Kimberly E. Casteline, Ph.D.
A recent article in Advances in Medical Education and Practice pointed out that mentors can play a key role in developing clinical skills, modeling professionalism, stimulating interest in research, professional development, and more. In essence, clinicians need mentors to effectively navigate the complexities of medicine, in medical school, as junior doctors, and beyond.
That need to receive mentorship, means that there is also a need for clinicians who are willing to be mentors, to “pay it forward” so to speak. To broaden their scope of service beyond patients to other caregivers. In contrast with a teacher who conveys and then assesses knowledge mastery, mentorship can best be distilled as guidance. Mentors shepherd mentees towards specific short or long term goals. Whether it was over years, over a semester, or just over coffee, all of us can recall someone that took the time to offer guidance that made a crucial difference in our professional journey.
So how do we “pay it forward”?
Certainly the thought of making a long-term commitment that will require a lot of time and effort is daunting. But that absolutely does not need to be the case. There are really just two criteria to get started as a mentor, and if you’ve read this far, you very likely already possess both of them.
One: The desire to connect
Having the willingness and desire to share your skills, experience, or expertise with other clinicians is the first step to being a mentor. Building on that desire leads to actively listening, noting the mentee’s goals, and establishing trust. Making the mentee comfortable enough to verbalize their vision of the future is often enough to kickstart a solid action plan, while other times mentors need to provide direction and even some prodding to get a mentee on the right track. The most valuable contribution a mentor can make is to help their colleague see possibilities that they had never considered, skills that they hadn’t thought to develop, or opportunities that they didn’t know to seek out.
Two: The opportunity to connect
There are many opportunities to build mentoring relationships without investing massive amounts of time. There are professional organizations that sponsor micro-mentoring opportunities at conferences to allow early-career professionals access to those more established in the field. There are organizations that host stand-alone events like speed-mentoring, where small groups of mentees meet with an expert to get advice on a specific topic and then rotate to the next expert. And of course, educational settings also offer lots of opportunities for mentoring. Many medical schools (and undergraduate medical programs) pair students with established clinicians as mentors. Continuing medical education, as well, offers the chance for healthcare professionals to share their expertise. Education built on social learning, in particular, is closely aligned with mentoring. Mentoring in a social learning context means helping learners meet their learning goals by modeling knowledge acquisition through collaborative learning and peer-to-peer exchange. The Gather-ed platform (http://www.gathered.com) is one example of continuing medical education that offers clinicians mentoring opportunities in a social learning environment.
In conclusion, mentoring does not have to be daunting. In fact, taking the time to “pay it forward” can be fun and rewarding. And we never know what impact our words and guidance will have over the long-term. Helping health care professionals enhance their skill sets will ultimately lead to better patient care. So when you put sincere effort into mentoring you can rest assured that the good work you are doing is having an important impact.