Episode 68 – The Impact of Mentorship in Shaping Veterinary Careers: A Conversation with Dr. Kate Boatwright

episode 68 of the whole veterinarian podcast features dr. kate boatright talking veterinary mentorship
the whole veterinarian podcast episode 68 featuring dr. kate boatright

Let’s dive into the world of veterinary mentorship with today’s guest, Dr. Kate Boatwright. An experienced small animal general practice and emergency veterinarian, Dr. Boatwright is also a celebrated speaker and author. She walks us through the importance of mentorship in the veterinary field, the hurdles new graduates often face, and the idea of a mentorship agreement. We explore her latest book, The Veterinary Mentorship Manual, a comprehensive guide for establishing effective mentorship programs within practices. Furthermore, Dr. Boatwright paints an inspirational picture of her shift into ER, highlighting the significant role a supportive environment played in shaping her journey.

Stacey CordivanoHost00:08

Do you feel like it’s possible to find joy and positive change within veterinary medicine? Are you looking for a community that’s striving for fulfillment rather than perfection? Hey there, I’m Dr Stacy Cordivano. I want veterinarians to learn to be happier, healthier, wealthier and more grateful for the lives that we’ve created. On this podcast, I will speak with outside-of-the-box thinkers to hear new ideas on ways to improve our day-to-day lives. Welcome to the whole veterinarian. Hey everybody, I’m so excited to introduce my guest today.


Dr Kate Boatright is a small animal general practice and emergency veterinarian speaker and author who lives in western Pennsylvania. She enjoys discussing mentorship, the unique challenges facing recent graduates, wellness and the spectrum of care. In March 2023, she published the Veterinary Mentorship Manual, a resource for practices to help guide them in developing solid mentorship programs to support new graduates. In her remaining time, she stays busy chasing her toddler, running, reading and watching movies with her husband and cats. I’m excited to share this episode because I think we can all be better at mentorship and we really owe it to any associates that we’re bringing on to our team to do so. So I hope this episode is helpful for you, and make sure to check the show notes, because I’ll have all of her links to everything we talk about and a special code for a discount on her manual. Talk to you all soon. I hope you enjoy.

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Stacey CordivanoHost02:13

Hey Kate, thanks for being here with me today. How are you? I’m good, how are you doing Good. So I gave a little intro already so people know who you are. But I’m curious if you could talk to us about how this manual came about and how you’ve gotten interested in mentorship throughout your career and how you’ve landed here now.

Kate BoatrightGuest02:35

Yeah. So I graduated in 2013 and I feel like that was when the whole mentorship versus internship conversation was really really at the forefront and really ramping up kind of all through vet school. And I actually started vet school intending to be a board certified surgeon. So I was full bore going the internship residency route until about halfway through second year when I hit major school burnout and was like I don’t want to do this for another four years. So I decided at that point to pivot and focus on general practice.


I was super, super fortunate to find a fabulous practice right out of school in central Pennsylvania and I had multiple wonderful veterinary mentors. The veterinary technician team was super supportive and I didn’t realize at the time how lucky I was. I ended up leaving that practice after a year. I would have stayed there forever, I think, but unfortunately my husband and I hadn’t been able to find jobs together, so we had been living three hours apart the whole first year out of school. Yeah, tough, yeah. So at the end of the year I decided to leave that practice, to move closer to him, and it was the second clinic that I ended up at. I didn’t realize how much mentorship I still needed until I didn’t have it, and not having that supportive environment definitely took a hit to my confidence, my general communication skills, and by the time I left that practice about 18 months later I was really seeking out that mentorship piece again. And that’s when I ended up in ER work again with some fabulous mentors, and that was the clinic where I first moved into the mentor role.


About five years out of school I had done a lot of mentorship of pre-vet students and vet students, but about five years out we hired a new grad at that practice and I took over the primary role of mentor, and just the amount of joy I found in that was amazing and it gave a whole new purpose to my career. And so since then I’ve been wanting to try to support other people. I love working with vet students, I love getting to know them, but I’m only one person. I can only mentor so many people myself, and there’s some great programs out there to provide support to our new grads, but what I saw was missing was providing support to the mentors, and so that’s where this manual came from is to try to provide practices with a blueprint and mentors with some support of how do we set up a mentorship program. How do we support these new grads in small animal practice to really make things a little smoother?

