WA Veterinarian Magazine
In any career there seems to be three phases. A beginning when everything is fresh and exciting, where you are eager for any possible learning experience. A middle where you gain satisfaction of actually practicing your career; where gained competency means gained confidence. And finally the end where everything you do is intuitive born from years of experience. Each of these phases comes with inherent responsibilities or obligations.
However, common to all phases is the commitment to remain open to knowledge, to teach what you know, and to mentor those around you. All of these form the wheel upon which a profession will evolve and remain vital to society. Of the three responsibilities, mentorship often gets the least attention and it is considered something you only do when you are old and retiring. Reality is that mentorship should be happening all the time and by all ages within a profession. Everyone has something to give every day.
Mentorship finds its roots in the age old apprentice, journeyman, and master system. Today, in most professions while we use different names, much of this system is still exists. When you enter your chosen trade or profession you become the student (or apprentice). Expectations are that you learn but are not yet expected to “know” the field. The next phase is a shift from learning into emersion (or journeyman), where you eat, sleep, and breathe your profession. Finally, as the daily work becomes so second nature it’s instinctual, you have reach a state of mastership. Mentorship is expected to occur through each phase of development easing education and transitions.
Of the three responsibilities, mentorship often gets the least attention and it is considered something you only do when you are old and retiring. Reality is that mentorship should be happening all the time and by all ages within a profession. Everyone has something to give every day.
Medicine is no different as it also adopted a system of apprentice (student), journeyman (intern/resident), and master (practitioner). As a matter of fact, our age old saying of “see one, do one, teach one” perfectly reflects this system. Ultimately the motivation for using this tiered system was to protect the lives entrusted into our care. It was to ensure adequate education and experience were accrued before assuming the mantle of being a medical professional.
From the beginning formalized mentorship was vital to the process of medical education. Mentorship is another method to teach, one that does not use a chalk board but rather uses guidance based on experience and knowledge. It is how a student moves from the class room to the clinic floor. In veterinary medicine mentorship is also critical in guiding newly graduated veterinarians into fully practicing doctors. Essentially every stage of our profession mentorship is critical and needed. This however, means we need those willing to provide mentorship.
Who should be mentors? Everyone. While this may seem like a glib or simple answer, it is not. Who is the best mentor should simply be based on experience and knowledge and not the age or time in the profession. It is also important to remember that sometimes those in a similar situation or level of education or experience can be the best mentor to their peers. Everyone has something to give back to those around them. It just takes stepping up and offering to be a mentor.
Why mentor? Easy, we gain more than we give. We get to teach, which always increases our own knowledge and cements what we do know. It is also a truth that those we mentor are usually those who are most enamored with our profession. This excitement can infect you, reigniting your own passion and drive for veterinary medicine. Lastly, often you will learn something from those you mentor. Ultimately, we get more than we give; that’s why we should mentor.
It is easy to lose sight of the idea of mentoring while in the daily grind of practice. Especially if most days are so busy you simply have to put your head down and go. Focus then becomes the patient in front you and getting everything done. Finding time to mentor does not seem possible or even feasible.
Reality is that every day there exists a moment where you can act the mentor, even if for only a few minutes. To an open and willing student, it does not take too much time to impart a new fact or show a new technique. Sometimes it is simply taking the time to listen as someone works through their issues to their own answers (medical and personal). Mentorship opportunities exist every day. It’s up to us to seize and use them.
Mentoring it is how we learn to be veterinarians. It’s how we make the transition into actually practicing veterinary medicine after graduation. It’s how we grow and survive as veterinarians throughout our career. And critically it is how we give back to our profession. In the end “what goes around comes around.” By willing to help someone learn something new or weather a difficult situation, we will find that those same people will be standing there when we are in need of mentoring ourselves.