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The Value of Mentoring in Healthcare

Research most successful people today, from famous entrepreneurs to your favorite authors or musicians, and chances are they had a mentor. At some point in their career, they had someone in their field who was more experienced than they were to show them the ins and outs of the business and teach them what was necessary to succeed. 

In healthcare, mentorship is crucial. Studies have shown that those with a mentor were able to achieve more, were better equipped to handle the stress of their position, and were prepared to mentor others themselves when the time came. These results were especially true when it comes to women in healthcare. 

We’ve all heard of mentorship, but what exactly defines it, especially as it pertains to healthcare? We’ll look at what it means to be a mentor in the field, how even those who have taught before can benefit from being a mentee, and some of the dos and don’ts of mentoring in healthcare. 

Defining Mentorship: What is Mentoring in Healthcare?

Like any other field, mentoring in healthcare is the act of taking someone less experienced under your tutelage and helping them to grow. It can be an incredibly rewarding experience for both the mentor and the mentee, but it can also be quite challenging. The idea is to build a mutually beneficial relationship based on respect, trust, and open communication. Only then will you both be able to get the most out of the experience. 

In 2011, for example, a study was conducted on a group of nurses who underwent an 18-month mentorship program. The nurses involved took part in a reflexive exercise in which they wrote a letter to themselves looking back on what they’d gained from the program. During the program, their achievements were also assessed with short essay assignments. The study came to six conclusions based on the participant’s letters:

  1. Mentorship can be a strategy for career advancement and personal development
  2. It was also challenging, putting participants to the test
  3. Participants learned how to be an effective mentor
  4. Mentoring is an ongoing experience
  5. Mentorship helped establish wide professional networks
  6. Participants felt changed profoundly on a personal and professional level on finishing the program

In recent years mentorship programs have cropped up to help underrepresented groups in the world of healthcare, notably women, hoping to elevate more of them to managerial roles. As new mentorship programs grow and focus on the entire experience of leadership, not just a segment of someone’s career development or specific area of medicine, their benefit is becoming clearer and more officials recognize the importance of holistic leadership training. Speaking as part of a 2017 panel of female executives in healthcare, author and instructor Sharon Allen said of leadership (pulled from a compilation of medical quotes on the subject):

If you want a person to achieve a goal, and you don’t understand who that person is, how they work, how they think and how they approach work, it’s going to make your job harder. You can transfer the work, but not the responsibility. At the end of the day, your boss is going to come to you.

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Today’s leaders need to be able to see things from all sides, and understand the work going on at the lower levels of their company, even if they don’t directly take part in that work themselves. 

In many cases, mentorship will happen organically when one person approaches another looking to learn something from someone else’s experience. The mentee will approach the mentor because they already know and respect them and may already have a relationship with that person. It’s fairly obvious what the benefit is for the mentee, but what about the mentor?

Benefits of Mentoring

Those who take on the role of a mentor in healthcare or any field can find several benefits to themselves as well as those they teach. It can push people out of their comfort zones and get them to try something new they never would have before. It can also teach a mentor how to accept criticism, as their relationship with their mentee should be a two-way street. Mentors should learn to be honest with themselves as well as the person they end up teaching while also learning the best way to give constructive feedback. 

As time goes on and mentor and mentee become closer, they can serve as confidants to one another, sharing the stresses of their day to day tasks and figuring out ways to see them through together. At their best, the two become friends and learn to trust one another’s judgement, guiding one another to solutions that might not be clear at first. 

Traits to Look for and Avoid in a Mentor

In a 2010 study published in the Journal of Healthcare Leadership, Hawkins and Fontenot listed the most desirable characteristics of a mentor in the healthcare field:

  • Self-knowledge
  • Strategic vision
  • Risk-taking
  • Creativity
  • Communicative effectiveness
  • Inspiration

A great mentor can have some or all of those characteristics, and overall should help their protege grow, challenging them instead of handing them the answers. This can be a tough balance to strike and is the reason why so many mentor/mentee relationships begin organically; you have to know that you’ll want to work with the other person. If the two of you are well-matched in your personalities, you both stand to gain a lot. 

On the other hand, some mentors are not very effective at all, adopting bad leadership habits that end up doing more harm than good to their mentees. The study mentioned above sorts bad mentors into four categories: 

Avoiders: Seldom or never available, almost impossible to reach

Dumpers: “Sink or swim” ideology, throwing their mentees into the deep end without guidance

Blockers: Micromanage their proteges or keep crucial information from them to block their progress

Destroyers: Undermine everything their mentee does

Being saddled with a toxic mentor can be counterproductive and outright damaging to a person’s career progress and mental health. When looking for a mentor, it’s best to make sure you know who you’re working with right away. Interact with the person and feel them out to get to know what it’s like to work with them. Helping doctors or nurses higher up on the professional ladder with their responsibilities can be a great way to start, especially if they’re a role model of yours. 

How to Get Involved

Being a mentor doesn’t mean you need to know it all, but refining and enhancing your patient care skills could be the first step toward becoming one. At Shawnee State University, we believe in the power of mentorship. Our flexible and convenient online RN to BSN program is taught by instructors with real-world experience, and they’re the same faculty that teaches the on-campus programs. We designed our RN to BSN program to be flexible so you can earn a degree on your schedule. Gain the knowledge you need to take your nursing career to the next level and be able to take on more responsibility.