Dr. Jeff Klemens, Relief Veterinarian and RVG Mentor

We are a remote veterinary mentorship program, and we know that beneficial mentorship doesn’t need to resemble the traditional model. While an in-person arrangement is ideal for practical training, nonconventional formats can provide a diverse learning experience and, in some cases, the mentee can become more well-rounded. One invaluable—and often unexpected—mentorship resource is the relief veterinarian.

This month we’re sitting down with accomplished relief veterinarian and Ready, Vet, Go mentor Dr. Jeff Klemens to discuss relief vets’ role in new graduate mentorship. By combining his extensive professional experience with a heart for teaching, Jeff makes a positive impact on the professional lives of many remote and in-person mentees.

Dani Rabwin, DVM (DR): Jeff, I’d love to start by asking about your role as a mentor. How did your mentorship journey begin?
Jeff Klemens, DVM (JK): I sort of stumbled into mentoring while doing relief. My original plan was to build a relief clientele and start offering in-clinic continuing education for the staff. Early on, it was clear that there was no interest in that. I also got stuck figuring out how to professionally say, “You guys aren’t very good at triage—would you like to pay me to educate the staff?” I mean, who the heck am I? I’m just the relief vet. Instead, I was approached by a group of clinics where I worked as a relief vet. They wanted to provide mentorship at a clinic where the current doctors were uninterested or unable to mentor the new associate, and they thought I might be interested. That initial role has since grown into an overarching mentorship program inside their practice group.

DR: Like most of us, you’re a busy veterinary professional. What makes a time and labor-intensive process such as mentorship meaningful or worthwhile to you?
JK: What really puts wind in my sails is when a mentee applies a previously discussed idea or skill—when they say, “Hey, I tried that suture pattern you recommended,” or “I used that diagnostic we talked about when I saw another case of XYZ,” or “I’m getting better at the dental blocks you showed me.” That’s probably true for a lot of people in education. There is also something invigorating about being a colleague to an early career veterinarian, particularly one who is curious and wants to develop their craft. And, they get bonus points if they already have a pinch of good self-assessment. Skill levels and technique will get better with time—but you can’t teach desire.

DR: What do you see as the biggest challenges in mentoring as a relief veterinarian compared with a full-time staff member?
JK: With the advent of virtual meetings, it isn’t much of a challenge. However, there is
absolutely an advantage to being in the clinic together that still trumps a continuous virtual chat session. But in-clinic mentorship can be difficult if your mentee works at a clinic you don’t frequent.

DR: How do you approach mentorship when entering a new clinic as a relief veterinarian? Are there strategies or techniques you find particularly effective?
JK: It all starts with being collegial—a good colleague can be all an early career veterinarian needs in a mentor. Try to always be available as a sounding board. Be a second set of eyes or ears, when asked. Be ready to jump in and help stabilize an acutely ill patient. Be as efficient as possible in your casework, so you can open up additional time for your mentee.

Dr. Julie Liu, Relief Veterinarian and RVG Mentor

DR: Can you share tips or advice for building rapport and establishing trust with new veterinarians in a short amount of time?
JK: I’d refer to my previous answer—be a good colleague. You might find that you don’t have a lot of common interests, so it may be difficult to bond about things outside clinic life. But, you both share a passion for your role as veterinarians. You will hopefully always have that similarity with a new veterinarian. And, perhaps you can find commonality among the “sub-specialties.” Maybe you both enjoy dermatology—or you loathe it! I tend to try to aim for the half-full glass. Finally, mentors need to provide a psychologically safe space. That’s non-negotiable.

DR: How do you balance your relief vet responsibilities with your role as a mentor to new grads?
JK: Thankfully, I’ve been able to keep them somewhat separated—it’s a little easier that way.

Separating my mentorship support from my day-to-day clinical work allows me to be more available for my mentees. In one of my regular clinics, I practice what I preach—I’m a good colleague for an early career veterinarian and have watched her grow over the past several years.

DR: What advice would you give to other relief veterinarians who are interested in becoming more involved in mentorship?
JK: Look for opportunities in your state veterinary medical associations. If you do regular work for a corporate group, inquire about mentorship needs in their network of practices. Search online for remote veterinary mentorship and join an established program looking to add to its team. Talk to practice managers at the clinics you already serve—especially ones with new or early career veterinarians who need guidance. Network and get your name out there as a potential mentor.

DR: What would you say to relief vets who don’t think mentorship is an important part of their role and responsibilities?
JK: To some extent, I respect that answer. Everyone isn’t meant to be, or capable of being, a mentor for any number of different reasons. Fortunately, everyone is capable of being a good colleague and providing a psychologically safe space.

Modern mentorship doesn’t have to adhere to traditional structure—only an investment on behalf of both parties is necessary to ensure a productive and mutually beneficial experience. If you’re a relief veterinarian interested in providing mentorship to emerging veterinarians, check out the upcoming RACE-approved Relief Rover webinar, From Relief to Mentor: Empowering the Next Generation Through Relief Mentorship, presented by our own Dr. Dani Rabwin on April 17, 2024. Register here to ensure your spot.

Ready, Vet, Go Veterinary Mentorship is an innovative online program and community that helps new and early career veterinarians build confidence, gain independence, and experience greater joy. Visit our FAQ page to learn more about what we offer or get in touch with our team.

Share This