Stacey CordivanoHost05:27

Yeah, no, I think it’s great and I think that’s so helpful to attack it from that side, because I don’t think there’s like any veterinarian that you would ask. It’s like, no, I don’t want to mentor or I don’t think mentorships important, but you do often here and I mean I can admit this for myself Like at times you’re too busy to do that well or even know where to start. So I think that’s awesome that this resource is now out for people. I’m curious, before I ask my next question when you moved into that ER job, did you specifically look for a place that was going to mentor you? Because even just the transition from GP to ER, I can imagine, is a big jump.

Kate BoatrightGuest06:06

Yeah. So it was a clinic that had they had both GP and ER in the same building and and I took the job, as you know a mix of both GP and ER. So I and I was very upfront of like I’m interested in ER but I’m going to need some help. I was terrified of having a bloat come in when I was working by myself because we were an hour from one of the local specialty hospitals and I’m like I can’t, like I’ve never done this before, and I actually they had a prophylactic ester pexy shortly after I started that I was able to like scrub in on and see how that was done and then, like a week later, a bloat came in.


It was on day shift, which was perfect because there were multiple doctors on. I wasn’t actually the surgeon on that day, but the doctor who was in surgery did not like ER surgery and so one of the experienced ER doctors was originally going to do it and I said, hey, could I take the lead on this and do it? And and and she’s like, yeah, absolutely, you’re never going to learn if you don’t do it. I think I got as far as making my incision before I was like, hey, I need some help.

Stacey CordivanoHost07:07

But they were like well aware that that was important to you and you had that conversation. Yeah, yeah got it, yeah.

Kate BoatrightGuest07:12

So they knew. Yeah, they knew from the beginning that I was going to need that. You know that I wanted that support and that was important and so that was part of why I picked that practice. And it was a nine doctor practice so there was plenty of bodies to go around for support and you know, I’ve certainly found, you know, some people you know really love to mentor and are really good at it, and other people are like, yeah, I’ll answer your question if you have it. So you kind of learn, especially when you’re in a multi doctor practice, like who the go to people are Got it yeah.

Stacey CordivanoHost07:42

OK, so I want to dig into some of the learning that you share in the manual. So I’m curious. I know that you’re very active on Instagram that’s how we know each other actually and I’m curious if you get a sense from either what you’re posting or what you’re speaking to readers or followers about, what is like a big ticket item for them to learn about.

Kate BoatrightGuest08:06

Yeah. So I recently did a series of posts on like mentorship mistakes and in my mind, the biggest mistake was not identifying a mentor before you say, hey, we’re willing to mentor, but when I put it out to the larger Instagram audience, the majority of people felt that it was actually not setting expectations between the mentor and the mentee and the clinic management, and that all comes down to what I call the mentorship agreement, and so I think that that’s a really big piece that one of the sections of the manual walks through is what needs to go into this agreement. What do we need to map out ahead of time so that we’re all on the same page, got it?

Stacey CordivanoHost08:50

And so where does this agreement come into place? As far as, like, when you’re bringing someone on, is this like in a contract? Is this specific for the one person you’re hiring at that moment? Is it more general? Say a little bit more about.

Kate BoatrightGuest09:04

Yeah. So I think it can come in as a few different ways. I definitely like the idea of having it in the contract, but there’s a lot that goes in to what I think of as being involved in the mentorship agreement. So I think it’s very reasonable to put a mentorship clause in your contract that says formal mentorship will be provided for six months or 12 months, whatever that length is, and a more detailed agreement will be designed. Certainly I am not a lawyer, so I always say, if you’re putting it in the contract, definitely talk to someone who has those credentials.


But I’ve seen some people that put a more detailed agreement in the contract and I’ve seen others who just say, yeah, you’re going to get mentorship and maybe put a timeline on it, but then you can create the second document. That’s the agreement. I think for practices who have already hired a new grad or who are in that process, I think you can work with them and have the mentee and mentor and the clinic management all sit down together and make this agreement. Or if you’re a practice who says, hey, we’d really like to target a new grad and we want to set ourselves apart, I think having an idea of what an agreement would look like, so that when that new grad comes to you and says what does mentorship look like in your clinic, you can answer that question. So I think it can be very flexible how you lay it out and when you do it.

