Mentorship: An Intentional Relationship
by Dr. Dan Posey
It is quite remarkable how important the mentoring relationship
has become within the veterinary profession. As discussed in a
previous edition of CVM Today, the mentoring relationship has
always been an important aspect of our society demonstrated through
apprenticeships, work/study and shadowing programs, internships,
and preceptorships. There are numerous professions, careers and
vocations that depend on mentoring to assist individuals in their
training and aid them in their assimilation into the culture.
Veterinary medicine is no different. As veterinarians, if we are
able to accomplish excellence in mentoring, we are bound to attract
new faces to our profession and our practices, to recruit and
retain individuals to different areas within the veterinary
profession, and to share our passion for our profession. Mentorship
is one of the keys to our professional success. In this edition, we
will look at the mentoring contract.
Dr. Dan Posey (back center) discusses veterinary medical
education with Regent Bill Jones (left), while a student, Matt
Moskosky, examines a sample.
Mentoring is relationship that is as much for our professional
development as veterinarians as it is a benefit to those we mentor.
To be a successful mentor requires an intentional investment of
Why do some individuals not value investing in the mentoring
relationship? The reasons vary as much as the veterinarians that
make up our profession. The reasons include: not having the time to
invest in a relationship, not believing they possess the skills, or
the lacking understanding, (due to their own history), of the value
of mentorship. However, by learning a few simple steps, even the
most inexperienced practitioner can prove to be a valuable
Most veterinary students enter in the educational process with
some level of understanding of basic communication, leadership, and
technical skills. While the educational process can help develop
these skills further, the intentional mentoring relationship is
where they are more finely honed.
The mentor should understand the responsibility of transitioning
the new graduate into a professional veterinarian. Upon graduation,
the new veterinarian has mainly attained only entry-level skills.
The mentoring relationship is an opportunity to increase confidence
and productivity in a newly graduated DVM. To be successful, there
must be mutual respect and frequent feedback. Both parties are
hoping for a successful relationship, but it takes more than
wishful thinking, it takes intentional investment. One of the ways
to fulfill this in a mentoring relationship is through the
The contract helps make this an intentional process and not just
a haphazard one, and begins with the defining of roles and
expectations There are four parts to a mentoring contract:
- Evaluation Process
The objectives define what both parties want to achieve through
the mentoring relationship. The objectives need to be mutually
agreed upon by the mentor and mentee because each individual brings
different expectations to the relationship. These objectives should
be the focus of the first scheduled meeting.
The second part of the contract is the schedule. By holding
regularly scheduled meetings, we express commitment to the process.
The schedule should be mutually agreed upon by both parties. Mentor
meetings should take place away from the workplace. If they are
pursued within the walls of the workplace, constant interruptions
will provide distractions from the process. Finding time in our
busy schedules is difficult, but a necessity. One way is to
schedule the mentoring meeting around a meal. Breakfast meetings
might work well for some while others enjoy meeting during lunch or
after work. The important aspect is not when we meet, but that we
are meeting on a regular basis. Postponed meetings are common and
can be the death to this relationship.
In the beginning, the investment of time is greater and more
frequent. The first mentoring meeting should be at least 2-3 hours
in length. This meeting is to discuss the objectives, scheduling
time, and format. Recommendations include: investing one to two
hours each week for the first month of the relationship, one to two
hours on a biweekly basis in the second and third month,and at
least once monthly for two hours in the 4th, 5th, and 6th month.
Before a transition in schedule occurs, the mentor and mentee
should discuss their needs. Many times the relationship requires
maintenance and renegotiation of the schedule. Flexibility is
important, so intention can be maintained.
Another key part of the mentoring contract is the format. One of
the common concerns is what to discuss for long periods of time. In
the beginning of the relationship, most of the effort is about
getting to know each other. As the individuals work together, the
conversations are shaped by client and staff interactions, clinical
cases, financial aspects of the job, projects, recommendations for
individual improvement, and the development of specific technical
skill. As trust and mutual respect are reinforced through this
mentor/mentee relationship, deeper discussions that are focused on
personal and professional attributes can be initiated. It is
important to remember each mentor/mentee relationship is different.
Encouraging mutual respect and trust is important in developing
rapport by both parties.
Critical evaluation is the final part of the mentoring contract
and is important in building a relationship by mentors and mentees.
Both should ask themselves if they are mutually receiving what they
were expecting. This relationship, if properly developed, will last
for years. The mentoring relationship doesn't have to end when
there is a professional separation or redirection. I have had the
great fortune to ask advice and receive great counsel from mentors
whom I no longer see on a regular basis. Sometimes they give the
best advice because they have the least amount at stake.
By using this simple contract format and ensuring that
expectations are understood, a relationship based on respect,
trust, and regular communication is fostered. Both the mentor and
the mentee will develop professional skills that last a
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