Maintenance of the Mentoring Relationship

Dr. Ethan C was becoming accomplished at spay surgery. Then he spayed an overweight dog and it did not go well. How can his mentor assist in dealing with this with this setback? How might she provide strategies and a framework to restore Ethan's confidence?

Periodic assessment of the mentoring relationship ensures it is on the right track. Both the mentor and mentee may ask, "What level of direction and support is needed for each situation, and how has that progressed or changed?"

Many factors may affect the mentoring relationship. It is normal to encounter "bumps in the road." When this happens, examine the possible causes in the same manner as one examines a sick patient, so diagnosis and treatment can begin. For example, a setback may occur with a client communication or a surgical procedure, which reduces the mentee's confidence. It is important for the mentor to actively listen to the concerns of the mentee. A joint agreement of how to move forward the next time a problem is encountered will help to reinforce a solution-oriented practice environment that is positive for all. The mentor's sharing of similar experiences, providing empathy, or discussing alternative approaches to the situation may all help the mentee.

When combined with an employment relationship, mentoring can take time that a mentor would normally use to see clients or do surgery. Discuss any adjustments in mentor or mentee salary, if applicable.7,16

Periodically review and renew the steps of the "action plan." Also, practice "preventive medicine," by being respectful of time and honoring commitments to each other. Sustain the relationship by continuing regular meetings, and by making meetings productive through a preplanned agenda. Follow up at each subsequent meeting. Acknowledge that missed meetings can become a barrier to success, while a rescheduled meeting shows respect for the process and for each other.

Feedback is important for the relationship, but often difficult if emotions become involved. Mentors and mentees need to provide mutual feedback in a constructive manner. Positive statements are more powerful than negative ones. For example, the mentee may be more receptive to hearing that something could be done differently or better, rather than hearing about what was "done wrong." Sometimes the mentor can gain new insights and solutions to improve the practice by asking the mentee what might make the next opportunity more successful.

Mentors who are experienced veterinarians will understand that human relations are an important part of a successful work environment. It is important to remember that becoming a part of the team can be challenging to mentees. This transition must be addressed early in the mentoring relationship. Staff can be of great support to young veterinarians and should be used to enhance the mentoring process whenever possible.

Together, proactively discuss how you will handle disagreements. Conflicts often arise when mentors are also the supervisor of the mentee. Mentors must be explicit about which "hat" they are wearing at any moment. The mentor should be especially alert to the potential imbalance in power between the "boss and supervisor role" versus a more tolerant mentoring role. The less experienced mentee is often "anxious to please the boss" and will need to be guided gently to keep the focus on solving the professional issue at hand.

One barrier to successful mentoring is the potential of future competition between the two parties. Competition between colleagues should never be a problem, yet historically, it is very common, especially in adjoining practices. A more positive approach is to mentor in a way that encourages collegiality between colleagues. One example might be to create ways for upcoming associates to buy in or merge practices rather than opening new facilities.

Other types of competition may result in withholding information or valuable skills. Instead, the relationship can be viewed as a method to enhance the contributions of both parties to the profession. It is possible for the mentee to show appreciation by helping to mentor new people in the practice, leveraging the mentor's hard work.

Finally, acknowledge and celebrate victories. This is a positive affirmation that the relationship is productive. Your colleagues and the team will know that mentoring makes a positive difference by the mutual trust and respect you accord one another.