There has been a lot of discussion in the last several years on the importance of mentoring veterinary students, new veterinary graduates, and even peers. I’ve known many beef and dairy veterinarians who have contributed so much to the education and relationships of current and future veterinarians.

Mentoring in all of its forms

Some people, however, are a little intimidated by the word “mentoring” and perhaps the responsibilities it entails. Mentoring does not in itself mean you have to offer an externship to a student. It can come in many forms of participation.

I’ll tell you about two mentoring experiences in my own life. After years of chemistry and biological sciences in college, I decided not to pursue veterinary school after a lifetime of being involved in the industry through my dad. Instead, I added to my zoology B.S. a B.A. in journalism with emphasis in public relations and science writing, things that were of great interest to me. I didn’t have a clue as to what to do with this interesting but at the time, oddball combination.

It wasn’t until I spent time with a neighbor who was the head of science communications for a global ag company that I found out I could put my scientific knowledge together with what I loved to do, which was write. That one person changed my life and career path, and I have often repeated his words, “Some where, some day, you will use everything you have ever learned.” I have found this to be true on many occasions.

More recently, I was able to be on the giving end of mentoring. My niece who had mostly been raised near Los Angeles and is now a sophomore in college in Nebraska, visited during a winter break. For an upcoming digital photography class she was in need of some interesting photos, so I took her to a good friend’s ranch outside of town where I like to take cow-calf photos, and handed her my camera.

Not only did she spend hours taking great photos and learning that yes, you can take some beautiful pictures of cattle, I had the chance to talk about the ranch, the cattle and the beef industry. She’s been fortunate to make many trips back to Kansas during her life and go to our family farm, ride my horses, etc., and see life outside the big city, but as a young adult facing all types of peer pressure I wanted to reiterate to her the “real facts” about the industry I work in, including my passion for it.

With her interests she’s destined to probably work in an urban environment in the future, but she is going to have an understanding and appreciation for what happens in rural America that I know she, too, will pass on when she gets the chance.

So don’t be afraid of the word mentor. It can be as simple as taking someone out to a ranch, or as life-changing as opening someone’s eyes to a career.