One day in January of this year, I walked into the exam room to see Spike, a bearded dragon. “Well what seems to be the problem with Spike today?” The client replied, “he seems lethargic and doesn’t want to eat much. I’m very worried about him.” I paused, and quickly reflected on my previous experiences. After a moment, I assured the client that we would do what was needed to determine Spike’s problem, and make a treatment plan. I took Spike to the treatment area, weighed him, performed his physical examination, and took a blood sample. Soon, a treatment plan was underway, and Spike was on the road to recovery.
People go to the veterinarian’s office and assume the vet will know exactly how to help their pet feel better. After all, after years of schooling and after passing licensing boards, a veterinarian should know how to treat every animal and every medical problem that walks in the door. Yet learning should not come to an end once a degree has been earned. All of us continue to grow with the help of colleagues and mentors. Our ancient sages famously taught: “Aseh lecha rav, knei l’cha chaver,” “Obtain for yourself a teacher - acquire for yourself a friend” (Pirkei Avot 1:6). How true! Having an experienced mentor is critically important to the success of any newly minted veterinarian.
After graduation, I felt I was prepared to begin practicing as a vet. Yet almost every new case I faced involved a new challenge. Two years ago, had I walked into the room with Spike the bearded dragon, it might well have been the first time I had such a patient. I had the basic knowledge I needed, but I may never have faced the particular malady that was making Spike ill. Yet after two years of intensive work and a variety of meaningful experiences, I have grown in every way. Much of this growth is due to the mentoring of my senior colleague, Dr. Peter Hill; I’ve acquired an extensive knowledge base that has equipped me to treat a wide variety of animal species. At our animal hospital, we are qualified to treat dogs, cats, birds, small mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and even fish. In just one day, I may have the opportunity to vaccinate a new puppy, treat a snake for intestinal parasites, trim the wings of a bird, and treat a guinea pig for lice. Knowing that I had a goal of working with exotic species, each day has brought on different, yet equally challenging cases that have tested my knowledge. One thing that remained constant was the guidance and encouragement from my colleague, Dr. Hill.
It is imperative for anyone entering a career to have a skilled teacher who will serve as a mentor. All professional neophytes need an experienced veteran with whom to discuss ideas, ask advice, lean on for help — who will lay the needed foundation for a successful career. Remember, when you bring your pet in to see a veterinarian at a veterinary clinic, that professional has become a more capable care giver because of the capable teachers and caring mentors who helped along the way.