Skip to content

Bridging the gaps through mentoring, training, career development and outreach

Dr Nicola Parry BVSc BSc MSc DipACVP FRCVS

Fellowship Day 2019

Report of presentation

“Probably everybody here, at some point in their education and their careers, has had the benefit of some great mentors, and also I imagine that many of us have had the privilege and good fortune of being to give back in our profession and to help to mentor other people.”

So said Dr Nicola Parry, an independent consultant now based in the United States who provides pathology support for research groups in academia as well as pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies. She had been acting as a mentor for more than two decades and, over that time, the way mentoring was delivered had changed. “If I look back to my early years in academia, back in the early 2000s, all of the mentoring I did was in person,” she said. Now, all the mentoring she did was at a distance: “I can literally sit at my kitchen table with my laptop or my phone, and thanks to technology and video chats, I can be talking to people who might be 5,000 miles away and doing my best to help them.”

This model of distance mentoring was relatively well described in the medical and health professional literature, but not in the veterinary professional literature, even though many vets would be involved in this type of mentoring.

Dr Parry had first started using distance mentoring about 10 years ago when she moved from one academic post to another in the USA. She had been part of a small pathology team and also head of residency training at the university. Because it would take some time to recruit her replacement, and because she did not want to overburden the colleagues she was leaving behind, she agreed to try to help them from a distance. To do this, she offered structured help by creating a weekly training session that was emailed to the residents for them to work through. She also created mock board exams twice a year. She offered unstructured help by making herself available to residents by phone and email whenever they needed support.

The system worked well, she said – in fact, it went on for six years – and helped to bridge a training gap.

She now used distance mentoring to help vet students and vets who had an interest in a career in pathology. In these cases, most of the mentoring was done via video conferences or email. She could provide help with career development, by helping them to network with the right people, or getting them access to the right resources, or by collaborating with them herself. She also provided career guidance, advising them on things such as choosing externships or residencies, preparing their CVs and applications, and, in some cases, she could act as a referee for an individual she had been mentoring.

Dr Parry also used distance mentoring to work with researchers through an outreach mentorship programme called Author Aid. This programme was helping more than 19,000 researchers in low-income countries to get their research published. It supported them in getting their manuscripts ready for publication by helping them address some of the barriers they faced, such as language and financial and political issues.

She believed that distance mentoring had great potential in the veterinary profession to help bridge gaps in formal training, for professional development, and also for outreach purposes. It might have application in helping to increase the diversity of the profession by reaching out to groups that were under-represented in veterinary medicine – for example, vets could Skype into schools to talk about veterinary careers and the career pathways available. Another way it might be used could be to help students and members of the profession who were looking for mentors from similar backgrounds to themselves.

Dr Parry said she intended to continue with her distance mentoring and would be giving a presentation on distance mentoring for pathology at the forthcoming American College of Veterinary Pathologists’ annual conference. However, she was also keen to explore the possibility of a formal distance mentoring programme, to give the concept greater impact, and she wondered whether the RCVS or the American Veterinary Medical Association might be interested in developing this to help vet students and vets in practice. She suggested that, for example, distance mentoring could be used as part of a peer-to-peer support programme to link existing Fellows with vets who wanted to apply to the Fellowship.

A member of the audience commented after Dr Parry’s presentation that it was not just the mentees who benefited from mentoring, often the mentors themselves got a great deal out of it.