Stacey CordivanoHost10:29

Got it Okay, so let’s talk about, maybe, that clinic that is trying to set themselves apart. What does an agreement look like to you, or a good one?

Kate BoatrightGuest10:38

Yeah. So I mean I think the kind of a few different components to it. So one is the schedule. So how long is this formal mentorship relationship going to last? I would say a minimum of six months, ideally at least 12 for that kind of formal period.


Obviously, mentorship doesn’t end when you magically hit the one year mark. I’m 10 years out and I’m doing a new surgical procedure next week and you still need support. But having a defined time. And then what is kind of the big picture of the schedule? Are you gonna start with a co-working, shadowing type period where the mentee and mentor are gonna be on the same schedule, seeing the same appointments together, and then moving into preventative care only and then adding in a little bit of sick appointments, kind of gradually easing them in? Are you gonna have extended appointments?


I think it’s really important, especially for new grads. Efficiency isn’t there yet, especially coming from a tertiary care facility and the way those appointments move that are hours long to a general practice that’s seeing 15 or 20 minute appointments. You need some time to get there. So I definitely think that’s a really important thing is giving some more time. I think another really important thing to think about is when is the earliest that you expect the mentee to work by themselves, as if it’s a clinic where you have some shifts where there’s only one doctor on. As a new grad you don’t wanna be left alone for a while, and so I think setting that in writing to obviously we know things change, but having those expectations, so that’s kind of step one.

Stacey CordivanoHost12:25

Do you have thoughts or is this? Can you generalize enough to say what you would recommend as a time period before a new grad is alone at a clinic?

Kate BoatrightGuest12:37

Yeah, so there’s actually there’s a whole page in the manual about that.


I really think it should be close to the end of that formal mentorship period and some of it depends on the schedule too.


And I think, like the clinic where I started, we actually had two locations and so we had a satellite location that was about 20 minutes from the main clinic and only one doctor worked there, but the main clinic everybody else was over there. So I did start working alone, probably a couple months out of school, at that satellite clinic. But I knew that I didn’t feel alone because I had that lifeline of being able to call over to the main clinic and say, hey, this is what’s going on, what do you recommend? Or hey, I’ve got a really sick patient. We didn’t have as many of much equipment at the satellite so it was okay, I’m gonna send them over to you guys at the main clinic. So it does depend a little bit on how your clinic set up, but I also think it depends on just the confidence of the mentee. I think some mentees are raring to go and feel okay, working by themselves pretty quickly, and others do need longer.

Stacey CordivanoHost13:45

Okay, so that makes me think we need to talk about communication. But first I want to ask if, then, like phone a friend counts as like not being so, coming from an equine perspective. Right, we’re often tossed out and we can’t take them in the back and I think that is a hurdle. So is phone a friend like enough? Because that’s what we rely on a lot, and I remember as an I did an internship, but even in my internship, the first time I went to see an emergency I was required to call for the first several months and it was enough. For me it was enough to just phone a friend. So does that sort of if someone’s you know, maybe a solo practitioner in a small animal clinic does that count as being available?

Kate BoatrightGuest14:33

I think it really is up to the mentee. I think for some people, yeah, that’s enough. If I know that I can get ahold of you and you’re there when I need you, I think that’s okay. I think there’s other people who you know are like uh-uh, I want the body in the clinic. So, yeah, I do think there’s some variation in the individual mentee.


But you know, the one thing to consider when you are looking at your schedule and saying, okay, you know, maybe it is three months in that the mentee is going to have a shift by themselves. You know we only have one doctor here on Saturdays or whatever it is is having that plan of saying what is the support system that you have in place and not only having an experience that available by phone, but having your experience support staff scheduled, because I relied a lot, and still do, on my technical staff but, especially as a new grad, to be able to say, hey, how would Dr Cromby handle this appointment? Or, you know, have you seen anything like this before? Can you point me in the right direction? You know it can be super, super valuable. So I think if you’ve got a really experienced support staff, you may be able to get that mentee working alone a little faster because they’ve got that support system built in.

