Peak Performance:   Tips You Can Use
Volume 8,  Issue 4
March 2016
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Mentoring a New Graduate
In a recent survey of veterinary practices conducted by My Veterinary Career (powered by AAHA), it was determined that nearly one-third of veterinary practices who want to hire associate doctors are unable to find suitable candidates and unwilling to hire new graduates.  Some of the reasons given for this disparity include: "they want to work less and make more than the owners"; "debt too high, salary expectations too high"; "lack of hands-on training, inability to do basic surgery at graduation."

So why would you want to hire a new graduate?
Despite the fact that it takes time, energy and effort to hire and train a new graduate, new graduates are filled with enthusiasm, are willing to work hard and are eager to learn and develop their skills.  They also bring contemporary ideas and techniques to practices as well as suggestions around adding new revenue streams such as, for example, acupuncture services.

But what's the cost?
Some practice owners are concerned that a new graduate may lack the confidence to be able to generate enough revenue to cover their salary.  However, in a 2012 survey conducted through a joint effort between AAHA's Recent Graduate Task Force, My Veterinary Career, National Veterinary Business Management Association (NVBMA), and the VetPartners Career Development Special Interest Group (CDSIG), it was determined that many new graduates are willing to accept lower pay if unable to produce required revenues, provided they receive valuable mentorship in the process.[1]  Furthermore, in the same survey, practice owners indicated that they would be willing to offer mentorship provided they could offset some of the costs involved in providing the time required to mentor a new graduate, by having the mentee accept a lower salary during the first few months. 

So what exactly is mentorship?
Although mentorship has been a buzz word in the profession for sometime, until recently, there has been no formal definition or structure surrounding mentorship programs.  In a 2013 white paper titled "Mentoring in the Veterinary Profession: A Call for Structure" 1, steps were taken to define mentorship in the veterinary profession and to establish some type of structure and accountability for both the mentor and mentee.  This paper suggested that a formalized mentorship plan can and should be discussed as part of the employment contract.  As part of such a mentorship agreement, a new graduate would be willing to accept lower compensation in exchange for a specifically defined mentorship curriculum that includes: 1) regular occurring time dedicated to mentoring, 2) increased appointment and surgery time slots, 3) regular formal case rounds and, 4) efforts to provide business management education.

Although a variety of structures has been suggested, it is generally agreed that a well-managed mentorship program should last approximately 12 months and be divided into 3 or 4 steps or stages, each lasting between 2 and 4 months.  In stage 1, the mentee will accept a reduced salary of between 65% and 75% of the agreed upon final stage salary or a lower percentage of production.  As the mentee progresses through each stage of the mentorship curriculum, s/he would take on additional duties and function more independently while working up to earning 100% of the agreed upon final stage salary in a step-wise fashion.  To assist in developing a suitable mentorship curriculum, VetPartners CDSIG, NVBMA and AAHA's My Veterinary Career have developed a Mentorship Toolkit ( .  This toolkit provides tools and resources to support practice owners in developing a detailed mentorship program for their practice.  It also has an outline that both mentees and mentors can use when negotiating a successful arrangement.

What are the benefits of mentorship?
A well-structured mentorship program will allow new graduates to build confidence and become more comfortable with their skills.  It may also provide a way to get new graduates interested and engaged in the business aspects of the practice.  For the practice, a mentorship program can grow the practice's profitability and help develop a long and productive employer-employee relationship, thus reducing turnover and associated costs of hiring and training. Furthermore, associates who remain with the practice longer are better able to bond with clients, thus improving client satisfaction and retention.

Mentorship is essential in the retention of veterinarians in practice and lack of mentorship has been cited as the primary reason new graduates leave their places of employment. [2]   Costs of hiring new associates can be very expensive and high turnover can place further financial hardship on a veterinary practice.  The purpose of mentorship is to help practice owners and new graduates develop strong and long-lasting employment relationships that will ultimately benefit the practice financially and improve the wellbeing of new veterinarians.

[1] Britton, K., Wilson, J.F., Keiser, S., Boss, N.: Mentoring in the Veterinary profession: A Call for Structure. July 12, 2013. .
[2] Jelinski, M. Factors associated with veterinarians' career path choices in early postgraduate period. Canadian Veterinary Journal 2009:943-949
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