Healthcare is in a constant state of flux.
As a result, professionals in this industry, no matter their discipline or position, must continually seek out ways to improve their expertise. One way to achieve this is through mentoring.
“Mentorship is critical in healthcare today due to the complexity of our industry,” said Teresa Levey, senior vice president and chief administrative officer at the University of Tennessee Medical Center (UTMC), Knoxville, Tenn.
“There are increasing pressures from the environment, payers, consumers, etc., so having someone with experience who has your best interest at heart and who you can brainstorm with is critical to successfully navigate through the systems today.”
Value of Mentorship
Cultivating mentorship at every level ensures healthcare professionals are prepared for the intricacies of the continuum of care.
Whether it is a new graduate starting their first job or a seasoned professional transitioning into a leadership role, mentoring is an opportunity to build and refine the necessary skillsets for success.
Jeanne Wohlford, vice president of the Heart Lung Vascular Institute at UTMC, found taking on a new leadership role at a new facility was a less daunting transition with the support of her mentor, Levey.
“Stepping into a new position in a new organization with a unique culture can be overwhelming,” she noted. “Teresa [Levey] had a long history with the facility and was there to offer guidance and support.”
“She helped me integrate into the organization and to this day Teresa’s mentoring continues to provide invaluable support as I grow professionally and mature as a leader,” she continued. “Mentorship is a multifaceted relationship that offers healthcare professionals, at all levels, the opportunity to develop their skills and strengthen their career path.”
Mentorship is not a one sided relationship; those who choose to take someone under their wing find the experience equally rewarding.
“When you choose to mentor someone I think there are two things that you realize quickly,” said Levey. “One, you have an accountability to make sure that the information you give and the guidance that you offer is absolutely the best that you can possibly provide.
“That forces you, as an individual, to stay on top of things, to be in the know and make sure that your information is correct,” she continued. “Secondly, you realize that you have the power to impact positive change, not just at the individual level, but at the organizational level as well.”
Finding a Mentor
Seeking out a mentor is not something to be taken lightly. It is important to not only find someone you can learn from, but also someone you can work with effectively.
“When looking for a mentor individuals will often choose someone who sits in a position they want to be in one day, and I don’t always think that is the best approach,” noted Wohlford. “I believe that individuals who want to be mentored should seek out someone they respect and that have the traits you feel will help you make the most of this relationship.”
Wohlford cautions that a mentor should be chosen only after a period of observation. “Pay attention to how the individual interacts within the organization and look at the level of success and positive results their behavior elicits,” she explained. “Also, you want to make sure you find someone you can speak comfortably with and who you can trust.”
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Open Door Policy
Building a positive relationship between mentor and mentee depends on all involved.
“From a mentor’s perspective, you have to have a desire to coach and lead,” said Levey. “It is important to offer frank criticism and conversations, but at the same time to be supportive of an individual.”
“There are various points in anyone’s professional development that require different levels of mentorship,” she continued. “And as the mentor you have to have an understanding of where that mentee is in their timeline of development.”
Just as the mentor has to be open to the experience, so does the mentee. “If you begin the process set in your opinions it can compromise a growing relationship,” emphasized Wohlford. “The mentee must be open to coaching and suggestions as well as have an attitude of self-awareness and the motivation to change when needed.”
“There has to be open dialogue; the mentor must have a clear understanding of what the other person’s goals and aspirations are so that they can offer assistance, added Levey. “Additionally, the mentor has to be accessible to the individual; an open door policy is crucial to building a successful mentorship.”
At the same time the mentee must not wait for their mentor to take the lead. “Do not depend on your mentor to initiate the conversations and meetings,” added Wohlford. “There has to be a two way exchange of information and both individuals must be willing to commit the time necessary to make the relationship a successful one.”
Mentorship can take on many forms through both official and unofficial channels. However, given its importance, facilities should consider building programs that foster support.
“There is always an opportunity for informal mentorship relationships and I think those will and should continue, but I would encourage any organization to consider a more formalized approach, especially as part of their leadership development,” said Levey.
UTMC recently developed a program for its system management team, which encouraged employees to take stock of their skills inventory and to select mentors who they believed could offer them guidance in their development, according to Levey.
“It has been a year since the program started and we have already seen a positive response,” she said. “There has definitely been a learning curve; one of the biggest lessons has been the need for structure to ensure mentors and mentees are on the same page and getting the most from the program.”
Additionally, UTMC has invested in formal mentoring for clinical staff, particularly at the professional nurse level. “This program allows new employees the opportunity to build relationships with seasoned professionals who are there to guide and support them as they build their career at UTMC,” Levey noted. “I would encourage any organization to consider a formal mentoring program because the benefits go above and beyond the individual level.”
“You cannot underestimate the value of informal mentor and mentee relationships, however, an organization needs to be somewhat intentional about their mentoring and that is one of the reasons that we took on the mentoring program here,” added Wohlford. “We recognized its value for our organization’s leadership development and its contribution to our succession planning.”
Healthcare continues to evolve and, therefore, healthcare professionals tasked with providing quality patient care must do the same.
“Mentorship builds the foundation for a brighter future,” noted Wohlford. “It is an investment in quality and ensures that the next generation of healthcare providers has the skillsets to take on leadership roles.”
“Seasoned healthcare professionals have a responsibility to share their expertise,” added Levey. “Healthcare innovation never stops and it never should, therefore, we must work together to maintain a team of professionals with the utmost expertise.
“Mentorship is not a simple task, but it is a commitment worth making,” she concluded. l
Catlin Nalley is a former ADVANCE staff member.