February 27, 2014

PARANDEKAR | Heroes and Mentors

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Throughout grade school, we were often asked, “Who is your hero?” It was a difficult question for me to answer, because I believed that “my hero” should be someone I aspired to be like. Most people would name a relative or famous historical figure, but I wasn’t comfortable with that. I admire my parents (admittedly more now than I did when I was younger) and I respect the work that has been done by people who shaped the world in a positive way, but I don’t necessarily want to be them. So eventually, I settled on James Herriot, a British country veterinarian who started practicing around 1940 and wrote about his experiences, as my hero. A veterinarian and a writer — that sounded like the perfect hero for me.

As I got older, I realized that my heroes were my various mentors throughout the years.

 I think that in veterinary medicine, mentors hold a much more significant role than they do in many other professions. Before applying to veterinary school, they give us an honest overview of the profession — they don’t try to pull the wool over our eyes (literally or figuratively) regarding the difficulties that we will face, both financially and socially. At the same time, they introduce us to the wonders of the profession and their passion for it. All of the lives they have touched (human and animal) is inspiring. I was around 13 years old when I first shadowed a veterinarian. What surprised me the most about the experience (and played a part in making me fall in love with the profession), was the strength of the relationships he had with his clients — many treated him as if he had been their long time friend.

Then, throughout veterinary school, our mentors offer us guidance and support, both practically (How will I ever get blood from a kitten’s vein?) and metaphysically (Who am I? What am I here to do?), as we begin to figure out where our lives are going. I only know a small handful of people who have entered veterinary school with one goal in mind and have stuck to it; most people are forced to reevaluate what they want to do with their lives as they are exposed to new concepts. Although these are usually exciting changes, having a supportive figure is essential to making smooth transitions. When I entered veterinary school, I thought I wanted to be an equine surgeon, but my mentors were even more helpful than my family in encouraging me to nurture other interests. I am so grateful for attending veterinary school without blinders on (pun intended).

After veterinary school, at the time when one might expect the importance of mentors to fade, they become the most vital. Many people have emphasized to me the necessity of working for someone after I graduate who will above all be a good mentor. This is because our first job is likely to solidify our ethics, the methods we use to perform certain procedures and the way in which we think about problems that are posed to us. People ask if the concept of graduating and entering the real world is frightening, and I think that it is not as daunting as it could be because we are not going to be thrust into the world on our own without any help — this would actually be dangerous, both for us and the animals we are going to treat. We are ideally going to enter the profession working for someone who we respect and who can guide us through our formative years.

And then, when we are seasoned veterans, we are going to be the mentors. There is a saying that I hear often, “Watch one, do one, teach one and only then will you know it,” (although, in real life it often takes more than just one time). Only after we are mentors ourselves will we be able to repay the hours of time and care that other people have put into our development. My mentors are selfless people who theoretically have no obligation to me, but are still always willing to take valuable time out of their day to offer suggestions and guidance. I don’t think there could be a better way to define a hero.