Smooth Sailing: Charting a Course for a Successful Mentorship Program
with Kate Boatright
MVC 2024 Preview Series See All Episodes »
Having a solid support system is vital to new graduates’ success—and, by extension, the practice at which they work. With so much to learn and only four years of vet school in which to learn it, having someone around who can show you the ropes may be the difference between staying on board and jumping ship. In fact, about a third of veterinarians will leave their first practice within 14 months.
So how do you reverse that trend? There are many possible solutions, but a strong mentorship program is key. But what is mentorship? Ask five different people, and you’ll get five different answers.
In today’s episode, Dr. Kate Boatright joins us for another installment in our 2024 Midwest Veterinary Conference Preview Series. She is passionate about mentorship and will be sharing her expertise with attendees in the Staff Development track of programming. Tune in for a sneak peek!
A 2013 graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Boatright is the founder of KMB Veterinary Media, where she coaches and educates veterinary professionals on mentorship, wellness, spectrum of care, and overcoming the challenges of the profession. | Learn More »
Featuring 325+ hours of live and on-demand CE in 25 tracks, 100+ expert speakers, and nearly 200 exhibitors, the 2024 Midwest Veterinary Conference is packed full of opportunities to learn and engage. Registration is now open!
Mia Cunningham: We are speaking with the highly respected veterinary author and speaker Dr. Kate Boatright today. We’re very excited to have her, as she’ll be a speaker for the 2024 Midwest Veterinary Conference, in the staff development track specifically. Welcome to the show and thank you for joining us, Dr. Boatright.
Kate Boatright: Thanks. It’s great to be here with you guys.
MC: Absolutely. So, before we jump into your session topics, can you just introduce yourself to the audience and just talk a little bit about your journey in veterinary medicine?
Kate B: Yeah, so I am a 2013 graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, and I have been in small animal practice since graduating, both in general practice and emergency medicine throughout Pennsylvania. I currently live almost into Ohio. I’m about 20 miles from the Ohio border. My clinic where I work is two miles from the Ohio border. So I claim Ohio as well. But I currently work part time in general practice. And I work a little bit of emergency relief just to kind of keep my toes in it because I found out how much I missed it when I left. And then the rest of my time I spend doing speaking and writing and mentorship for veterinary professionals on a variety of topics, which is what is bringing me to Midwest Vet Conference.
MC: Awesome. Thank you for sharing that.
Krysten Bennett: That’s a perfect segue to our next question. As you said, you spent a few years doing full time clinical practice, but a couple years ago you decided to scale back to part time and pursue your true passion. What inspired you to become a mentor and speaker?
Kate B: So I always loved mentorship and teaching. Even when I was in vet school, I was reaching back to my undergrad and working with the pre veterinary students and that has kind of followed me throughout my career. So as a new grad, I was working with vet students,and kept intouch with some of the students who were years behind me in school.
And then when I was about five years out of school, I was fortunate to be working at a pretty large hospital and they brought on a new graduate. That was the first time I stepped into the role as a primary mentor and I loved it. It just added this whole new side to the profession for me of being able to help somebody else grow and help them develop their own medicine.
And at the same time, I had always enjoyed speaking and writing, and so I decided to pursue some of that. And things just kind of snowballed together, you know, a little bit of right place at the right time, a lot of networking and having some good connections and support from colleagues that, you know, as that continued to grow, I realized that, as much as I wanted to do everything, there are only so many hours in the day. And I also am a mom. So I , at the time had a, you know, infant at home and into toddler. And so I was trying to figure out that balance. And so I decided, well, I can’t foresee myself ever fully leaving clinical practice. I needed to take a little bit of a step back on that side to be able to spend time doing the rest of the work that I do.
MC: So you’ve had your hands full.
Kate B: Just a little bit.
MC: So you touched on this a little bit, but if you wouldn’t mind just giving us an example of a personal experience where mentorship played a significant role in your own growth and development.
Kate B: Yeah. So I was really fortunate to have a fantastic starting place for my career. I was in a hospital in central Pennsylvania, general practice with four other doctors, and I had great support from all of them. They really helped me learn how to communicate with clients, learn how to practice good medicine, as well as be flexible in the setting that we were in. With a rural practice, we were three hours from any specialist. So even clients who could afford to go to the specialist, which we know not everyone can, we had a lot of clients who just didn’t want to drive that far. And so it was a really great first experience for me in having that support and that immersion into medicine.
