I don’t know about you, but my introduction to veterinary medicine was rough. I was thrown in, sink or swim. I was expected to know things that I hadn’t been taught. Training was not an option; you figured it out along the way.

It’s true that being thrown into veterinary medicine gave me strength, perseverance, and character. However, it also allowed me to make a TON of mistakes. In addition, it gave me nights driving home, wondering if I should just leave the field all together.


14 years later, I have realized that “sink or swim” is not the way to start with a new employee. If you want your employees to be successful, you can’t set them up for failure.

Changing the Trend

Mentorship and training in the clinic are not often formally discussed. I am surprised by how many clinics still throw new employees to the wolves. They put them into rooms, they allow them to talk to clients, and they allow them to work on patients. This all happens without providing any training, structure or support. After this “training” process, management or veteran team members complain about mistakes made. That isn’t acceptable.

It doesn’t have to be like this. We all can play a role in changing the environment. Whether you’re a doctor, technician, assistant, receptionist or kennel attendant, you have something to teach someone. You also have something to learn from someone else.

I propose we start taking mentorship and training more seriously. Yes, many of us had to work hard for any knowledge we gained. But if we take time to share it, we can build up and empower newer generations to get that knowledge now!

Young veterinarians at work checking Maltese ear at vet ambulant

Start on Day One

How do we make this happen? How do we change a system that has learned on the fly for generations? Simple: Start from that initial hire date and make it an official part of the process. When your veterinary hospital has a new hire, they are designated a mentor. This mentor will explain the inner workings of the clinic and how things are done. They will also be readily available to answer questions for the new hire. If there is a question they personally can’t answer they will work with the new hire as a team to find these answers.

Maybe you are thinking the following: We don’t have time for that. We are a busy clinic. I personally have so many things I am juggling. I don’t have time to hold someone’s hand.

Well, you can make time when you make a change in your attitude and a change in your priorities. An employer’s job is to create knowledgeable, confident employees that want to pass those traits on. If a clinic doesn’t have knowledgeable, confident employees, then this is a failing of the clinic, not necessarily the employee.

The Search for Good Mentors

Start with identifying leaders within the team. Do you have a technician who has tons of experience? She’s been practicing for years and is the go-to person for any staff questions. She’s likely the one who pulls the team together and always is excited to do her job. She is a mentor just waiting for an opportunity.

Do you have a staff member who is great at their technical skills, but not so great at communicating with staff? She is also a great mentor! She is great at her job, and she can learn to better communicate through training her mentee. This not only allows her to teach things, this also allows her to make a connection with a staff member built on trust and respect.

Little Sleeping French Bulldog Puppies

That recent graduated tech on staff can be a mentor, too. She’s a bit green, but she has a lot of new information. She can teach and guide. She will not only be a non-threatening mentor, she will also realize the knowledge and potential she holds.

Over time, you will discover what new hires need to learn. You can make this process more efficient by developing plans and checklists.

Clinic Mentors: Everybody Wins

These procedures take time, patience, and follow-through. Just because an employee catches on quickly doesn’t mean they should be turned loose. There should be meetings arranged weekly, discussing how a trainee is progressing, what support they need from their mentor, and what they have learned. All of this should be documented. Keep these meetings positive but also bring up any errors or areas an employee needs to work on.

In the end, it’s a win-win. You have a knowledgeable, confident new employee who understands the inner-workings of the clinic. Additionally, you have a mentor who feels empowered because they taught someone and encouraged growth!

Mentorship and training promote knowledge and builds connections within a team. These processes allow employees to have a helping hand, stern support, and even a lifelong friendship. Mentorship allows a new hire to flourish and grow. Be patient with each other. Be kind, teach, and – of course – learn.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the editorial team.

About the Author

Jade is a licensed technician of 9 years who lives in Port Orchard, Washington. She enjoys emergency and critical cases, dentistry and creating a bond with her clients and team. During her off time she is busy keeping up with her two crazy Basenjis!