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Judith Jacobi, MCCM, BCCCP
As an experienced provider who has changed roles several times, I have several perspectives on the role of mentorship in the development of a practitioner. Early in my career, despite exposure to topics and various management styles in training, I rapidly found that I had to develop my own methods. It was sometimes easy to mimic those of my training mentors, but some situations were more challenging. Mentors within pharmacy, nursing, and medicine helped me immensely, both at the start of my career and periodically throughout.
Selecting a Mentor
Before selecting a mentor, I had to determine what I needed from that relationship and those qualities I valued most in a mentor. When several candidates were available, I had to prioritize those characteristics. Conversations with potential mentors, focusing on their goals, experiences, needs, and limitations, can help narrow multiple choices. This is most important if a career mentor is being considered.
My tips for finding a mentor include looking beyond work-related roles. I am a pharmacist but several of my mentors were nurses. I also suggest considering specific focus areas that are important to you, such as leadership, research, or project development. A direct supervisor is often not the ideal choice, because the mentee often reveals insecurities and potential weaknesses. A mentor from a church group or field other than medicine may be preferred for a broader perspective on life and relationships. A mentor should be willing to share time and expertise; everyone the mentee approaches may not be available to serve that role.
The best mentors are those who embrace the opportunity to give of their time and consider it to be an important component of their job. While candid correction and redirection of the mentee may be needed, it should be done without passing judgement. A good mentor often reveals his/her own weaknesses and how the lessons being given helped the mentor to advance. Numerous books are available to help mentors develop their skills. A book I found helpful was The Heart of Mentoring: Ten Proven Principles for Developing People to the Fullest Potential.1
A partnership must develop between the mentor and mentee after they get to know each other, but the nature of the partnership varies with different situations and personalities. Mutual respect is needed. As the mentee, I was responsible for scheduling meetings and was the driver of the process but had to respect the time and resource limits of the mentor. I did not expect the mentor to have all the answers or to make things happen for me but relied on the mentor’s perspectives, leading questions, and advice. Not every mentoring relationship will develop into a long-term relationship. Sometimes it takes a bit of practice to learn how to maximize and sustain it.
Maximizing the Mentorship Experience
There were probably opportunities to take greater advantage of my mentors during my career. Having a roadmap for how to maximize a mentorship experience would have been helpful. Resources are now available for people interested in becoming mentors to learn how to maximize the productivity of the relationship and create an appropriate framework. Although a relationship is needed, the challenges presented by the #MeToo movement have the potential to create tension when men and women are in mentor-mentee relationships. Setting limits on ground rules, such as meeting format and locations, is important from the beginning. An agreement about the goals, measures of success, accountability, and work plan should be established.
The mentee also has resources to learn how to approach people to serve as mentors and set a framework for the partnership. In The Mentee’s Guide: Making Mentoring Work for You,2 the authors suggest a skill inventory to assess baseline strengths in areas such as giving and receiving feedback, self-directed learning, communication, goal setting, effective listening, follow-through, reflection, initiative, and valuing differences. They also suggest that both the mentor’s and mentee’s learning styles be assessed to determine how to mesh well and avoid conflict. Process-related suggestions are also described, including how to achieve closure of a mentoring relationship when goals are achieved.