And I did leave that practice after a year, not because of the lack of mentorship, which is a reason a lot of new grads do leave their first practice. But actually because my husband and I were living three hours apart at that time, and so we decided that we wanted to actually live together, which I think was a reasonable decision.
So I moved out to western Pennsylvania at that point, and actually my second practice, I really didn’t have the mentorship and support that I had gotten accustomed to. And I think it really wasn’t until I was in that practice where I was lacking that support that I realized how critical it had been for the veterinarian I was trying to become. So for me, a lot of what I’ve learned about mentorship has not only come from my own experiences in being a mentee and being a mentor, but in the times where I’ve found those gaps where I haven’t had the support that I needed.
Krysten B: So you’ve kind of seen both sides of the coin, which makes you particularly well-suited to talk about mentorship. Looking at your sessions for the conference, we see that half of them are going to be focused on mentorship. So, given that, what impact do you think a strong mentor can have on new veterinarians, both in the short term and throughout their career?
Kate B: Yeah. So I think that the impact of a mentor can’t really be under or overstated. It really is critical to success in the profession. And I think that we hear a lot of people, you know, throwing around the terms mentorship and we hear a lot of students who are saying, well, I don’t know if I should do an internship or a mentorship. And I think that, you know, mentorship can have many potential impacts. When you look at that early career time and if you are a practice who right now is trying to hire, it’s rough. There are not a lot of people out there to bring into the clinic, and so you have to find ways to attract them. And so especially if you are a practice who is looking to bring in an early career veterinarian, you have to provide mentorship. There is no way around it. You’re not going to find someone if you’re not providing that. So, mentorship benefits the practice as a whole by being able to bring in those early career veterinarians. And then also if you follow through on it and you deliver good mentorship, then you have a better likelihood of retaining those veterinarians.
For the veterinarians themselves, when you have that mentorship , it’s not only about clinical skills and about improving the medical and surgical skills. Good mentorship is really about having that whole support network. And it’s all about building relationships, making sure that we are supporting our mentees through the ethical challenges, the communication challenges, the up and down of the emotions of a general day in the clinic. And so that’s where good mentorship helps in that short term. We know that early career vets are unfortunately one of our highest risks for psychological distress and mental health disorders. And so having good mentorship can really help to lessen the stresses of this period of the career. And it sets you up for success in the long term, so that you want to stay in the profession and then you can move from that role of mentee to mentor and continue that cycle of supporting other veterinarians.
Krysten B: I am curious. I feel like, in veterinary medicine, mentorship is a huge deal, whereas, and I don’t know if you can weigh in on this at all, but I feel like in other professions, it’s not as big of a thing. Like, I remember when I was in college, I don’t remember really ever hearing much about mentorship. And it’s been a few years since I was in college, but just given the profession , do you think that there’s something about veterinary medicine that makes it well suited to mentorship?
Kate B: I think there is. I mean, I think that part of it, I mean, if you compare the path that veterinary doctors take versus a human doctor, you know, a human doctor goes through med school and then they do an internship in a residency and that’s part of their path. And so they have that continued training. Whereas as a veterinarian, as soon as I get my degree, I can step out and, you know, I get my license, I can step out and start practicing. So I don’t have to do an intern ship and a residency and have all of those years of extra training, but we’re not practice ready at graduation. Whether you’re number one in your class or the bottom of the class, no one is completely practice ready, because there’s so much we have to learn, and there’s just not enough time in four years to learn it all.
And so I think that that’s part of why mentorship has become so important in our profession, is for those who are stepping right into practice and wanting and needing that support to make that transition, again, not only medically, but also with the communication skills and a lot of the skills that we don’t get as much training on in school.
MC: Dr. Boatright, you’ve done a wonderful job of giving us just kind of a 30,000-foot view of why good mentorship is advantageous for not only the individual, but the practice. So conversely, can you talk to us about how significant of an impact having poor mentorship can have on a new veterinarian?
