You can’t have too many mentors
“Mentorship has been around as long as veterinary medicine,” said Addie Reinhard, DVM, MS. “It’s a key part of growth as a professional.”
Reinhard is the founder and CEO of MentorVet, a mentorship and professional development program for recent veterinary graduates. She’s also on the research team for the third phase of the Merck Animal Health Veterinary Wellbeing Study. And she’ll be presenting workshops on mentoring this September at Connexity: Mentoring: From Good to Great, Parts 1 and 2, and Helping the Helpers: Techniques to Support Veterinary Professionals in Suicidal Distress—QPR Training Workshop.
While veterinary mentorship may not be new, Reinhard thinks the definition is shifting: “We used to view mentorship as a kind of paired relationship between a senior doctor and a younger veterinarian,” she said.
But she believes the profession can benefit enormously by leveraging other forms, like peer mentorship, where young vets mentor each other. And career-path mentorship, which differs from job mentorship in that it includes support in other areas besides day-to-day practice.
“A lot of the work that we do at MentorVet is focused on holistic support of not only your medical skills, but also your professional and life skills—and learning how to become a better veterinarian all around,” Reinhard said.
The life skills are particularly important, and not something included in traditional mentorship models.
Why life skills?
"We know that the veterinary profession is inherently stressful,” Reinhard said. “My own research found that early-career veterinarians have a lot of different stressors in the transition [from vet school] to practice.” By identifying those specific factors and providing training and professional skills that address them, “it can actually help our veterinarians cope with those stressors.”
“[At MentorVet], we teach our mentees things like self-care, how to set good boundaries, how to recognize symptoms of burnout and compassion fatigue, and what to do if you see those things.”
She also teaches leadership skills. “How do you be a leader as you’re transitioning to practice? How do you be an inclusive leader?”
Other areas include conflict management, ethical decision making, and how to provide care along a spectrum in the face of limited client finances.
It’s not all theory
Reinhard knows about the importance of mentorship from personal experience.
After earning her DVM from the University of Tennessee in 2015, she spent four years working full time in small-animal practice, and there were some rough patches: “I experienced pretty severe burnout twice in my early career,” she said. Those experiences taught her the importance of good mentorship in the transition to practice. “I had good mentors during that transition—both in and out of my practices.”
She said having personal as well as professional guidance was key—and it taught her that there was a lack of this kind of support in the profession.
“We didn’t have a national mentorship program in the veterinary profession at that point, so I decided to quit my full-time job in 2019 to go back to school,” she said. She earned a master’s degree in community and leadership development and spent two years researching early-career mental health and well-being with the goal of answering the question: What can we do to promote mental health and well-being in the transition to practice?
She piloted her mentorship program in 2020: “It’s a six-month program that includes peer mentorship, which is group mentorship so that new veterinarians struggling with the transition can hear that that they’re not alone and get support from one another,” she said.
In addition to the skills training, the program also offers mental health coaching, financial coaching, and paired mentorship with a trained mentor.
“All of our mentors go through emotional-support training and suicide-prevention training so that they’re ready to be a good emotional supporter and an ethical emotional supporter for mentees,” Reinhard said. “Because we know that oftentimes we need additional support than just the medical mentorship that we might receive in our practices. The goal is having somebody outside your practice who can understand what it is that you’re going through and provide you a little bit of extra support.”
The 5-hour mentor training also covers topics like providing effective feedback, being a good listener, and how to provide inclusive mentorship. “We have about 150 early career vets going through our program right now, and over 100 mentors within our community,” Reinhard said.
“We are taking some of those trainings and teaching them at Connexity, like how to be a good emotional supporter to your mentee.”
The most important quality a mentor should have
Reinhard said the best mentors are effective listeners—people who don’t just jump into giving immediate advice, but really listen to their mentee’s concerns and connect deeply.
“A good mentor empowers their mentees to solve their own problems,” she said. “It’s somebody who’s available and willing to answer questions, somebody that’s just there for you when you need them, someone who can not only help you navigate the medical part of being a veterinarian, but also the life part of being a veterinarian.”
She said a good mentor not only models healthy self-care habits, but encourages their mentees to model them as well.
What makes a good mentee?
“A good mentee is someone who is proactive about seeking out mentorship and really does a good job of asking for what they need,” Reinhard said. They’re also willing to take the necessary steps to keep continuously improving. “Sometimes feedback is hard to receive, so a good mentee is someone who’s openminded and very receptive to feedback, and then just willing to learn and adapt and change.”
Finding a mentor who’s right for you
“If you’re looking for a mentor inside clinical practice, then ask a lot of questions about what the relationship is going to look like. Will you be meeting regularly? How are the appointments structured?
When vets are looking for a mentor outside of clinical practice, MentorVet tries to match them with someone based on similar practice type or career interests and goals.
Sometimes, she concedes, “It might not be a good fit.” And don’t be discouraged if it’s not—you can always try and find a better connection. “Sometimes it’s good to just schedule a little informational interview with your mentor or get to know them and see if there’s that click.”
Reinhard said the kind of mentorship she needed changes at different stages in her career: “When I was in practice, my mentors were more clinical mentors. When I was working on my research in graduate school, I had more research mentors.”
And she’s still being mentored today. "Now, as I’m growing MentorVets, I have more mentors within the veterinary industry who are helping me in different areas.” Like one mentor to help her with strategic planning and another mentor to help with marketing.
You’re not limited to one, she added: “You can have a team of mentors.”
Hear Addie Reinhard talk about mentorship this September in Nashville. Register for Connexity today.