November 28, 2009

The Importance of Mentoring

by Joshua Raub, Pharm.D., Pharmacy Practice Resident, Johns Hopkins Hospital

Thinking back over the past five years when I first step foot in Wayne State University’s college of pharmacy to my current residency at The Johns Hopkins Hospital, I cannot help but think of all the influential people that have helped guide me along the way. Throughout this journey, there were many instances where I was faced with decisions ranging from trivial choices such as which elective to take, to life changing decisions such as moving away to pursue a pharmacy practice residency 500 miles from home. With all of the difficult decisions however, one individual in particular stands out as a teacher, a preceptor, and most importantly, my mentor.

The formal definition of a mentor is an individual who serves as a trusted counselor, guide, tutor, or coach1. A mentor is someone with tenured experience within a certain field of practice or profession who lends their knowledge, experience and wisdom to a novice counterpart. The act of mentoring has a longstanding history dating back to the Ancient Greeks with Socrates serving as mentor and teacher to his student, Plato, and throughout the centuries, mentoring has been utilized in many specialized professions including academia, business, the arts, and pharmacy.

Upon graduation and licensure, the new pharmacist entering the workforce has an armamentarium of pharmaceutical knowledge, access to a plethora of primary literature databases, and specialized skills gained during their pharmacy education. Even with this impressive background however, the new pharmacist lacks one key characteristic, wisdom and experience in the profession. The involvement of a mentor not only ameliorates the angst in bridging the academic to the practice world, it allows the mentee to learn from years or decades of practical and personal experience. Mentorship is often described as a symbiotic relationship between two adults who assist each other to meet mutual career objectives in an organization or professional discipline2. Anderson and Shannon further define mentoring as: a nurturing process in which a more skilled or more experience person, serving as a role model, teaches, sponsors, encourages, counsels, and befriends a less skilled or less experienced person for the purpose of promoting the latter’s professional and personal development. The definition of mentorship proposed by Anderson and Shannon highlight five main characteristics a successful mentor must provide:

  • Teaching – assist in acquiring new knowledge, skills, and attitudes for success
  • Sponsoring – use of the mentor’s power and professional status to help the mentee attain their career goals and objectives
  • Encouraging – through affirming, challenging and inspiring the mentee
  • Counseling – serving as advisor and mediator in times of conflict and distress
  • Befriending – creating a longstanding professional and personal relationship

The importance of having a mentor can be seen at every level of ones pharmacy career. Starting pharmacy school can be a daunting task for the first year student. The bar is set high and the expectations are raised due to the graduate level of classes. A new vocabulary emerges, filled with Latin medical terminology, and sentences comprised entirely of acronyms. This transition from undergraduate to graduate level can be quite intimidating, however having a mentor to help adjust to the rigors of the program can prove to be very beneficial. As the student progresses through the pharmacy curriculum and enters into experiential education, a new mentor emerges: the preceptor. Providing a unique and clinical perspective, the preceptor serves as the bridge from pharmacy education to pharmacy practice. Finally, as the pharmacy graduate enters the workforce, they are welcomed with a new mentor, a pharmacist with tenured experience in the field who can help acclimate the new practitioner to the pharmacy practice setting.

I have always valued my mentoring relationships. This form of teaching however, I feel is largely underused. When I think back to my first two years of pharmacy school, I remember having so many questions that went unanswered. The new college, the self-directed learning process, the proliferating responsibilities; all sent me in a whirlwind of confusion and I found myself drowning in the chaos after my first year. I soon discovered I was not alone in this state of uncertainty as many of my classmates felt the same frustration and confusion with no one to turn to. The situation necessitated change and needed an answer. As a result, my colleague, Trevor Wood and I created a student driven mentoring program. The program consisted of matching a third year pharmacy student with an incoming first year student. The third year student serves as a mentor and guide to the new pharmacy student, providing helpful information in the transition to the college, coursework, and opportunities within the profession. The mentor role aided in the professional development of the third year student and also provided a “preceptor-like” role to the mentee; two crucial characteristics of a practicing pharmacist. We also discovered a method to bridge the student-faculty relationship by assigning the mentor and mentee with the same faculty advisor, thus incorporating another level of mentoring in the process. Our program, The Keys to Successful Mentorship was widely accepted, and I am proud to say was adopted by the college and added to the pharmacy curriculum.

Finally, I feel mentoring holds two very important characteristics. First, having one mentor does not preclude someone from having additional mentors. More often than not, an individual will encounter many mentors in their lifetime, each offering a unique vantage point for the mentee. Second, mentoring is a continual process. The lessons, skills, and wisdom obtained by the mentee from their mentor not only aides in personal growth and development, but also prepares the individual to assume the role of a mentor for the next generation. The value of mentorship is great and every individual should be encouraged to utilize the act of mentoring to its fullest potential.


1. Ladd EM. The value of mentorship. J Am Pharm Assc 2008;48:335.

2. Haines ST. The mentor-protégé relationship. Am J Pham Educ 2003;67(3):1-7.

[Editor's Commentary: Having written a review article on this subject some years ago, I too believe that mentoring has a special place in education. Some mentoring relationships exist for a single purpose (e.g. related to specific project or job or organization) - while other mentoring relationships transcend traditional professional boundaries, maturing into deep friendships, and continuing for a lifetime. Similar to a parenting relationship, good mentoring relationships are INTENTIONAL - where the mentor and mentee (or protege) purposefully engage in mutually beneficial activities. In most mentoring relationships, the mentor is responsible for sending the welcoming messages (verbal and non-verbal) that initiates the relationship. Some people seem more able and/or perhaps more willing to enter into mentoring relationships. Some are more capable of nurturing and maintaining many mentoring relationships simultaneously. Mentoring, like teaching, requires the mentor to be mindful of the mentee's capabilities and needs ... and to "let go" when the appropriate time comes. But unlike a typical teacher-student relationship, the mentee enhances the mentor's career by contributing to their mutual work in substantive ways. Everyone should be fortunate enough during their professional lives to have a (at least one) mentor .. .and should be willing to serve as a mentor to others. It is through mentoring that our professional life becomes more satisfying ... and our profession advances. -S.H.]

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