Ms. Wick is a senior research pharmacist at the National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland. Dr. Zanni is a psychologist and health systems consultant based in Alexandria, Virginia. The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and not those of any government agency.
When Odysseus (of Greek mythology) left his friend Mentor to educate his son as he left to fight the Trojans, little
did he know he was starting a trend.1 Today, the word mentor is used interchangeably with tutor, advisor, role model, and preceptor. Mentoring relationships (Table 1)—whether formal onsite training programs or informal peer support—have the same purpose: to increase mentees' skills and confidence so that they reach their career potential. Unlike classroom education, mentoring is always person-focused; objectives include more than mastering subject matter. Instilling professional self-confidence is a core component.
Mentoring relationships in health care typically involve pairing a seasoned, well-credentialed clinician with newly graduated professionals and/or those new to a system. Mentoring relationships are essential to career development, shaping both work habits and professional identity. They often have a lifelong impact. Most practitioners can readily name past mentors who influenced their careers significantly. Interestingly, 1 survey found that up to 58% of respondents indicated a direct supervisor was their most effective mentor, followed by 35% who stated a manager or supervisor from a different department was their most effective mentor.2 These data support the position that good supervisors are more than mere performance evaluators and planners; they take a genuine interest in the person's professional development. Many professionals state they perceived their mentors as friends and even confidants.2
Implementing effective mentoring programs requires careful planning and evaluation. Mentoring relationships must establish goals and objectives for both mentors and mentees with measurable outcome criteria. Table 2 lists some guidelines that facilitate successful formal mentoring programs.
Heading Off Problems
Even the best planned program may encounter problems. It is important to address potential obstacles early.
- First-time mentors also need some mentoring. Many underestimate the time (and personal commitment) involved, especially when mentoring a well-motivated, but struggling or marginal young professional. Some programs pair a new mentor with another mentor, and they share the mentoring relationship.
- Successful mentors are in high demand, and overburdening them is always a risk. Ideally, the number of mentors should exceed demand.
- Do not overstructure; mentees need to have some flexibility and independence. At times, this may result in less than optimal performance, but learning from one's mistakes is an important career component. Correcting a mistake is only half the remedy; explaining its potential impact on patient care is the other and more important half. Young professionals may not always see the larger issues.
- Adhere to regularly scheduled meeting times with designated objectives. Sessions should begin with assessment of progress, especially if the mentee was given assignments.
- Acknowledge up front that the ideal mentoring relationship is built on respect. The mentoring environment should cultivate a healthy discussion of mistakes and errors with a focus in performance improvement. Mentees must truly believe it is okay to make mistakes.
- Intervene early if a mentoring relationship is not working, regardless of the reason. A poorly matched pair is unlikely to improve. One meta-analysis found that lack of time or professional expertise, as well as mentor-mentee mismatches, are frequent causes for failure.8
Benefits for All
Mentoring benefits extend beyond the pharmacy. Mentees experience increased career satisfaction, manifest more positive job attitudes, and are promoted at a faster rate than others. Mentors, too, accrue additional benefits, including faster promotion rates. Data also suggest that organizations supporting mentoring programs have lower turnover rates and increased employee loyality.3,8-10
Good mentors are good professional role models who deservedly earn respect from peers and supervisors. Professional
growth would falter without them. Pharmacists at first reluctant to volunteer as mentors may find it professionally and
- Leh ASC. Lessons learned from service learning and reverse mentoring in faculty development: a case study in technology training. Journal of Technology and Teacher Education. March 2005;13:25-41.
- Starcevich M, Friend F. Attributes of effective mentoring relationships: partner's perspective. Center for Coaching and Mentoring Web site. www.coachingandmentoring.com/mentsurvey.htm. Accessed November 3, 2008.
- Mentoring: current trends. Insala Web site. www.insala.co.uk/rss.asp. Accessed January 28, 2009.
- Starcevich M. What is unique about reverse mentoring: survey results. Center for Coaching and Mentoring Web site. www.coachingandmentoring.com/reversementoringresults.htm. Accessed November 3, 2008.
- Evans J. Mentoring magic. Scientist. 2008;22:71-72.
- Mincemoyer C, Thomson J. Establishing effective mentoring relationships for individual and organizational success. Journal of Extension. 1998;36(2). www.joe.org/joe/1998april/a2.php. Accessed January 23, 2009.
- Elements of effective practice. Mentoring.Org Web site. www.mentoring.org/find_resources/elements_of_effective_practice/. Accessed January 23, 2009.
- Hansford BC, Ehrich LC, Tennent L. Formal mentoring programs in education and other professions: a review of the literature. Educ Admin Quart. 2003;40:518-540.
- Gibb C. Someone To Look Up To. J Accountancy. 1999;5:89-93.
- Lewis GL. The Mentoring Manager. London: Pitman Publishing Company, 1996.