November 20, 2011

Mentoring: Give Back and You’ll Get More

By Jasmine Shah, Pharm.D., PGY1 Pharmacy Resident, Suburban Hospital

In middle school I joined a community tennis program which met every weekend year-round. For the first few years, my only focus was to improve my tennis skills and endurance … until one day my coach asked me to become a mentor for the new students that had just joined the program. I agreed, not really knowing what my responsibilities would be.  I thought it would be fun! Little did I know I would be tutoring, counseling, assigning “homework,” and (of course) teaching tennis! I was starting to feel like I was becoming a role model for these students, especially when they would come to me seeking advice from anything related to tennis, school, friends, family, and more.

Mentoring can be simple or complex, depending on the situation and commitment from both the mentor and the mentee. Research from the University of Glasgow describes mentoring as “a supportive relationship; a helping process; a teaching-learning process; a reflective process; and a career development process.”1 Clearly, this definition exhibits complexity, but that’s the beauty of mentoring. Mentoring can be basic counseling to career development and spans across many fields from the educational setting to work.

There are different types of mentoring including: classic mentoring (one-to-one), individual-team mentoring, friend-to-friend mentoring, peer-group mentoring, and long-term relationship mentoring.1  After reading about these definitions, our tennis mentoring program exhibited the qualities of all these types of mentoring. Mentoring is all about making a difference in someone else’s life, and the research from University of Glasgow states that “the more experienced shall care for and train the less experienced, in a non-judgmental manner.”1   I can honestly say that after I became a mentor, I learned more about myself and how to be a better role model.

Research published in Advances in Health Sciences Education2 explored mentoring in health care educational programs.  The researchers specifically focused on the professional development of medical students. The authors of this study wanted to explore one-to-one mentoring of medical students and examined its influence on theoretical knowledge and clinical competencies. This was a voluntary program with 122 medical students.  Mentors were able to meet with their mentees 1-3 times per semester. The authors concluded that students enrolled in the program had a positive experience and the mentors were able to facilitate their professional development. Students felt a sense of security because they had a mentor to talk to and gain support when needed. Personal issues were also addressed. Lastly, the authors commented that the students enrolled in the program exhibited increased professional competence by “handling relationships, interacting with colleagues, patients and others in a good way and gaining insight into social codes associated with the profession.”2

Mentoring programs in grammar and high school can change a student’s life. The Department of Education designed a mentoring program to expand and improve mentoring for children with special needs.  There are several examples of how these programs help students all over the nation. For example, students interested in medicine are able to shadow a plastic surgeon in San Diego. In another program, students are able to enroll in SAT mentoring programs to improve their scores. If one is fortunate to have a supportive mentor, education and professional development can positively be influenced. You never know when your advice and leadership can lead to someone else’s success.3

How does one become a mentor? I hate to break it to you, but you do not become a mentor overnight.  A good mentor must first believe in themselves and believe that they can make a difference. The best mentor is someone who has been in situations similar to those faced by the mentee and can relate to their situation. A mentor must have a plan regarding how they will help their mentee and how they will help them acquire new knowledge, skills, and attitudes. I would recommend reading teaching and mentoring books in order to gain insight on how to be a great mentor. Most importantly, a mentor must consistently be in contact with their mentee in order to establish a lasting relationship.  Phone calls or regular face-to-face discussions are a must.

Some experts say that mentoring is not well-defined and is poorly-researched. This may be true, but I strongly feel that mentoring has as much to offer.1 After being part of the tennis program for nearly 7 years, I started a tennis program with two of my colleagues. We are still in touch with every one of our students that we mentored. The best part is that these students have now become mentors to a group of newer students. It’s a rewarding to see new mentors for a new generation!

1.  Hall JC. Mentoring and Young People: ALiterature Review. Research Report 114 (2003). Web. Date Accessed: 5 Nov 2011.

2.  Kalén S, Ponzer S, Silén C. The core ofmentorship: medical students'experiences of one-to-one mentoring in a clinicalenvironment. Adv Health Sci Educ Theory Pract. 2011 Jul 27.

3.  About the U.S Department of EducationMentoring Program. U.S Department of Education. Web. Date Accessed: 6 Nov 2011.

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