President's Message: Be There!

November 2, 2022

Some of the most important aspects of being a veterinarian have nothing to do with medicine. Animal health and well-being is the focus of our jobs as veterinarians whether in clinical practice, industry, regulatory or academic medicine, but there are other intangible important attributes to the profession. To have a successful, fulfilling career, learn to incorporate mentorship into your daily routines.

Mentorship suggests an image of student and teacher. A mentee is often considered a young, inexperienced person, and the mentor, the wise elder. However, that is not always the case, and we must challenge ourselves to look at mentorship not as a hierarchical structure, but as a collaborative experience between 2 or more individuals with common goals. A mentor can be a confidant that you choose to share your experiences with, or someone from whom to learn new knowledge, or a person who acts as a sounding board for your ideas. Sometimes these mentors are veterinary colleagues but not always.

Some of the issues our profession struggles with surrounding mental health and wellness can be addressed by having mentors in our lives. It doesn’t need to be a formal process or relationship — although those can work well, too. Some of us are introverted, perfectionists, and suffer from imposter syndrome. Although it’s hard to break down those barriers, look around in your life for people you can talk to and engage in conversation. We all probably have that one friend from vet school, veterinary professor, or colleague whom we can run a case by but also look for friends, allies, and family with whom you can talk to about other aspects of life. Mentorship doesn’t have to be all about medicine, and you can be both the mentee and mentor at the same time, depending on the situation.

If you need to formally find mentorship or support, there are many programs available. The CVMA offers support through the Togetherall program, colleges have mentorship and support programs, veterinary medical associations and professional colleague associations such as the American Association of Equine Practitioners, and the American Animal Hospital Association have programs as well. There are dozens of veterinary related social media-based mentoring groups. Try signing up for a vet-2-vet type group on Facebook and follow the threads of other vets who are posting about cases, concerns, issues in practice and/or issues in life. You will find their concerns are similar to your own; this can be an effective way to feel connected with your colleagues and the profession.

If you have the opportunity to provide mentorship to a colleague, student, friend, or another person with aspirations to improve their life through their connection with you, it can be extremely rewarding. Some of the fondest parts of my career have been working with pre-vet students, vet students, aspiring veterinary specialists, and veterinary colleagues in a collaborative learning and sharing experience. Seize those opportunities. They exist in all facets of veterinary medicine and life! Mentorship doesn’t have to fit into a specific box of ideas, lists or techniques.

I would like to share some of the important mentors in my life. Mr. Dave Crooks was my high school science teacher. His class expanded my interest in science and medicine leading me to follow my path to veterinary medicine. Mr. Jay Stark, a trusted advisor in business and life. Dr. Greg Andrews and Dr. Mike Scott were my first mentors that exposed me to the world of equine surgery and veterinary business during my high school years. They helped me develop a love for surgery. Dr. Chris Mody, a thoracic medicine physician and researcher at the University of Calgary, mentored me as a MSc student prior to my acceptance to vet school and his lab instilled a keen interest in research and the scientific method. Dr. Dan French and Dr. Shawn Mattson, both mentored me while working at summer positions during veterinary school. Dr. Scott Taylor and Dr. Rick Howard at Arizona Equine Medical and Surgical Centre helped develop my clinical judgement through my internship year. The first year out of veterinary school is very formative and important for young veterinarians. Dr. Peter Fretz guided many important aspects of my surgical training and provided an example of how to conduct oneself as an equine surgeon. Drs. Dane Tatarniuk, Joe Bracamonte, and Sarah Graham are amazing surgeons who act as important sounding boards for me.

There are so many people that help us achieve our goals. I encourage you to not only become a mentor or influencer to someone but, to recognize the people who guided you on your path. I challenge my colleagues to start a recognition of the mentors and influencers in your life. Use the social media #CVMAmentorofinfluence and tag CVMA so all can see and recognize the contributions that so many important people have had in our lives and, therefore, the lives of the animals we are able to care for and treat.

Be present for each other.

Chris Bell