Tip of the Week: Know What to Look for In a Mentor


Evidence suggests there are benefits to a more holistic mentoring approach.

Mentorship is increasingly recognized as critical to the growth, development, and success, particularly for those in professional and scientific careers. The literature is burgeoning with accounts of mentoring programs, recommendations for all parties involved, and reviews of what works and what doesn’t in such programs.

Employers may or may not have a formal mentoring program. For those that do not, it might not be long before they develop one. Until that time, pharmacists can take it upon themselves to find a mentor. Although a relative few might scoff at the idea, most people will be pleasantly surprised and flattered that you have sought them out for mentorship, with the understanding that they are being looked up to and that it represents an opportunity for them to further develop, as well. Still, not everyone is cut out to be a terrific mentor.

Rolfe provides some recommendations for seeking mentorship.1 She recommends that individuals first discern the type of mentoring that they want, including:

  • A traditional mentor, where a person with experience and achievements shares their wisdom
  • A role model, or someone whose behaviors and attitude can by emulated
  • Developmental mentoring, or someone who listens and enables the mentee to set goals
  • Reciprocal mentoring, specifically a relationship where neither party is designated as mentor, but where you serve as a sounding board for one another’s ideas
  • Group mentoring, where one taps into the collective wisdom of a group of individuals each having their own strengths
  • Coaching, which is personalized training to improve performance

In actuality, good mentors and good mentoring programs probably encompass at least a portion of all aspects of these, and evidence suggests there are benefits to a more holistic mentoring approach. Rolfe is correct in that it is important to know what it is exactly you want and to set expectations ahead of time with the person you approach for mentoring.

Rolfe also points out desirable qualities of a mentor, including someone with terrific communication skills, who provides guidance without being directive, devotes time to the process, and maintains confidentiality when asked or as appropriate. Additionally, the mentor should be someone who is respected and who is themselves a voracious learner. Rolfe also encourages mentees to go beyond traditional boundaries, sometimes to seek a mentor who has retired or someone in another organization, or even someone in an entirely different field. Rolfe also reminds us that we do not want to be a clone of anyone else, so it is important to find someone who has checked their ego at the door and is not looking to replicate themselves and receive unmitigated praise.

Mentoring is such an important concept, transcending age and position. Pharmacists can have been in the field for many years and still benefit from mentoring. In fact, individuals perhaps benefitting the most from mentoring relationships are those who simultaneously mentor someone while being a mentee of someone else for entirely different reasons and acquisition of entirely different sets of skills.

Make sure to take stock of the outcomes of your mentoring relationship and determine how well it is working. There is nothing wrong with changing mentors. Pharmacy managers should promote a climate conducive to mentorship and development even in the absence of more formal programming.

Additional information about Managing Yourself for Success can be found in Pharmacy Management: Essentials for All Practice Settings, 5e.


Shane P. Desselle, RPh, PhD, FAPhA, is a professor of social and behavioral pharmacy at the Touro University California College of Pharmacy.


Rolfe A. What to look for in a mentor. Kor J Med Educ. 2017;29(1):41-43.

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