Mentoring matters – mentorship in veterinary practice - Veterinary Practice
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Mentoring matters – mentorship in veterinary practice

“I think […] we should be viewing mentorship on a spectrum, with one end being ‘active teaching’ and the other ‘passive coaching’”

Everyone benefits from advice and guidance. That is why taking part in a mentorship scheme can be a fantastic opportunity for mentors and mentees alike. In veterinary practice, where continuous learning is paramount, mentoring can provide direction and a helping hand, especially when things get overwhelming. Championing mentorship for this month’s Veterinary Women in Leadership article, is Charlotte Moody, head of mentoring at XLVets.

How do you define “mentoring”?

Traditionally, mentoring is the support given by a mentor who holds more experience in their professional field to an individual (the “mentee”). But I think mentoring can be more flexible within the veterinary community – we should be viewing mentorship on a spectrum, with one end being “active teaching” and the other “passive coaching”. Where the mentor sits or chooses to behave on that spectrum depends on the goal of the mentoring relationship, therefore opening opportunities for mentors to be from different professional roles.

We should be viewing mentorship on a spectrum, with one end being ‘active teaching’ and the other ‘passive coaching’

What are the benefits of mentoring?

Time with a mentor provides a mentee with a regular and safe space to reflect and focus on professional development. Conversations are only as valuable as the actions agreed on, so frequent sessions enable rapid progress. As well as working through concerns and areas to develop, sessions provide an opportunity to highlight achievements and share moments of pride. It should be noted that the mentor also benefits from the experience in developing a new skill, becoming aware of their own professional journey and feeling more motivated and loyal to their team.

Who should be the mentor?

Most importantly, the mentor should want to do the role. Understanding my suggestion of a spectrum of mentoring, the mentor may need to be more experienced in the mentee’s work to offer teaching, or it may be that the mentee gets this elsewhere and needs a space to reflect with a coach. The RCVS’s Vet Graduate Development Programme (VetGDP) is an example of this: some new graduates have separate clinical and reflective support.

Having mentored many new graduate vets, I can confirm that 90 percent of the topics worked through are non-clinical yet impact their working life significantly. It helps that I can relate to their workplace as a vet, working through similar challenges like time management and communicating with clients and colleagues. However, if the mentor and mentee have different jobs, it is easier for the mentor to remain coach-like and resist the temptation to offer solutions. Enabling an individual to identify and solve their own challenges makes resolution more likely.

If the mentor and mentee have different jobs, it is easier for the mentor to remain coach-like and resist the temptation to offer solutions

For even greater impartiality, the XLVet community have used “external mentoring”, in which mentoring relationships cross practices. You can of course take this further using external professional career coaches. Many practices in the XLVet community have had success developing diverse mentoring relationships, such as those between different species specialities or clinical and non-clinical roles. The key is that the goals of the mentoring are identified and that the mentor is aware of their position on the spectrum with an understanding of the basic rules to enable a successful mentoring relationship.

What are the basic rules for mentoring to be successful?

In brief, it mostly comes down to communication (doesn’t everything?!). The sponsor (individuals enabling the session time), mentor and mentee must have agreed on the goals for the sessions. Furthermore, confidentiality, boundaries and the provision of regular feedback for all involved will ensure a productive and positive process.

Who benefits from mentoring?

In an ideal world, we would all have mentors throughout our careers, and it may be that some people are fortunate to have this or even experience it without labelling it as such. We have to be realistic, though, as a formal mentoring process requires regular sessions and taking one or two members of staff out of the busy practice rota.

Team members going through a period of change could benefit most from the process; this could be new starters, those returning from extended time off (such as maternity leave) or those entering a new role or looking to advance their career (such as moving into a leadership role). Five years ago, my focus was almost exclusively on new graduates, but excitingly, the increased awareness of the benefits of mentoring is allowing expansion to all team members, clinical and non-clinical alike. 

How is mentoring linked to leadership?

Well, I suppose there are two sides to this:

  1. Be mentored: support and guidance in the form of mentoring is needed to become and remain a great leader. A senior partner once told me, “The higher up you go, the fewer people there are to pat your back.” Having that safe space to share concerns and achievements is essential to being happy in the role
  2.  Be the mentor: likewise, possessing skills in teaching and coaching are also key to being an effective leader. It is important to realise that mentors should not duplicate the role of line managers but rather complement it, relieving pressure from the line manager. People with leadership roles will find coaching skills invaluable in their role

What have been your experiences of mentorship, either as a mentee or mentor?

I was formally mentored at the beginning of my non-clinical career and found the opportunity to have a safe space to reflect and grow incredibly beneficial. My mentor during this period was an expert in coaching, so would sometimes be at the teaching end of the spectrum. For me, this meant gaining skills in the subject and, at other times, they would be a coach to smooth my transition into the role. It absolutely sped up my development by preventing mistakes and enabling better ideas.

No guidebook can tell you how to mentor a mentee. Ultimately, the goal is to support an individual, and their needs, personalities and commitment to the process will vary hugely

On the other side of the coin, since joining XLVets five years ago, I have mentored over 50 recently qualified vets, which has taught me that one size does not fit all. No guidebook can tell you how to mentor a mentee. Ultimately, the goal is to support an individual, and their needs, personalities and commitment to the process will vary hugely – this is the joy of mentoring! 

What are your future goals?

Right now, like a lot of the community, I am in the thick of it with two toddlers at home! I am so grateful to have found a working rhythm that can fit in with the chaos of that! Much of my work for XLVets can be done from home which allows fantastic flexibility and I still do one day a week with my local practice to keep my clinical foot in the door until life calms down a bit.

With this bias, a focus on supporting returners to work is my next goal and the XLVet returners programme will launch this month. There has been so much development within the XLVet community when it comes to mentoring, so I want to keep that momentum going, showcasing practice success stories and highlighting how mentoring is a tool that can be used in different ways to address so many business challenges. I am excited to see what the next five years will look like and hope that the huge impact felt by those so far reaches many more individuals.

Members of the VWIL community are invited and welcomed to access the XLVets Mentoring Matters course. Please contact Charlotte Moody for more information at

Charlotte Moody

Charlotte Moody, BSc, BVetMed, PG Cert Vet Ed, MRCVS, qualified from the Royal Veterinary College in 2012 and has been working as a small animal general practitioner since.

In 2018, she completed the postgraduate certificate in veterinary education with a view of supporting new graduates. This led her to her current role within XLVets as the head of mentoring – in her five years there, she has spread awareness of the values of mentoring, mentored other vets and taught and supported members to mentor. She also teaches the non-clinical modules of the XLVets and Grads To Vets new graduate programmes.

Charlotte speaks about the “whats”, “whys” and “hows” of mentoring in veterinary practice and how its benefits are being extended to all members of the business.

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