Treating staff like humans: How veterinary mentoring can revitalize engagement in your practice


Today most employees, especially those who work in the veterinary field, are still searching for a better balance between their mental health and their career. With the job market like it is though, employees have the luxury of choosing from many green pastures. They no longer feel forced to grovel for the plot that hasn’t been properly kempt in ages. 

Practices that have recognized and adapted to this change are the ones that are booming and thriving. So why aren’t more veterinary practices scrambling to re-energize their employee wellness benefits? Most will claim there just isn’t enough time or funding to invest in such ventures. All staff really need are a few pizza parties and gift cards to quell their dissent, right? Maybe on a superficial level, but employees need more if you want them to work AND be engaged. 


That’s where mentoring can help.

What is veterinary mentoring, really?

While it can be different for each person, mentoring is essentially an ongoing training relationship between two or more employees where the focus is not primarily on the task at hand, but the person performing the task. Click To Tweet

You can choose to initially focus on more informal, mentoring-in-the-moment scenarios that emphasize immediate feedback. Or you can choose to start with formal meetings that have a more detailed and structured flow. 

Mentoring-in-the-moment can be quick interactions that show staff you are paying attention to what they’re doing on the floor, whereas structured meetings can show them how serious you are about their development.

Both have their place in the grand scheme, so start with what you are most comfortable with.

Why do we need a veterinary mentoring program?

Veterinary staff members looking at an x-ray with a dogMentoring is something that is gaining some traction in veterinary medicine because it focuses on building culture rather than checking boxes. 

It gives employees the confidence to problem solve and build trust in each other, which in turn creates more engaged and resilient staff. It’s also an opportunity for management to realize that their employees are indeed unique individuals that have different needs when it comes to processing information and feeling a part of the team. 

Mentoring helps shift the focus from the urge to micromanage staff, to letting them discover their own path. It is more or less guided trial and error, which gives employees ownership over their position and gives management the assurance that the job will get done.


6 steps to starting a veterinary mentoring program in your practice

So, you’re at the edge of the ocean, ready to set sail, but you start to notice that the waves are looking awful rough. How do you dive in without feeling like you’re drowning? Fear not, we’ll run through six easy steps. 

number 1 iconTake a good, hard look at your practice culture

Does your practice owner and/or management radiate positivity or hostility? Do your team members pat each others’ backs or stab them? It is crucial to be open and honest about the state of your current culture in order to make an accurate plan to overhaul it. A mentoring program will only add more stress to an already out of sync practice if it isn’t ready for it.

number 2 iconGauge staff engagement

One way to get a feel for staff engagement is to simply ask them about it. Gallup has done the research for us and developed the Q12 Employee Engagement Survey which asks your staff the 12 most revealing questions on engagement. It’s short, easy, and a no brainer to start with. This is the information that will help most with planning.

number 3 icon Set the groundwork

Now that you have a good idea of where your practice culture stands, it’s time to decide what you want the mentor program to become. What are you hoping to accomplish? What guidelines will mentors follow so you can gauge their success? Should you start with a group or one-on-one? Write out the basic rules and expectations to be the core of a mentoring SOP (Standard Operating Procedure.) Once that is complete, present it to the practice owner and/or management team and get their input.  

number 4 icon Start small

Depending on the size of your practice, start with one or two employees who you feel would be up to the challenge. Approach them with the vision of the program and assess their interest. Once you’ve done this, make a list of mentees whose needs align with the mentors you have in place. You can either ask management for suggestions or open it up for applicants.

number 5 icon Train your mentors

Once you have your interested mentors, train them to utilize their emotional intelligence. They need to be able to apply the basics of active listening skills, empathy, and appropriate accountability. They also need to be able to work with a wide range of personalities and have the forethought to realize when a pairing just isn’t working out.

number 6 icon Check in frequently

Once the program gets rolling, have regular meetings with your mentors to find out how things are going. Finetune as needed and expand the program bit by bit.

Make the mentoring magic happen

A doctor and client talking in the background with a cat on the table in the foregroundNow this might not come as a surprise, but mentoring isn’t something you can pick up in a day. It takes research, planning, and the right support. It takes people who have a hunger for learning and a practice that is equipped to nurture that growth.  

There are unlimited resources online about mentoring, but don’t get bogged down with the details. Start with teaching yourself the basics from a couple of sources and practice them with your management team. It only takes one person willing to take the plunge to bring humanity back into the workplace.



Holly Jones, the author

Holly Jones has been the Practice Manager at Cherokee Trail Veterinary Hospital in Lexington, SC since 2018. She has worked in the veterinary field since high school, with experience varying from general practice, emergency, specialty surgery, and zoological. She now has a special interest in cultivating employee wellness and improving hospital culture. Outside of work, she enjoys exploring the wilderness with her husband and daughter, reading, and playing with her three cats (Ash, Olive, and Kitlins) and her Shih-Tzu Frank.