentor or specialist on demand, anytime they need help. 

One advantage to adding these tools to your practice is that veterinarians who mentor through these platforms enjoy teaching and sharing years of wisdom and experience—they choose to be there, while your current employees charged with mentoring may or may not feel the same. This ensures a judgment-free, stress-free experience for the mentee, who can then focus on their case or question at hand.

The veterinary profession is in crisis in many ways, but it’s also undergoing a metamorphosis of epic proportions to meet the needs of our ever-changing world. Education, support, and mental health are crucial elements to attracting and retaining talented, dedicated individuals who will carry us into the next generation of veterinary medicine. Mentorship may not solve all of our current problems, but it can make a big difference in your associates’ lives and pave the way for a brighter future.

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Dr. Diane Levitan is a veterinary internal medicine specialist. Practicing veterinary medicine since 1991, she is a groundbreaking entrepreneur and has introduced many new concepts into the field of veterinary medicine. She created the first hospital in the world where families could stay overnight with their pets, pioneered the use of hyperbaric oxygen therapy for animals, and created a traveling CT scan company. Currently an associate professor at Long Island University College of Veterinary Medicine, Dr. Levitan is most recently focused on her mentoring program for veterinarians who need "on the spot" help. Chirp Vet Mentors is an app-based resource for early career veterinarians to get help from seasoned veterinarians whenever they need it without judgment or waiting. Dr. Levitan is a frequent speaker and a consultant for many veterinarians, veterinary businesses, as well as for television, radio, and print. She sits on several boards as director and/or advisor. She loves nature and the ocean, and she has three dogs, a patient husband, and three great children. Contact her at [email protected].

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