Mentee Matters: The Other Side of Mentorship
Mentorship is kind of like being a parent. Although our mentees eventually leave the comfort and boundaries of the six-month Ready, Vet, Go program, that day is a milestone, not a capstone. There is no set endpoint. Long after veterinarians cease to be mentees in the official membership sense, the endless journey of learning and growing keeps them forever connected to their mentorship roots.
Now, I’m no Yoda, but it’s encouraging to know that in their moments of struggle or uncertainty, my former mentees find answers and confidence by thinking back on our time together and the lessons they learned. Or, as Dr. Katie Schelble puts it, “WWDD (What would Dani do)?”
I just love that.
Here’s a closer look at how Ready, Vet, Go Veterinary Mentorship has impacted the lives of two early career veterinarians, Galen Groff, DVM and Katie Schelble, DVM.
Meeting the need for mentorship
You could say that Drs. Galen and Katie were charter members of the first Ready, Vet, Go class, although technically their mentorship preceded the formal program.
In 2020, I was working at a busy six-doctor practice with only five doctors. In an effort to find a sixth veterinarian and save our team from certain burnout, I approached my practice owner with a deal: If he would repeal his “no new grads” policy, I would personally onboard and mentor a young veterinarian.
Enter Dr. Katie. Thankfully, she liked me, too. “Dr. Dani exuded love for her job,” said Dr. Katie. “I remember thinking, ‘This is why I want to be a vet.’”
Dr. Katie’s eagerness and enthusiasm for the field fueled my own. Each day we addressed new questions and cases, talking through options and considering finer points such as client communication and fitting in with practice culture. Over time, her questions became less familiar but no less interesting. Eventually I realized that in an effort to help her fellow graduates, Dr. Katie was soliciting my advice for their first-year challenges.
One of those fellow graduates was Dr. Galen Groff, whose promise of in-house mentorship fell through when the appointed associate mentor unexpectedly left the practice. Once I realized what was happening, and how many Dr. Katies and Dr. Galens were out there—full of questions and searching for answers—the idea of Ready, Vet, Go was born.
Because it was 2020 and the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the mentees and I, along with several other recent grads, met informally once a month over Zoom to discuss cases and challenges, and experience a sense of community.
“From our first meeting, Dani showed her compassion and deep love for this profession,” recalls Dr. Galen. “Her enthusiasm and joy from being a veterinarian made her a wonderful mentor, as she obviously cared for our wellbeing and growth as new veterinarians.”
Shaping the right mindset
Unlike technical mentorships, I specifically designed Ready, Vet, Go to focus on soft skills that aren’t taught in veterinary school. I wanted to target the problems that often lead to burnout or, at the least, stifle the joy that veterinarians should get from their work.
Learning how to relate to yourself as a veterinarian, including your personal style, strengths, and weaknesses, is one of the most important skills for new grads to develop into confident and capable professionals.
“Working with Dr. Dani allowed me to be more comfortable with difficult conversations, such as telling clients hard truths and how to politely say ‘I don’t have an answer, but I want to find out,’” Dr. Katie explains. “This approach doesn’t please every client, but Dr. Dani showed me that my style of doctoring is perfect for others.”
Mentorship can also influence how you respond to the ups and downs of the learning process. Maintaining self-compassion and patience along the journey can help sustain a long and rewarding career, including when things get tough.
“Many new veterinarians are perfectionists and we can be hard on ourselves if we don’t get something right the first time,” Dr. Galen admits. “Dr. Dani’s practical approach to being a veterinarian reminds me—to this day—that veterinary medicine is fun!”
From mentor-mentee to colleagues
Since completing their mentorships, Drs. Katie and Galen continue to work successfully in veterinary practice and report ongoing satisfaction and reward in their careers. Dr. Katie and I still practice in the same veterinary hospital, albeit as true colleagues instead of mentor and mentee, while Dr. Galen is a busy associate at a small animal practice in the Pacific Northwest.
Despite their growing success, both are humble professionals with continued enthusiasm and passion for the field and for learning.
“I feel like I’m always messing up and saying something slightly wrong and Dr. Dani catches me,” Dr. Katie confides. But when asked to advise new graduates on their first year experience, she remembers, “Things don’t have to be perfect every time. Constantly striving to improve is more than good enough.”
Dr. Galen describes a similar experience, “After being out in practice for three years, I routinely see cases I haven’t encountered before.” And although we don’t share the same workspace, this former mentee knows how to tackle a clinical challenge with confidence. “You can’t be afraid to tell clients that you need to consult with a colleague,” she explains. “Clients appreciate how much you care and that you want to find the best option for their pet.” Sometimes, that best option means phoning a friend. “I can call Dr. Dani and get her sound advice!”
Lucky for them, I always pick up. (I guess it’s the parent in me!)
The ripple effect: Sharing wisdom with future grads
I love the ripple effect that mentorship and learning creates in others—the shared benefit of all this information and practical advice that has the power to make everyone’s life in veterinary medicine a little bit better, more sustainable, and fun.
With my first official mentees out in the world making their own waves in practices across the country, I get to see the lessons I learned from my professional mentors and the people that shaped me echo back through early career vets such as Drs. Katie and Galen.
And I must say, the future of vet med is in good hands.
When asked what advice they’d give upcoming and recent vet school graduates, both veterinarians emphasized self-care and compassion. “Remember to be kind to yourself on your journey,” Dr. Galen urges.
“Give yourself a break,” Dr. Katie suggests. “Whether it is small breaks at work or a break from trying to find the perfect job. All of these things are difficult, but you will figure them out.”
The last words in this post belong to Dr. Galen, who sums up the balance that is so critical for a successful career, mentorship, and life. “It is not just the work,” she reminds us, “but the laughs and friends you make along the way.”
Thank you, Drs. Groff and Schelble, you make this mom mentor incredibly proud!