The Value of a Mentor

My Take Tuesday: The Value of a Mentor

During the last year of most veterinary school programs, time is set aside for students to spend away from the veterinary school immersed in clinical practice in what is known as a preceptorship. At Washington State University, this is a four-credit (four-week) guided preceptorship experience. 

I didn’t have the luxury of visiting the list of clinics that provided a mixed-animal (a clinic that treats large and small animals) preceptorship because of my chaotic schedule of rotations at the veterinary school. Instead, I sat in an office and read over a binder of information about the possible selections. A new clinic had just been added to the book that was offering a guided preceptorship for the first time. The name of the clinic was Mt. Spokane Veterinary Hospital. It was located north of Spokane, in Mead, right off Newport Highway. I had a gut feeling that this would be the best place for me to complete my preceptorship. I would be the very first student preceptor at the clinic. 

Of all of the training I have received during my career as a veterinarian, I count the four weeks spent at Mt. Spokane Veterinary Hospital as the most influential and consequential in where I am today. 

I found the team at the hospital very welcoming and nurturing. Every team member made me feel welcome from day one. I quickly learned of the flow of the hospital and began assisting in appointments and surgeries. 

Drs. Randy Scott and Luther McConnel were very generous with their time. 

Having a student dampens the efficiency of the clinic as it requires much time and patience. Busy veterinary practices can be extremely intense to the exclusion of student education. I found their practice to be the exact opposite. The case load was vast and diverse, but they took the time to make sure I felt involved and that I was learning about the routine cases that rarely present to veterinary school teaching hospitals. 

Veterinary school does not provide much surgical experience. We learn anatomy and have extensive classroom training on tissue handling and surgery, but actual hands-on surgery is something that is typically acquired away from the veterinary school. 

During my month working with Dr. Scott, I had the opportunity to tweak and refine my surgical skills. Dr. Scott never criticized me, rather he gave me pointers on how to hold surgical instruments and how to precisely use a scalpel and place suture knots. He did this in a manner that was constructive and not condescending. He created an environment of learning. He saw something in me that I did not see. He taught me to trust my skill and my ability as I entered the real world as a practicing veterinarian. He became a trusted mentor. 

Dr. Randy Scott is a truly unselfish person who helped me with little in return. He was genuinely altruistic. He built my confidence, encouraged me to grow, and patiently watched me fall and regain my balance. He saw something in me that I didn’t even know I possessed. 

The word “mentor” as applied to such a person has its roots in Greek mythology. In the Odyssey, Mentor was a character who advised and protected Odysseus’ son Telemachus. A 1699 novel called Les Aventures de Télémaque (“The Adventures of Telemachus”), introduced a character named Mentor who served as Telemachus’ tutor. Mentor was the hero of the story, and turned out to be Minerva, the goddess of wisdom, in disguise. The modern usage of the term “mentor” seems to have arisen from that book.

A great mentor wants you to succeed, and he or she will actively support your success with words and action. The great mentor will never be envious or feel threatened by your growth; he or she will congratulate you on your triumphs and help you recover from your setbacks. The generous mentor will make connections or offer resources that could be useful to you whenever he or she can. Most important, a generous mentor believes in your potential, and communicates that to you freely and with hope. The generous mentor supports you to become the person you want to become.

How grateful I am for the mentorship I received under Dr. Randy Scott. Looking back at all the opportunities I’ve had as veterinarian have pivoted on the training that I received from him. My first veterinary work on deer, elk and moose all began during my time at his clinic. I would have never had the courage to work with reindeer without this essential knowledge base. My surgical skill, from the way I hold my suture and my needle drivers, to the way I perform orthopedic surgery, all began and were nurtured under his mentorship. He taught me that what we did was small and beautiful- but that the animals we helped were precious.

Over the years, I have remained close with Dr. Scott. He has even stopped in to visit my veterinary hospital in Springville. He has done so much for me and taught me so much about science, about life, about everything. My biggest fear has always been in letting him down. I work my hardest so that he can be proud of me and to show him that his trust in me was not wasted. 

The true test of one’s character comes when there exists no sphere of recognition potential, no roar and support of a crowd and no chance of fame or fortune. Being simply motivated by the genuine desire to help others, never entertaining the thought of self-interest, is the defining characteristic of a good mentor. 

If you are lucky, and few of us are, at some point in your life you acquire a good mentor. Timing and chance aligned in my life and I was able to find one. I will forever count this mentor as a cherished and dear friend. 

And that is my take,

N. Isaac Bott, DVM

Pictured are Dr. Randy Scott and I at Mountain West Animal Hospital

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