Kate B: One of the biggest things we see is turnover because of poor mentorship. There are a few studies over the past 10 or so years that have looked at retention rates of new grads and how quickly they’re turning over. About 30 percent of them will leave their first practice within about 14 months . And when you look at why they’re leaving, the top two answers across the board, and this is, I mean, there are studies from New Zealand, from Canada, from the U. S., like this is worldwide is lack of mentorship and toxic practice culture. And so I think that’s number one is if you have poor mentorship, you’re not likely to stay where you are. I think sometimes it takes a little while to maybe recognize that you’re getting poor mentorship. I mean, we all hear stories of people who say, Oh yeah, like I was told I was going to have mentorship and I started at the practice and my practice owner went on a three week cruise like my second day of work. Like, obviously that’s poor mentorship. But I think there are other cases where, you know, yes, maybe you’re getting some support, but it’s not to the level that you need. And so I think sometimes it takes a little longer to recognize what you’re lacking, especially if you haven’t had that previous experience of a good place.
And I think it can really be detrimental to confidence for a lot of these young veterinarians, especially if they feel like, you know, they’re not efficient, they’re not communicating well, they’re not up to speed on their surgery and they’re getting this pressure of why aren’t you performing like the doctor who’s been out for 15 years? Well, the answer is, is I don’t have the support to do that.
So I think the good news is that if you can get yourself out of that situation and into a situation with good mentorship, that can be reversed and fixed. But it definitely can be very detrimental to some of these new graduates and definitely exacerbate some of those stressors and those mental health concerns that we see.
MC: Do you think some of the things like are generational? Like when I think about some of our more veteran veterinarians and some of the conversations that I’ve heard over time is just that mentorship wasn’t a thing for them. Like they were just kind of like trial by fire, jumped in working 80 hours a week. They just were thrown right into the mix and had to learn on their own. Do you feel like there’s a little bit of um, just a lack of understanding between generations that contributes to the lack of mentorship?
Kate B: Yeah, I do think there’s definitely some of the mindset of like, I did it so you have to do it too. Um, you know, I, I struggled, so, you know, that’s part of how you learn. And certainly there are generational and societal shifts that have happened. I think there’s a much bigger recognition of the fact that, you know, yes, we want to be veterinarians. We have worked really hard to get here, but we don’t only want to be veterinarians. We want to have other things in our lives. And so I think some of our younger veterinarians are better and more mindful about setting boundaries around how much time they’re in the clinic, which is one thing. But just think about the amount of medical knowledge, the number of new drugs that are coming out, and new treatment methods. Vet school has been four years forever. But now we have a whole lot more information that we’re trying to cram into those four years. And so I think that’s another part of why mentorship has become so much more important, because either you’re only getting the superficial touch of things or you’re missing chunks. And I think unfortunately, a lot of what we miss in the current way a lot of curriculums are set up is some of the more practical everyday things that we’re seeing in general practice.
And so yes, as a new graduate, you know, the gold standard and you know all of the complicated diseases, but you may not be as aware of some of the more common things that you see. Like when I was a new grad, I was a couple months out and I had a dog that came in, and they had this really firm, hard anal gland. And I’m getting ready to aspirate it. And I’m talking to my boss about who removes anal gland tumors and she’s like, did you squeeze it? Like, no, it’s a tumor, why would I squeeze it? And she’s like, no, it’s probably an abscess. We see that a lot more commonly. And that was something like, yes, in general practice, they see it all the time. That’s not something I was seeing in a tertiary care facility. So my head immediately jumped to the more rare tumor, whereas my boss is like, no, really, like, it’s probably an abscess. It’s an easy, easy fix. And so I think it’s just things like that, that we’re missing. I call it the practical knowledge gap where we have all of this knowledge swimming around in our heads, but we don’t always know how to apply it. And I think there’s just more and more things we’re trying to learn in the same amount of time and it’s just not feasible.
Krysten B: You said so many interesting things that I want to pick up on. So back when you were talking about the difference in generations, I think one of the issues is going into a mentorship these days is like, just the expectations are different. So do you have any advice to offer our listeners as they go ahead with starting a mentorship, both from the mentor side and the mentee side? What are some guidelines for getting that relationship started?
Kate B: The word relationship is critical. One of the biggest things we can do is set appropriate expectations. When I talk to vet students about mentorship, you know, I kind of have a list of questions that I encourage them to ask, and one of them is just, how do you define mentorship? Because my idea of mentorship in my head may not be the same as the practice owner that I’m interviewing with. Or if I’m the one doing the interviews, my potential mentee may be coming and having an idea of what they’re looking for. But if we don’t verbalize it and we don’t hash out an agreement, then we may not both feel like we’re having good mentorship, even if in our heads, what we’re offering is good.
