Whether you are a mentor, have a mentor, or want a mentor, this episode’s for you. I break down four domains–four ways of thinking–about mentoring and mentoring programs that may be helpful to you in the health professions.
A couple years ago, I had a set of conversations with a physician in Academic Medicine who was interested in restarting the mentoring program at her medical center. mentoring has been in the news lately. It’s been on my mind because I believe it has some capacity to help with clinician well-being, so I’ve been thinking back on what I was talking about with this physician.
In this episode, I’m sharing here some ways of thinking about mentoring and mentoring programs that may be helpful to you–whether you are a mentor, have a mentor, or want a mentor. Or maybe you’re in a position to do something about the mentoring program in your institution. I’m going to break down four domains, kind of general areas, that you’ll want to keep in mind when you think about mentoring.
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Why am I talking about mentoring, on a health communication podcast series?
You know I advocate for collaboration. I recommend using many of communication and education strategies and tools here on this podcast alongside some like-minded colleagues. I believe in the value of learning in communities, across the professional lifespan.
I’ve also been researching mentoring in education and in business over the past 9-10 years, starting with my dissertation research.
I won’t pretend this is a simple topic to talk about, certainly not in ten minutes. But I will offer here one way to help make sense of the complexity around mentoring.
there’s no lack of research on mentoring in the professions. There’s so much to choose from. There are different models of mentoring, different types of mentoring, different definitions of mentoring, people argue about the differences between mentoring, supervision, and apprenticeship.
The health sector has taken up mentoring with gusto over the last decade. However, according to the authors of a 2013 article about the role of mentoring in modern medical education:
“Despite its inherent value, mentoring appears to be less abundant or available than it should be”
More and more medical schools are providing some kind of mentoring, one-to-one mentoring or small-group mentoring. informal mentoring can and does happen.
Let me just be clear: I’m not recommending a program or model or approach.
Instead, this is a way to organize your thoughts, as an individual, but also being able to keep an eye on any larger, formal programs you are or might be in.
So here are four domains, general areas to think about, along with some questions you might ask, to help you have a clear head about what you are doing.
- Purposes: Where do you want to go and how do you think mentoring will help get there?
This is the big question, isn’t it?
Your purpose for engaging in mentoring is essential to define. Partly because different models of mentoring might be more or less applicable depending on your purpose.
A review of ten years of literature on mentoring in medicine points out how different mentoring program goals are in medicine. Some possibilities include:
- Career choices and academic advancement
- Provider preparation for diversity and equity
- Individual growth and career advancement
- Development of talent in terms of career trajectories, research output, or building the pipeline
What do you think are or should be the goals of the mentoring program at your institution? What do you have in mind that is NOT captured by current goals?
- Roles and relationships: Who’s there, and why?
There’s plenty of research looks at the roles that mentors and mentees play or ought to play.
Mentors’ roles and responsibilities, and their reasons for being involved, vary widely. The delightfully titled Being a Mentor: What’s in It for Me? looks across disciplines and draws attention to the bottom line for mentors. (Of course, links in the notes!)
And it seems everyone’s got something to say about the traits that good mentors/mentees ought to have.
As the physician I worked with knew from her own med school mentoring experience, being a good provider is not synonymous with being a good mentor. Or mentee.
There’s a range of ways people mentor. it depends, among other things, on what you consider the purpose of mentoring to be. Which is why I started with purpose.
Mentoring is sometimes characterized as a relationship, rather than a set of roles with a set of preconceived duties. This is good to know. But this does not necessarily make things easier.
The study Having the Right Chemistry: A Qualitative Study of Mentoring in Academic Medicine, “uncovers the complexity of the mentoring relationship.” the authors argue that, “Mentoring relationships are key to developing productive careers in academic medicine, but such alliances hold a certain ‘mystery.’’’
Speaking from my experience, I’ll encourage you bring together people from different backgrounds who will play different roles in your mentoring program, and collaborate on possibilities roles and responsibilities. Might also help to build in a schedule where these roles and responsibilities get regularly revisited. Also, think about what happens if you, or those involved with mentoring in your organization, aren’t simply born with ‘good’ mentor/mentee qualities? Again, speaking form experience here. How are these qualities encouraged, and how are these people going to be supported?
- Form and content of mentoring interactions: When and where do you interact, and what do you do together?
This is about logistics and structure. How are you facilitating mentoring, in keeping with your purpose? Consider what mechanisms are in place, or needed, for collaboration and support of everyone involved.
- Is mentoring voluntary or required? Does mentoring ‘count’ in your organization in terms of productivity or scholarship or other requirements?
- Do mentors and mentees speak in person? Do you email?
- Does it make sense to have a regular, usual meeting location, or will ad-hoc interactions be enough?
- What counts as a mentoring interaction? Are a certain number of interactions expected?
- What are the expectations for what will (and won’t) be done or talked about? (This article talks about some varied topics covered in mentoring interactions.)
- What about those mentees who don’t achieve traditional benchmarks?
- What institutional structures could support the kinds of mentoring you are enacting? Now I mean here, are there institutional common meeting times, or days where most people have a large block of time because of the schedule? Are there already existing collaborations? Or are there initiatives that have a lot of excitement and energy going? Think about these as places that could also be spaces for mentoring.
- Assessment/evaluation: What are the mechanisms by which mentoring is being assessed or evaluated?
This is about your tools, resources, or strategies for evaluation and assessment.
I encourage you to think carefully about these instruments that you’re going to use to assess the progress and performance of mentors and mentees. One 5 year study of a large-scale mentoring program for medical students found that “defining ideal program evaluation strategies” remains challenging. And that’s not even making the strategies up, right?
There’s no shortage of assessments out there. I encourage you to think about choosing instruments that reflect your purpose. Instruments that also reflect the roles and responsibilities you’ve set out for the participants.
That is, you don’t want your priorities in one area to accidentally conflict with priorities in another. And achieving this kind of program cohesion can be a little bit trickier than it sounds. But it’s doable.
For instance, if you value collaboration in your roles and relationships, you don’t want all your assessments to reward competitive behaviors.
Let’s be honest here: assessments are also about institutional expectations. Are you going to have to demonstrate replicable ideas of “what works”? Will you be asked to give reports of mentoring program success? If your work is funded, what do funders want to see?
Overall: what kinds of evaluation might serve your purposes and their requirements?
Mentoring is hard work. And contrary to what some people think, it costs money. And it doesn’t happen overnight.
After talking with this physician, I find myself wondering if traditional notions of mentoring are sufficient to address the changing conditions of health care and health professionals’ education. Whatever arrangement exists in your organization, I’ll invite you to think about having space for new ways of thinking about–and enacting—mentoring. Ways that can be locally developed in response to the strengths and needs of the people involved.
Want some more help I this? Contact me. Go to healthcommunicationpartners.com. This has been 10 Minutes to Better Patient Communication. I’m Dr. Anne Marie Liebel.