How I Found a Mentor

Published by Kirsten Ronngren on

Finding some you jive with and that can help mold you into the rockin’ doctor you are should be easy right?! Everyone who graduates from vet school and becomes a veterinarian is obviously appropriately trained to mentor and guide a student or new graduate into doctorhood….oh wait. I’ll let you in on a secret, they’re not. Have you noticed that? Have you realized that not everyone is wired to create the environment you need to grow and learn? It’s a rough learning curve, and finding a person (or people) who can really facilitate your growth is massively challenging. Just because you worked for Dr. Smith since you were five, or Practice XYZ offered you a great salary doesn’t mean that’s THE place for you. So how do you find your person?

My second year of vet school I realized my experience in private practice really hadn’t strayed much from working at my mom’s clinic and WSU’s teaching hospital. That freaked me out and so I started looking for private practice jobs for the summer in hopes of broadening my horizons a bit. Logically I did what any sane person would do, and took an assistant job at a feline only clinic. I learned very quickly that there was still a LOT I didn’t know, and apparently I was scared of cats despite owning them my entire life 🙂

What started out as a part time position quickly turned into 40-50 hours per week of hard work and one of the most pivotal summers of my life. My boss and the practice owner began to train me on how to handle the wacky world of cats. First, my handling skills needed work. Getting an angry cat out of a kennel while it’s lunging and spitting at you was NOT my area of expertise. But it was his, and that’s where we began. As the summer went on what started out as money and a way to get more experience turned into a passion. I LOVED working in feline medicine and got my hands on every learning experience I could. 

Now that being said, my relationship with my boss also had growing to do. He was kind, compassionate, hard working and ready to teach. He took the time to walk me through things and to explain how to improve when I flopped. There were more laughs and more tears than I can count. After working there for a summer, that turned into two clinical rotations during fourth year and a job offer as an associate DVM after school was done. My boss had morphed into not just my boss, but my mentor and my biggest cheerleader. 

Here we are seven years later and he’s one of my favorite humans on the planet. I’d be lying if I said the road here didn’t have any bumps, because the emotional scope of our jobs definitely has taken it’s toll on both of us over the years. Here’s some tips I’d learned to help you find and formulate a good relationship with someone you’re seeking mentorship from: 

  1. BE HONEST. You need to be VERY specific from the get go about what you need from a mentor. Do you need direct advice? Someone to sit back and listen while you verbally work through things? Do you need more hand holding? I sure as hell did. If you have very explicit expectations in what support you need there will be less room for interpretation as you move along and less opportunities for frustration.
  2. PROVIDE FEEDBACK AND ASK FOR FEEDBACK. If you aren’t getting the support you need and/or need modifications to it you need to be proactive and speak up sooner rather than later. The longer you bottle up frustration or anxiety the more difficult it is to talk about it and get it resolved. For example, if you feel like your mentor is overly critical in the way they help you go over a case, try providing an example of what would work better for you. You also need to be open and accepting of feedback both good and less good. 
  3. TRY NEW THINGS. Don’t be afraid of trying new things. You will fail, but you’ll also grow and learn. Be cautious not to take on anything you’re not properly educated on, BUT you have to try new things to learn how you learn. Building a relationship with your mentor through success in new experiences is a total game changer. 
  4. LOOK FOR SOMEONE WITH SIMILAR GOALS. Finding a mentor that has similar goals in their veterinary journey to yours makes growing together a win for both of you. For us, it was fear free best practice medicine with epic client communication and relationships. We both absolutely focused on making the feline experience at the vet as positive as possible, but also making sure our clients understand why we do things a certain way or why treating their pet a certain way was appropriate. 
  5. TAKE A BREATHER. Finding a mentor who understands when you need a break in my opinion is crucial. A lot of people in the generations before ours were built on the “work your ass off, I worked 80 hours per week and survived so can you” mentality. Now I’m not saying EVERYONE thinks that way, but it is common. Having a mentor that can be understanding when you feel overwhelmed or just need a break is essential to getting through the daily grind of your work week. My mentor and I both knew when the other just needed some reprieve and were both supportive and respectful to each other during those times. I was NEVER afraid to ask for help OR a break and that was a life saver. 
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