Stacey CordivanoHost15:48

Yeah, that’s interesting. I was in a group discussion about how oftentimes equine practice owner or like advanced practitioner often gets the you know, quote unquote best tech or like the one that’s been there the longest, when in reality that tech should be out with the newest practitioner helping them with efficiency and confidence and stuff. Yeah, totally agree. Okay, so both of those things kind of still come back to this idea of communication and really working one-on-one. So if you sort of developed a general plan and have at least something to offer people who are coming to interview, are there some good questions? Or how do you structure this communication between management and the new grad to get a little bit more specific on what they need?

Kate BoatrightGuest16:34

Yeah. So I mean, I think one of the things you, I mean one of the things you can do is kind of do more of an almost an objective skills evaluation where, like I have a here’s a two-page list of different communication situations client communication, staff communication, different medical skills you know, just rate your comfort with them. You know, if you have someone who you know and of course as a new grad you’re going to not be super comfortable with a lot of things because you haven’t seen it or you know, you saw it once in vet school, second year but you know, kind of seeing where they feel they are, so that you can kind of meet them there. I, as a new grad, one of the things that I prioritized my senior year was getting a lot of surgical experience, knowing that I wanted to go into general practice. So I took high volume spay-neuter rotations and then continued at the local shelter once a month just to keep those skills up.


So when I graduated I felt really comfortable with spay-neuter, which I knew at the you know, especially at that time, was not super common, no, not common, yeah, and you know. So I was able to kind of go into the clinic and say like hey, like, yeah, I want you in there. You know, maybe the first day or two I do surgery just to make sure you think my skills are okay for client animals. But you know, if you, if you’re watching me and you think everything’s good, I’m fine being in surgery as long as you’re in the building. So I think just asking you know, what experiences have you had and what do you want to learn? Like, I’ve never particularly loved ophthalmology. I’ve had a love-hate relationship with dentistry and so those were things where I was like, well, you know, I’m definitely not as confident in those and being able to say that and talk to the mentee is really important.

Stacey CordivanoHost18:19

And then is there a recommended time frame or frequency to be revisiting those skills and talking with between the mentor-mentee relationship about?

Kate BoatrightGuest18:29

that, yeah. So I think it’s really important when the other part of setting the schedule is setting some set feedback times and time for case review, that is really protected in the clinic schedule, whether that’s first thing in the morning or over lunch or at the end of the day, wherever it is that you think it’s really truly going to happen and trying to build that into the schedule for both the mentee and mentor so that you can talk about cases. But then you can also have some targeted feedback of okay, where are we? How are we progressing? You’re doing really great. You’re on 40-minute appointments right now. We’re normally on 20, we think we can start shortening your appointments because you’re getting more efficient.


So I think that that’s another part of the agreement is just setting up. How often are we going to reevaluate? And I think one of the biggest things with the schedule is you can lay out a schedule before somebody starts and say, okay, you’re going to have a month of just preventative care and then we’re going to add on some sick appointments. But once they get into it, you might find, hey, they’re more comfortable with this than we thought they were going to be, we can add some things sooner, or hey, this is harder than we thought. I need a little more time before I feel comfortable adding more in, and so I think we can set everything out on paper, but we have to have some flexibility and that’s where the feedback and the open conversations come in.

Stacey CordivanoHost19:50

Yeah, great. Is there anything that is really missing from what’s needed in an agreement for expectations before I change directions lately, yeah, I mean, I think the last thing is, like you said, just the expectations.

Kate BoatrightGuest20:03

I think it’s good to have kind of a list of who’s responsible for what, what’s on the mentee, what’s on the mentor, what’s the management team’s schedule and responsibilities, just to make sure that things move along how they’re expected to.

Stacey CordivanoHost20:18

Got it Okay. So my next question is as a practice owner, and I imagine this is something you hear a lot Like. Again, no one’s going to say that this is not valuable and necessary, but I’m curious if you hear pushback on the financial aspect of having a mentorship agreement that may be 12 months long, and how do people like wrap their heads around that idea?

