Navigating Veterinary Mentorship with Dr. Sushicat

Do you remember the first time you had to spay or neuter a cat, or diagnose a dog with Cushing’s disease? Have you asked a pet owner to look at you, knowing they understood what was going on with their pet because you had the words and skills to help them? Do you remember how scary it was to not feel like you had these skills? Did you have someone with you who helped you navigate this situation and pushed you past imposter syndrome?

We’ll call my someone Dr. Sushicat, to protect me after Dr. Sushicat reads this. She may have seemed unapproachable at first, but she was extremely kind and had a lifetime of knowledge and experience in the ER. Dr. Sushicat was always ready to provide pearls of wisdom that even today, 20 years later, I share because they are as relevant today as they were then.

I was scared to death at the thought of surgery and countless times Dr. Sushicat supported me morally until the last time. I can still see her through the cabinet window: “Enter the abdomen, Bauer, stop messing around!” Which, I now know, meant, “You got it, I’m going to go eat sushi.” » Dr. Sushicat was right; I was fine, as was the patient.

Most of us do not set out to teach and mentor, but by default, as veterinary leaders, we assume these roles with our colleagues, technicians, receptionists, clients, new graduates, and veterinary students. I imagine most of us are where we are today because a veterinarian somewhere in our past took the time to mentor us. It can be intimidating to think about taking on this role voluntarily, especially when we’re having trouble keeping appointments, but feeling a little uncomfortable may be just what the vet ordered.

What could mentoring look like at your institution?

Are you a one-doctor practice that can manage only one extern at a time? Do you practice on an outpatient basis and spend a lot of time on the road? Are you an emergency room with senior doctors looking to train? Or do you have a great tech staff that can partner with a local tech school? Inviting externs, interns, and new grads into your practice keeps everyone on their toes. Students and recent graduates are like children; they ask the most absurd things, and if we listen to them, they can make us see things that have become so banal that they have become invisible.

I am fortunate to be part of a veterinary care network that values ​​lifelong learning while constantly striving to find balance and elevate the profession. Thrive Pet Healthcare understands that training drives excellence. They are constantly developing and revamping their programs to facilitate training in our hospitals.

It takes time to welcome external veterinary students and supervise new veterinary graduates. Fitting this into an already busy schedule takes planning. In my experience, the best way to combat this is to have a written strategy that is communicated to all parties (local leaders, learners, teachers/mentors). Everyone participates in learning and feedback.

You therefore decide to hire external students from the veterinary school close to your practice. Who takes the initiative to accept, reserve and set these expectations? Once booked, what will their stay look like? What are they allowed to do (based on state laws) and what do they want to do?

At Thrive, we send a short survey to each extern asking them questions about their training and the three things they would most like to learn. When you ask, you’ll be surprised every time, and then you’ll be happy when you get one who wants to write your records or learn how to install catheters.

The information from the survey is incorporated into a written document for the entire local team, as well as the learner, that lists these expectations and what the learner is not allowed to do during the visit, so that there are no gray areas. This serves as a contract and requires all parties to meet certain experience standards.

To make this experience positive, take advantage of this visit to showcase your clinic. Set everyone up for success with a dedicated person to welcome them, show them around the facility, and make appropriate introductions. You want to avoid mentee experiences like: “I was just thrown into the kennel and told to fold laundry while I stood in the snow.” » If this happened to you or someone you know, it should not have happened, and I apologize for that.

Communicate during the visit about how things are progressing and follow up after the visit. Feedback can tell you what works and what doesn’t. This extra effort, although minimal at the time, can build a relationship that turns into your next associate or job reference, or even the mentee paying it forward 10 years later as a mentor.

Can you simultaneously learn throughout your life with a growth mindset, elevate the profession, set realistic expectations, and balance work and life while being a veterinary mentor? I believe it’s possible, and mentoring can give you the push to consider this profession we’ve worked so hard to achieve, not the “job” we’re trying to escape.

I’m grateful that some of my precious moments in life are spending the evening scrubbing with a new grad while my sushi waits for me in the fridge, Dr. Sushicat would be proud.

Leslie Bauer, DVM, DABVP, is the medical director of Emergency Pet Clinic in San Antonio, Texas, a Thrive Pet Healthcare partner. She is also the director of Thrive’s in-house agent training programs and the national director of the ER Academy. Dr. Bauer received his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from the University of Georgia. She completed a small animal internship at the University of Pennsylvania Veterinary School before joining the Pet Emergency Clinic. She is diplomate certified by the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners (ABVP) in canine and feline medicine and is also a certified veterinary acupuncturist from the Chi Institute in Florida.


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