Mentoring Equine Veterinary Students
As part of their graduation requirements, veterinary students must complete externships and other mentorship opportunities to gain practical experience in the field. It is vital to the success of the equine veterinary profession that these students have positive and educational experiences that help move their careers forward, said Judy Batker, DVM, of Country View Equine Clinic, in the village of Oregon, Wisconsin, and Rhonda Rathgeber, PhD, DVM, of Hagyard Equine Medical Institute, in Lexington, Kentucky. They exchanged ideas for improving vet students’ experiences during externships, ride-alongs, and first jobs during a roundtable discussion at the 2023 American Association of Equine Practitioners Convention, held Nov. 29-Dec. 3 in San Diego, California.
Batker, Rathgeber, and the other veterinarians who participated in the discussion agreed that students who participate in field experience opportunities look for:
- The ability to be part of the conversation about patients.
- Mentorship from established veterinarians.
- Mentors that have an interest in the students’ well-being.
How to Incorporate Hands-On Work for Students
Batker and Rathgeber explained that hands-on work has a positive impact on students’ comfort level when working with patients, confidence in their clinical skills, and ability to follow directions, especially in stressful cases. When students are not allowed to perform a task above their level and/or for legal reasons, practitioners can use it as an opportunity to explain the process.
When working with veterinary students, they said, push their abilities in a safe way, but always listen if they express discomfort with performing a specific task. Some roundtable participants recommended practitioners be aware of liability concerns that might arise with students performing procedures. Younger, less experienced students should only perform noninvasive procedures or physical examinations to prove their proficiency before performing more challenging procedures.
When students tour a practice, practitioners should be sure to manage their expectations about what the practice has to offer—Batker and Rathgeber suggested asking students what skills they need to work on but not promising to instruct them on procedures they aren’t comfortable teaching. Students can learn in both large and small practices, so they should tour both types before deciding which is the best fit.
Hosting students for externships, internships, or other learning opportunities can help equine practitioners recruit employees and, with positive experiences, could help increase the number of practicing equine veterinarians. Asking younger veterinarians at the practice to connect with students will encourage them to share more honest feedback about the learning experience, which can help improve the externship program for the future. Established veterinarians should become mentors to students and take a vested interest in their success. Participants in the roundtable discussion agreed that veterinarians seeking to mentor students should network with other practices and educational institutions to find students that are a good fit.
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