And so I really encourage practices to sit down and create a written agreement with their mentee about, you know, who’s responsible for what, what are the expectations, set out a timeline of how we’re going to progress through appointments. And that’s a lot of what I I’ll be going into during the sessions. I have a whole mentorship manual that I’ve written for practices to kind of help with implementing those, those kinds of things.
Krysten B: You were talking about how a lot of new grads who don’t have a good mentorship system at the first practice they go to will often leave within 14 months, right? Do you have any indication if that is just, they’re leaving to go find another practice with better mentorship, or are they leaving the profession altogether?
Kate B: I don’t, and I think that’s a really good research question that we need to look into. Because my hope is that they’re leaving to go find another practice or maybe they were in, you know, one area of practice, equine or food animal, and now they’re moving to small animal or vice versa. Or maybe they’re leaving clinical practice to go into industry or something like that. I hope that we’re not driving people out of the profession just because of a lack of mentorship. But we do know that retention in the profession is an issue, as well as just in practices.
MC: Well, you’ve given us a great overview of the mentorship piece, and I don’t want to give away too much to anyone who’s going to be interested in attending your sessions. Um, but can you also just give us a little bit of overview of the other sessions that you’ll be speaking about?
Kate B: Yeah. So, I mentioned mental health a few times when we were talking to mentorship. It’s another passion area of mine. In the morning part of the day, the first hour is going to I’m going to talk about a team approach to preventative care, which is really about trying to promote preventative care, improve compliance, and really make sure that we’re utilizing the whole team. I’m a huge proponent of that, and I think it’s really important that we’re utilizing everyone from the front desk to the vet assistants, our credentialed veterinary technicians, and our veterinarians. Only by working as a team are we going to get good preventative care for our clients and for our patients.
And then we’ll move from there into two hours on well being and talking about professional burnout, how to recognize it. I have personally experienced burnout and so I kind of use that as a base, you know, kind of sharing my own story of the things I didn’t know that I wish I had. And then go through kind of recovery and prevention tools for burnout, and we’ll look at it both from an individual level of what we can do individually, but also what can we do at a clinic level, at a team level, to try to support people in our practices who are experiencing burnout and try to prevent it from happening in those who haven’t experienced it yet.
The mental health piece and the preventative care are really meant to be for the whole team , so regardless of what position you are in the practice, I think there’s something there for you. The afternoon session with the mentorship is more geared towards the mentors. So the mentoring veterinarians, practice managers, practice owners who are setting up these mentorship programs in their clinic. But I do also think that there is definitely a place for team members in mentorship, not only in delivering mentorship, but also in getting it. I do think that we need to kind of work on creating that culture of mentorship , so some of those, you know, head technicians or people who are involved in training, think may benefit from that as well.
MC: So I’m a potential mentor, and I’m coming in to sit down in your session. What can I expect from your lecture style?
Kate B: I like to be interactive, so I do make people talk. But I won’t force you to talk if you don’t want to. I do also utilize a lot of online polling to kind of help generate discussion so that people who are more introverted and just want to sit in the crowd and not have an actual discussion can share answers to their question that are just going to show up on the screen and you don’t have to take ownership of them if you don’t want to. And then, I try to share personal stories. Unfortunately, we don’t have a ton of data on mentorship, but where we do, I do try to keep it based in the research too. I try to be personable and interactive, so that we can come out of it with a plan and something tangible and place to take back to our practices.
Krysten B: So obviously we can’t cover all six hours of your sessions here, and we don’t want to give away everything anyway, but for those listeners and potential attendees who want to connect with you before the conference, or maybe even work with you in the future, where can you be found online?
Kate B: Yeah, so, I’m pretty active on Instagram; my handle is @WriteTheBoat. I focus on mentorship content there. And then I also have a website www.writetheboat.com. And that’s where information on the mentorship manual, speaking articles, things like that are all available.
MC: Well, thank you for your time. We want to take a picture with you if that’s okay.
Kate B: Yeah, absolutely!
Krysten B: Well, thank you so much for talking to us today. This was really interesting, and I am pretty sure we could talk for a couple more hours, if we had the time for that.
MC: But yeah, thank you very much for your time. We appreciate you and look forward to seeing you at the MVC.
Kate B: Yes, absolutely!