Mentorship in Veterinary Education: Fostering the Next Generation
Participating in a veterinary mentorship program can provide numerous benefits to the mentee, but it may be more difficult to convince yourself of the benefits of being a mentor. If you, like many veterinary professionals, are already overloaded in your job, why would you add something else to your busy plate? Look to the benefits of mentoring to find your "why."
Beyond paying it forward, there are real advantages you can gain from a mentor-mentee relationship that can improve your well-being and career. Here are some of the benefits of being a mentor, what makes a great mentor, and how to get started.
Benefits of Being a Veterinarian Mentor
Giving back to your profession is just one of the benefits of becoming a mentor. Here are seven more benefits that being a mentor provides.
1. Increase Your Own Motivation and Confidence
If you're struggling with your confidence in veterinary medicine, or suffering from imposter syndrome, making time for others who want to learn from you can provide some external validation that you really do know what you're doing and have something of value to share.
2. Reinforce Your Own Knowledge and Gain New Perspective
As a veterinarian mentor, you're sharing your career knowledge. However, mentoring works best when knowledge is shared both ways. Mentoring someone fresh to the career can keep you current. In addition, if you're mentoring someone from a different culture or educational background, you'll gain new perspectives as you grow your knowledge base. It can be a mind-expanding, joyful experience if you let it.
3. Diminish Procrastination and Improve Mental Health
Since you're "under observation" by someone looking up to you, you might be less likely to procrastinate and waste time scrolling on social media and be more motivated to prioritize your own professional goals. A Chicago Booth School of Business study showed that mentoring may help people reduce procrastination. And, according to a study published in The Journal of Vocational Behavior, mentoring can reduce anxiety and improve the mental health of the mentor.
4. Learn From Failures
Letting a mentee know how you dealt with a failure or a difficult surgery or client can be extraordinarily helpful, to you and to them. When you reflect on past mistakes, you can become more aware of better decisions that would have yielded better results. Mentoring encourages you to utilize hindsight, which you can use to gain a more in-depth view of your path and achievements.
5. Hone Your Leadership Skills
You might not have gotten into veterinary medicine to lead people, but simply having the title "DVM" puts you in the driver's seat of leadership, even as an associate. Most veterinary schools don't have the time to teach you how to lead and manage other people, and doing so requires a very different skill set than what most of us were taught. Mentoring can help you learn how to lead and inspire people better, which can lead to new career opportunities for you.
6. Build Your CV
Effective mentoring is a valuable soft skill to companies, and may help you land a dream job. Volunteering as a mentor shows your hard work and dedication to your profession.
Veterinarian mentoring programs are sprouting up across the industry and are a wonderful way to build community. It's always beneficial to meet new people in the veterinary field, and while cultivating a new network may not be a motivating factor for some vet professionals, good professional relationships are always important. Furthermore, you never know if your mentee will provide a valuable connection to you in other ways in your own career.
What Makes a Great Mentor
While there are many benefits to being a mentor, not everybody is a good fit or ready to take on the responsibility. A few things that make for a great veterinary mentor include:
- Having the time and motivation to be a mentor.
- Being available and willing to ask open-ended questions.
- Having the ability to really listen to what your mentee has to say and the ability to practice reflective listening.
- Already modeling effective work boundaries and good self-care practices.
- Being comfortable talking about your own failures and how you learned from them.
- Exhibiting trust in your mentee's decisions to help build their confidence.
- Having the ability to empathize when they make a mistake and help them work through failures.
- Authentically caring about the success of others.
Not on the list: having all the answers! Mentees need to know that you aren't perfect and that it's more than ok to be a work in progress. Being real and human is just as important as having the right answer in rounds or the perfect medical case workup.
If you aren't in a good place to be a mentor right now—things can always change! Take some time to care for yourself and then revisit being a mentor when you feel like you have resources to share.
How to Start Mentoring
If you're ready to put yourself out there and take on a mentee, here are some ways to find someone to mentor:
- Mentor someone who works in your practice.
- Mentor someone who works in your town (inquire through your local VMA chapter).
- Ask your HR department if they have a mentoring program you could sign up for, or if somebody is looking for mentorship within your organization.
- Start a mentorship program at your practice.
- Become a mentor through MentorVet.
- Become a mentor through VIN's Veterinary Mentorship Academy.
Becoming a veterinarian mentor has the potential to positively impact many people. You get to help someone, level up your game, improve your own mental health, and help your practice and veterinary medicine as a whole. It's an all-around win! In the words of Mark Twain: "To be great, truly great, you have to be the kind of person who makes the others around you great."