Kate BoatrightGuest20:44

Yeah. So I mean definitely, mentorship is an investment. No new grad is going to come out bringing in the same amount of money to your practice as your experience, but who’s even been there one or two years? And so again, I don’t think anyone would argue with that point. And there is some investment in the mentor, their time. They’re going to potentially be seeing a few less cases as they try to support the mentee.


So I haven’t completely figured out all the finances of it yet, but I think for me the biggest point is that if you look at the data of why new grads leave, one of the top reasons across multiple studies is lack of mentorship. So if you hire this person and you’re going to spend the time and you’re going to hire them and you know they’re not going to be super profitable at the beginning, but if you want them to stay for two, three years and try to become a profitable, that you’ve got to invest that mentorship time. Because if you’re not doing anyone a favor, if you bring on new grad, either they get burned out because they’re asked to do too much or they leave because they don’t have that support. In a year it’s at least half of the annual salary to replace that position, not to mention that huge gap in your schedule and productivity while you’re looking. So for me it is an investment, but it’s one that’s worthwhile in terms of trying to keep young vets in your practice.

Stacey CordivanoHost22:17

Yeah, which the replacement costs, like you said, are much more expensive than yeah, just taking a little bit of a hit maybe in your own productivity or things like that. Yeah, great Well, great Well. I know that there’s so much more information in the manual. Thank you for sharing some of it today. Where can people find it?

Kate BoatrightGuest22:37

Yeah, so it is. Currently, if you go to my website, which is www.writewritetheboat.com, there is a link to purchase it there. I am working on building out a whole mentorship section oh cool, that is still in process, but there is a link to buy the manual through there as well as through my social media. There are links there. And I will say, for anyone who’s hearing about the manual on the podcast, if you use code podcast25, I’ll give you 25% off.

Stacey CordivanoHost23:11

Awesome, great. I’ll make sure to share that in the show notes. And then, as far as social media goes, where can people find to connect with you there?

Kate BoatrightGuest23:19

Yep, so I’m on LinkedIn, facebook and Instagram. For LinkedIn and Facebook it’s just Kate Boatwright, vmd, and Instagram is @WritetheBoat.

Stacey CordivanoHost23:30

Perfect, great, and I’ll put all those links in as well. Thank you so much for your time. Last question that I ask everyone what is one small thing that has brought you joy this past week? Ooh, the past week, I mean. You can explain to them what you need to do?

Kate BoatrightGuest23:44

I mean, I obviously find joy in mentorship. We’ve hired a vet who actually was an equine practitioner and has moved into the small animal oh painful. Sorry, it’s weird, it’s hurt my heart, but I’ve really enjoyed. She’s been with us for about six months now and so it’s been a lot of fun mentoring her and there’s a lot of thought I’ve learned from her, I bet yeah.


It’s like I had this crazy paw pad laceration a while back and I was trying to figure out what suture pattern to use. And she’s like, what about the far, near, near, far? And I’m like I remember learning that in vet school but I haven’t done that in forever and she showed me how to do it and worked great. Yeah, yeah.

Stacey Cordivano 24:24

We use mattress sutures a lot. Yeah, that’s awesome. Great example of reverse mentorship as well. Yeah, well, that’s good. I’m glad if she had to leave equine, she found a soft place to land, so that’s good for everybody’s mental health. Well, perfect. Thank you so much for your time and I’ll talk to you soon. All right, sounds good. Thank you so much for tuning in to the Whole Veterinarian podcast. I so appreciate the time that you spend with me. To connect, please find me on Instagram @thewholeveterinarian, or check out the website at thewholeveterinarian.com, and you can sign up for our monthly newsletter as well. Thanks again and I’ll talk to you soon.

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I’m Stacey

I want veterinarians to become happier, healthier, wealthier and more grateful for this life that we’ve created.

I understand the struggles of a stretched-too-thin veterinarian. I have also learned that with some individual work, there is a brighter side to veterinary medicine. Personal and financial development strategies have helped me find a happier place in my life and in my work. I hope to share resources that will resonate with my fellow veterinarian to allow you to become a more whole person.

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