Kate Boatright, VMD·19 October 2021
Any time a new employee joins the team - whether it be a doctor, nurse, or client services staff (even locum!) - there is a period of adaptation. The new team member must learn clinic protocols and software, familiarize themselves with available inventory, connect with new coworkers and clients, all while fulfilling the duties of their job description. There is always a learning curve, but for a recent graduate veterinarian the learning curve is much steeper.
The veterinary nursing team is always critical to smooth clinic operations, but their experience, knowledge, and support can be an especially large asset to early career veterinarians. There are many ways your nursing team can help to mentor young veterinarians.
Here are some key areas where the nursing team can support early career vets.
1. Set expectations for your new veterinary team member
Early career veterinarians are eager to learn, try new procedures, and dive into their role as a doctor. However, many young vets lack confidence in their clinical skills, and many experience imposter syndrome; the feeling of being a fraud and consistent fear of exposure.
Young doctors may frequently ask for advice on case management or do extensive research on what may seem to be a routine case to experienced staff members. These actions should not be interpreted as a lack of knowledge, but instead a lack of confidence. Building confidence will take time, and young veterinarians should not be expected to enter the clinic with the same confidence, efficiency, or skill of an experienced colleague.
What can you do?
Before your new colleague arrives, hold a team meeting to discuss the mentorship plan and expectations for your young colleague. The veterinarians will serve as primary mentors and should have a plan for scheduling.
Ideally, young doctors will be given an opportunity to shadow an experienced colleague before beginning to see appointments on their own. When they reach this point, they will likely have longer appointment blocks and start with well pet visits and lesser illnesses (such as skin and ear infections) and progress to more complicated cases.
Make sure that your team adheres to the scheduling plan outlined by the primary mentors and have realistic expectations of your new colleague’s abilities and efficiency.
2. Scheduling considerations are super important when onboarding a new veterinarian
You may be thinking: “Great! Our new colleague will have longer appointment times, so we can schedule our newer nurses to work with the new doctor so they have more time to accomplish their tasks as they learn the clinic protocols”. This will not be an effective way to support your newest doctor or nurse, and is more likely to result in frustration on all sides and magnify inefficiencies.
What can you do?
Try to pair your most experienced nurses with the new doctor. These nurses are familiar with clinic workflow, protocols, and available inventory, making them a great resource to the doctor. It’s easy to ask an experienced colleague what sizes of Clavamox® the clinic has in stock, and will save time over having multiple new employees searching the inventory shelves or software to see if the medication they want to prescribe is in stock.
Additionally, the nurses’ experience in restraint and technical skills will help to maximize the physical examination experience and provide the doctor with the most time possible to interpret results and make a treatment plan. Finally, an experienced nurse can offer suggestions to the new doctor as to how other doctors approach a situation when these colleagues are unavailable.
3. Helping your new vet understand time management
As we discussed earlier, young doctors will not have mastered the efficiency of their more experienced colleagues. They are often not trained in how to balance post-op checks, reviewing lab results, writing records, and seeing patients all in a day. While it can be frustrating for experienced nurses to see inefficient use of time, this is a great opportunity for you to utilize your skills and help the new doctor develop a more efficient workflow.
What can you do?
Offer respectful suggestions on how you have seen other doctors manage their time if you notice your new colleague is struggling or falling behind. If they have multiple appointments waiting or seem to be getting sucked into a single case, rem
Additionally, proper utilization of nursing staff will maximize efficiency for the entire clinic, but your new colleague may not be familiar with all the ways that you can be leveraged. Ask them what you can do to help, and if they are unsure, make suggestions as to what client communication you can assist with, such as calling with routine laboratory results, answering client questions, or helping to educate clients on preventive care and reviewing treatment plans during appointments. Your new colleague may want to do some of these things to help build their confidence and client bonds, so don’t be offended if they decline your help or elect to do things on their own.
You may want to introduce them to a client communications tool like PetsApp to help them manage these tasks more efficiently.
4. Mentoring a new vet’s technical skills
Veterinary school offers limited opportunities to learn technical skills such as phlebotomy, catheter placement, intubation, and cystocentesis. While these procedures should be performed by the nursing staff on a regular basis, your new colleague may want to learn them in a low stress setting so that they can be more helpful on days with limited staffing or in emergency situations.
What can you do?
Ask your new colleague what their comfort level is on these basic technical skills and what they are interested in learning. When you have a cooperative patient and the time to teach, grab your new colleague and let them get hands-on experience.
5. Provide constructive feedback
No one can improve without feedback. It is important for young doctors to know what they’re doing well and where they need to focus on improvement. Feedback can come from many sources and should be given regularly. This feedback may be on time management, technical skills, bedside manner and client communication, or on communication with the team.
If you are becoming frustrated with something that a colleague is doing, whether new or old, keeping your concerns to yourself is a quick way to create a negative working relationship and environment. However, there are appropriate ways and times to provide this feedback.
What can you do?
Provide positive feedback frequently to your new colleague. Let them know when they’re doing well and pass on compliments from clients when you hear them. Praise their successes and celebrate when they’ve done a procedure or seen a complicated case for the first time. This feedback can—and should—be given frequently and come from all staff members. This can help to reassure your new colleague that they are doing well and help build their confidence.
Constructive negative feedback also needs to be provided but is often better received if it is coming from a central source, such as the primary veterinary mentor. All staff should be aware of the best way to provide feedback and who they should approach with their concerns. If the concern is about patient or staff safety or is being voiced by multiple staff members, it should be addressed as soon as possible. Discuss the concern and make a plan for how your young colleague can improve going forward and how their progress will be evaluated.
Now - prepare for your new colleague!
It’s an exciting time in the life of a young veterinarians in your area when they begin a new job, especially their first clinical job. With staffing challenges being faced globally, maximizing support and mentorship opportunities for young veterinarians is a critical way to improve retention. Your nursing team should embrace the opportunities they have to contribute to mentorship of these young veterinarians and help shape them into the best doctor they can become.