Mentoring has become a hot issue in the past few years, due in part to the decreasing number of veterinary students choosing food animal and rural veterinary medicine. Many bovine veterinarians I speak to can point to mentors who influenced them into choosing food animal medicine and they say those experiences have been invaluable to their careers.

These relationships are going to be more important because bovine veterinarians are going to have to “train up” these students, says Steve McDonald, DVM, Dry Fork Veterinary Clinic, Henrietta, Texas. McDonald has served on the board of the Academy of Rural Veterinarians since its inception several years ago and is its executive director. “Veterinary school is all about facts, data, technology, and most importantly, learning how to think,” says McDonald. “It is increasingly up to us to show students and teach them what being a veterinarian truly means. We have become accustomed to industry and academia doing the heavy lifting for us, but training and retaining new associates, as well as our replacements, if not done by us, simply won’t be done.”

In this issue of Bovine Veterinarian you’ll find two articles on mentoring that talk about the value of these relationships and how to get started if you haven’t reached out to students before. I also polled bovine veterinarians and veterinary students on the do’s and don’ts of hosting students for externships, from both the mentor and the student’s perspective. Not every externship or mentoring relationship is wonderful, but with careful planning you can avoid some of the problems others have experienced.

Some veterinarians who contacted me have made mentoring and hosting students an art form and may get as much out of the experience as the students do. “It’s better to invite a student into your entire life for a few days than just into your clinic for a few weeks,” says Jill Colloton, DVM, Bovine Services LLC, Edgar, Wis. “Technical skills can be acquired many ways, but seeing how bovine medicine can be a part of a complete, satisfying life is a rare opportunity that can only happen if we allow students into our homes and make them a part of our families and communities, even if only for a short time.”

“I can’t, as an average practitioner, march on state and nation’s capitols,” states McDonald. “Neither can I force the dean to accept more country kids or change the curriculum. I can, however, help a few prospective students overcome their fear of rural practice. If all of us could reach out to just a few, the problem would go away.”

While all of this sounds warm and wonderful, some people are not cut out to host students, and that’s okay, too. But if you are, then give it your best.  “Love your job,” says Colloton. “If you can’t honestly say more than 80% of your work is good and less than 20% is bad, don’t host a student.”

Geni Wren, Editor/Associate Publisher

Next issue of Bovine Veterinarian: October 2007