“Inside you is the potential to make yourself better…and that is what it is to be human. To make yourself more than you are.”
Captain Jean – Luc Picard, Star Trek: The Next Generation

I graduated in 2003 and went straight into rural mixed animal practice. I loved the work as soon as I started it! I was surrounded by a good team who helped me to continue my learning. By about 2006, I had moved on to another small animal practice. I had started to feel lost and dispassionate about my work. Every day was challenging. I truly believed I had made the wrong career choice.

In that small animal practice, a new technician was hired. She had amazing skills and a fiery passion for all parts of the job. Very soon her and I developed a close working relationship and without me recognizing it at the time, she had become my mentor.

She taught me many skills and helped to develop my confidence, but most importantly, she helped me to find my love of the career.

I can confidently say that I would not have continued as a Veterinary Technician without her. The above quote states: Inside you is the potential to make yourself better, and that is true, but that potential needs to be guided and nurtured.

Do I feel mentoring is needed for technicians? Yes. Let us discuss why!

What is a Mentor?

The definition of mentor is: ‘An experienced and trusted advisor.’ We see many of those wonderful people in clinical practice. The amount of experience amongst the staff at a general practice is typically staggering and each person is easily worth their weight in gold.

When I started to lose my way and passion, why did the surrounding experience fail to help? I had many co-workers (veterinarians, veterinary technicians, assistants, and veterinary medical receptionists) with amazing skills and experience. Why did I still lose my way as if stranded in the middle of the ocean?

I believe it is because the textbook definition of a mentor is insufficient. A true mentor is so much more than ‘an experienced and trusted advisor’, and the relationship between a mentor and a mentee is a complex one that takes time to develop.

What it is to be Mentored

Through my own experience as a young technician being lost in the industry, I have learned that two things must come to pass for mentoring to make the impact it is capable of:

1. The right mentor (it may not always be who you expect)
2. A person must be ready to be mentored

If those two things are present, then the magic can happen!

Career guiding and changing mentoring is so much more than what most of us expect. The mentoring I experienced was a relationship in which there was struggle, trust, vulnerability, and growth. A mentor must have the ability to be patient, the ability to teach, and can break down barriers to learning. A mentee must have the willingness to be taught. Being coachable is huge in a process of learning and growth.

I now teach professionally, and I can say my skills as a mentor have grown. To be able to be empathetic and compassionate, and yet to be knowledgeable enough to know how hard to push a mentee so their skills and confidence develop is indeed a fine line.

What a mentee stands to gain from a process such as this is huge. Finding passion in the industry and growing their skills and confidence is something that everyone can benefit from. The general benefits of a strong mentor/ mentee relationship include the following:

• Gain practical skills with support and encouragement
• Build confidence
• Empowerment to make decisions
• Develop critical thinking skills
• Develop strategies for communication with both clients and team members

Mentoring and the Veterinary Technician

All Registered Veterinary Technicians/Technologists go through an intense schooling program where we gain theoretical knowledge and hands-on skills with excellent mentoring.

We then spread our proverbial wings in a various industry. Veterinary Technicians have several roles in industry from clinical practice to emergency and critical care, specialty practice, sales, food inspection, laboratory/research and the list goes on. In all aspects of the field in which we work mentoring is as variable as veterinary medicine.

Overall, though, the life of a veterinary technician in any aspect of veterinary medicine is limited. Many of us carry on to other areas of work. I often question why that is. Objectively I know there are many factors, wage being a large contributor. However, I wonder if mentoring of technicians is something that could have an impact.

It is something we cannot forget as we leave the safety of schooling. Regardless of where we are in this career, we all need mentoring. There are four easy examples I can think of to highlight this and they are:

  • The new graduate just starting out. They have so much to learn. Learning truly starts when you start in practice. The new graduate needs someone to help guide them as they navigate new knowledge and new skills. Without someone to help them, they can easily become overwhelmed and confidence can be seriously affected. Some may overcome this, but others may struggle for far longer than they should. To have someone there can make the difference for the new graduate.
  • The disheartened technician who has been in the industry for 5 or so years. We lose so many at about this point. It was almost me. We do not have to lose technicians at this time. Their experience and skills are so valuable. With the right mentor we can help these technicians find what it is they need to keep them in veterinary medicine.
  • The seasoned professional of 10 or more years taking their career out of clinical and into either teaching or sales. This person is now on a serious learning curve. Their skills as a technician will only take them so far. They essentially have a whole new career. They must have someone to guide them.
  • The technician that has decided they want to achieve their Veterinary Technician Specialist in a chosen area. This process must have a guide and teacher.

The time for mentoring for us as technicians is always. We always need someone that can empathize with our roles and that can help us see our path. That mentor will change through your career and that is okay. Their importance remains the same, however. We work in an industry where learning is held in high regard. Medicine is always changing and improving so we need to always be changing and improving. Mentoring can help us accomplish this.

Think of the amazing skills and knowledge we have as a community of technicians. The possibilities are endless and exciting.

I have people that have not only influenced my career, but have kept me in it. That is a gift I can never say thank you for enough. I still rely on my mentors to this day to help me grow and learn.

It is time for you to find yours!