Growing Professionally with a Mentor

Rowell Daniels, PharmD, MS
Published Online: Saturday, March 1, 2003
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Many pharmacists grow professionally by trial and error. This growth may come through taking on additional responsibilities at work or transferring to a completely new job or organization. Some pharmacists grow by getting involved in local, state, or national organizations.

Another way to accomplish well-informed professional career development is with the assistance of a mentor, a great resource for those looking to advance their pharmacy career. The greatest mentors are usually individuals who are experienced practitioners and have established themselves in their field. A well-chosen mentor also will have developed connections within the organization, within the profession, and in local and national organizations. Having such a mentor may prove extremely beneficial and may open up many opportunities for the pharmacist.

Pharmacists may have a different mentor for each stage of their life: high school, pharmacy school, and clinical practice. There are no official ?rules? as to who can or cannot be a mentor. A general assumption is that a mentor should be one?s boss. The boss may or may not be the mentor, however. Another incorrect assumption is that a pharmacist must have a pharmacist as a mentor. A mentor can come from any background. Pharmacists may purposefully seek out another individual who is right for assisting them with their career development, which can be likened to the game of chess. In chess, the most immediate move a player may make is not as important as the next 3 moves that the current move allows him or her to make. The vantage point of a mentor who has made it successfully through those ?first moves? or similar situations is invaluable. A mentor may easily assess issues that may seem insurmountable to the inexperienced ?player.?

A mentor?s job is to push the learner to grow. These growth spurts are obtained by going beyond one?s personal level of achievement. The relationship between the mentor and the learner is very private; confidences are not broken. Great mentors cause learners to self-reflect on who and what they want to be in life. Great mentors also remind learners that there is certainly more to life than work. Great mentors encourage a well-balanced lifestyle.

There are many ways to establish a strong working relationship between the mentor and the learner. Initially, significant time should be devoted to discussing what role each will play in the relationship, as well as what each will derive from the relationship. Spending several hours becoming acquainted is equally essential. Discussion topics should at least include practice philosophy, career goals, and personal aspirations. Mentors also should spend time explaining how they came to be in their current position. This is often a useful reminder, especially to Generation Xers, that professional development and growth require much hard work; they do not come overnight. Regularly scheduled discussions are useful but not necessary. Everyday life will provide the necessary topics for discussion. Agreeing to and setting goals are also a helpful way to ensure a successful relationship; each party should hold the other accountable.

Mentors should have as a requirement knowing their learner. They should constantly be on the lookout for opportunities to help the learner, through reading, participation in projects, or introductions to key individuals. Through a well-established relationship, the mentor is able to critique the learner?s strengths and weaknesses in a way that allows for growth but is not seen or felt as demeaning. When the learner knows that the mentor has only the learner?s best interest in mind, it becomes easy to accept constructive criticism.

There are also many benefits from being a mentor. These benefits include the satisfaction of helping others improve their performance, helping others develop a personal philosophy of pharmacy practice, helping new practitioners by making introductions to key individuals, or perhaps helping practitioners land a new job. Being a mentor also causes a significant amount of self-reflection; it challenges the mentor to question thoughts and beliefs about ?world order.? In addition, being a mentor can result in the establishment of a lifelong, rewarding relationship with a fellow professional.

Regardless of their stage in life, pharmacists should consider the rewards that a mentor?learner relationship may bring.



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