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by Jen Phillips, PharmD, BCPS, ICHP President
Recently, I received a very nice note from a student thanking me for taking the time to write letters of recommendation for her. I had worked with her in several different capacities during her pharmacy school journey, so I had many positive things to say. However, in the thank you note, the student went on to note how appreciative she was of all of the time we spent together, how much she valued the mentorship she received, and how she planned to “pay it forward” and look for opportunities to mentor others in the future.
This note was very inspirational to me for several reasons, and it made me start thinking of the concept of mentorship and how important it is to professional development. The word “mentor” comes from Greek origins -- in Homer’s Odyssey, a character named Mentor served as a teacher and guide to the character Telemachus and helped him through very difficult times.1 Over time, the word mentor has come to signify someone who gives support, guidance, advice, or assistance to a less experienced individual. In order for a mentor-mentee relationship to be successful, there must be mutual respect and trust as well as a commitment on both ends to invest the time and energy needed to make the relationship successful.
Are you a mentor to an employee, a student, a technician, or a peer? If so, then thank you for your contribution; your efforts will undoubtedly help both that individual and the profession grow. If you answered no, then I encourage you to think about why you are not. Below is a list of reasons I have heard (or used myself!) followed by suggestions to turn those “challenges” into viable opportunities.
I am not qualified. One study analyzed the most important qualities of outstanding mentors and identified the following themes:2 (1) Great mentors exhibit enthusiasm, compassion, and selflessness. (2) Great mentors act as a career guide by helping the mentee establish a vision. (3) Great mentors make time to meet regularly with their mentee and have high-quality meetings. (4) Great mentors support a quality work-life balance. (5) Great mentors leave a legacy of how to be a good mentor. The qualities described above may seem daunting or unreachable to some, but remember that these are the characteristics of “outstanding mentors”. Greatness takes years of practice and refinement through self-reflection and you do not have to be an outstanding mentor to have an impact on someone’s career. Even if you are just starting out as a new practitioner, you probably have tons of advice to give to pharmacy residents or students or even high school students considering the profession of pharmacy.
I do not know what to do. Being a mentor is a lot of responsibility, but I assure you, compared to pharmacokinetics, it is a piece of cake! There is no official instruction book on how to be a good mentor, although there are several websites, articles, and books readily available on the topic. Resources that focus on how to develop others and give effective, constructive feedback may be especially helpful, since lots of feedback is often needed to construct an effective mentorship that develops the mentee. Another great resource may be your own experience. Take some time to do some self-reflection on how you benefited from the relationships you had with current or previous mentors. What did that person do to make you trust them? How often did you meet with them and did you feel that was sufficient? How would you change the organization and/or content of the meetings you had? Perhaps one of the most important parts of being a mentor is to remember that your role is not to change the individual, but to help them learn how they can change themselves. A quote I read recently summarizes this concept nicely: "The greatest good you can do for another is not just to share your riches, but to reveal to him his own". (Benjamin Disraeli)
I do not have the time. In the fast-paced, task-oriented world that we live in today, there are often competing priorities, and it may seem difficult to find the time to build an additional relationship. However, when deciding on whether to become a mentor, I encourage you to also weigh the benefits of being a mentor, as assuredly, they are not all one-sided. Yes, the mentee benefits from the additional guidance, but the mentor can also benefit from the relationship. Mentors may find the relationship to be a rewarding and/or professionally fulfilling experience. They also may view it as an opportunity to “pay forward” all of the mentorship they received at the start of their career. Others may find that helping guide someone else has a positive impact on renewing their own interest/enthusiasm in the profession. Not all mentorships are created equal, and some may involve more or less time, depending on the availability of the mentor and the mentee. The most important thing to consider is that the mentor and mentee have compatible expectations with regard to the time requirement and that this boundary is respected by both.
I do not know how to find a mentee. There are many formal mentorship programs available. Many of the Illinois Colleges of Pharmacy have programs in place and they are always looking for volunteer mentors. Some workplaces have formal mentorships in place to help transition new employees into the workforce. If your institution does not, this may be something that you can request from your supervisor. Or, you may seek out a less formal relationship – perhaps with someone who always asks for your advice. Make it known to others that you are interested in helping them succeed and I assure you, you will find someone to mentor.
Mentorship can be a highly rewarding experience for both the mentor and the mentee, but it does require work and commitment from both sides. However, I do feel that most of us are capable of being mentors. Most of us are pretty good at identifying opportunities for improvement in others, which is a good skill of any mentor. However, it seems to me that, sometimes, more time is spent complaining about the faults of others as opposed to helping the person ameliorate their short-coming. Think about how much quicker we could evolve as a profession if we directed that energy in a more positive direction and opted to develop the individual instead. I challenge you all to think about being a mentor, especially the next time you notice an opportunity for improvement in someone else.