One of the easiest and for many the only way to communicate during COVID-19 is through social media. Some may say, however, that social media communication is not the most professional way to stay in contact with a mentor. In my experience, you must gauge your audience when deciding who to reach out to. Personally, I am more likely to reach out to someone who interacts with students in their comments and posts about external experiences at their hospital.
My advice would be to contact them and ask in your message if there is an email you can reach them at or even suggest setting up a more formal video chat meeting to ask questions. Recently, I stepped out of my comfort zone and reached out to Dr. Tannetje Crocker (Pet Vet) on Instagram. She is a small animal veterinarian living in Texas just a few hours from me, making it possible to collaborate and set up an externship or shadowing experience in person during online education. We are currently in the communication stage of the process, and I am looking forward to scheduling an externship with her in the future.
I had a great experience with reaching out to Dr. Crocker, but you should be prepared for the possibility that the veterinarian you are interested in mentorship with does not want to be a mentor for students, may not have the time, or may not be comfortable with facilitating externships during COVID-19. In this situation, I would recommend sending a gracious and professional email or social media message back thanking them for their response and stating you will be in contact again in the future for possible opportunities. You never want to close doors to future opportunities or burn a bridge by sending a rude email back when you are denied the chance to learn from them at that time. They could end up being your boss or colleague someday!
As far as in-person internships and job shadowing during an age of social distancing, this may be a rather difficult request. It is always ok to ask, but make sure you are prepared for a yes or a no. At this time, it is up to the discretion of the hospital owner or your mentor to decide if they are comfortable with having students enter the practice, what they are allowed to participate in, and what stipulations they may have for your daily uniform (including mask-wearing). Here in Texas, it is up to the businesses whether they require employees and clients to wear masks, so be aware of what your state laws are prior to beginning your in-person mentorship program.
The most important advice I have to give you about mentorship is to choose a mentor that fits your personality and career interests and make sure you keep in contact with them often. I know that the pandemic has caused a lot of anxiety for many, especially those with existing anxiety prior to the pandemic, but if someone wants to be your mentor then they are truly invested in your progress and well-being. Do not email them every day, but it is important to check in with them every month or so to ensure that the connection is ongoing. While in college, I worked for Dr. Amber Bowen who shared that she is still in touch with her mentors from veterinary school. It's inspiring to hear testimonials like that, and I intend to keep close contact with her throughout my career as well. Mentors are a great resource for questions, support, and second opinions once new graduates begin working in their field.
Build your network early, and don't worry about having too many mentors. There is no such thing! Having mentors in many fields allows you to cast a wide net of resources that you may need when you least expect it. You never know when you will have an exotic animal come into your Large Animal hospital or a goat come into your Small Animal hospital needing urgent medical treatment.
Mentors in different fields of interest are always beneficial and can teach you a lot about working as a veterinarian, personal life, and above all else, they become a strong support system for anything that you may go through.
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