Straight Talk


Spring is around the corner! Students will be spending time with swine veterinarians. We asked students to tell us how veterinarian mentors can best help them learn. Below are their comments.

“Mentoring is currently a hot buzz word in the veterinary community. It’s sought after by new associates and offered by partners. But what does mentoring really mean? The good mentors I’ve had lead by example, offer encouragement, and support professional behaviors. But the greatest mentors I’ve had challenged me and gave me real-world situations and projects to complete. These activities include role-playing, making partial budgets, working research trials, and selling knowledge or ideas to clients. What takes a mentor from good to great is being a leader who is flexible and dynamic. It allows the mentee to feel responsible for making a portion of the serious decisions. And it takes a strong working relationship between the mentor and mentee to really make the magic happen. New associates and students alike must put work into the relationship and be passionate about the profession to complete the bond.”

“I believe veterinary students leave the university with a wealth of knowledge, but oftentimes have not experienced situations in which this knowledge can be applied to production schemes. Mentorship within the initial period of joining a new practice is critical in developing the skills necessary to fulfill the specified capacity required by that position. I believe that the best method for experienced swine veterinarians to mentor a student is to simply walk them through their thought process from the moment they enter the farm until the truck pulls out of the driveway. I believe that mentors often forget to discuss smaller details such as feeder adjustments and pig behaviors, but these are important issues that are not always addressed in the education we receive. It is important for the student to seek out as many mentorship opportunities as possible. I feel it is important to seek out as many opinions and thought processes as you can in order to mend your own thoughts and methods that work the best for you. I applaud the American Association of Swine Veterinarians for the opportunities for mentorship that it provides for the students. I believe this organization is second to none in the opportunities they provide throughout the year and at the AASV Annual Meeting.”

“The AASV is blessed with many good mentors to students. Here are some of the qualities that they have had in common. They give the student ownership – put them in charge of a phase in a research project, a literature search, or writing a herd report. They include the students in board meetings, clinic meetings, in conference calls; and introduce them to other veterinarians and pharmaceutical reps. This provides insight about you, the clinic or company, and the issues that a swine veterinarian deals with in addition to bugs and drugs. They train the students – they teach the students how to necropsy, take diagnostic samples, collect blood samples, analyze data, do a site visit, and communicate with the site manager and employees. They make them feel at home – provide housing, an occasional meal, take them out for a drink, and show them around their hometown. They plan and execute a research project worthy of submission to the Student Session of the AASV Annual Meeting. They get involved with their state veterinary school and its AASV chapter – they come and speak with the members, use students to help their clinic or production company with large bleeding projects, necropsies, and so forth.”

“A successful mentor, one who plays a meaningful part in the development of the next generation of swine veterinarians, has the ability to convey the passion that they have for veterinary, and specifically swine, medicine. If a mentor can make a new veterinarian or student feel their passion and love for the profession, everything else falls into place.”

“The most important thing is to be able to assess where mentees are at in their learning curve of experience. I have had mentors who asked me about disease processes before I even knew that disease existed, but I have also had mentors who coached me on how to do things I’ve done a hundred times before. Both situations make the student feel awkward, albeit this is sometimes hard to avoid.

There are a few simple things I wish I could tell every swine veterinarian before I ride with them. First, be clear about where and when you will meet, what the tentative plans are for the day, and what clothes or other equipment would be helpful to bring along. Swine farms vary in their biosecurity protocols, so it is nice to know if I should be dressing warmly, if I should bring my own coveralls and boots, or if it is a shower-in facility. In the case of a shower-in farm, I especially appreciate knowing what sort of clothes will be on the other side of the curtain, especially for women.

It is also nice to be forewarned of some of the idiosyncrasies of each farm, such as labor issues, disease problems, or facility flaws. Although these problems may seem obvious to experienced practitioners who have been to this farm several times before, there are many things I will probably miss. If I’m told to look for them now, then I may remember when I am out there by myself one day. I also like a project to keep me busy. For example, show me how to necropsy pigs and how to collect samples, and let me work on this, with an appropriate amount of oversight, while you discuss more in-depth or confidential issues with the farm manager. It is nice to know that I have helped you in some way as a return for the experience you are offering me. Give me time to talk and ask questions (no matter how stupid they may seem!). And don’t be afraid to open up about your personal life if you are comfortable with that. Not only am I trying to learn about swine practice, I’m also trying to learn about the lifestyle of a swine veterinarian.”

--Tracy Ann Raef