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Strategies for Finding a Mentor or Mentee

Choosing a compatible mentor is critical to the success of the relationship. The choice should include someone with the desire, time and expertise to fill this role. Selection is usually based on these principal attributes:

  • Education and areas of interest, including specialties
  • Ability to communicate effectively
  • Proven leadership and ability to define goals
  • Other personal and professional issues
  • The type of mentoring relationship desired
  • The time commitment and the out comes desired

Mentors can be chosen from one's own workplace, elsewhere in the profession, or even outside the profession. Mentees may look to an AAHA practice for a mentor; AAHA accreditation assures the mentee that they are joining a practice that adheres to the highest standards of patient care.

Mentees may talk to school faculty for ideas, or use their networking skills and contacts within other associations to meet potential mentors. They may find a mentor by talking to their employer, peers, and co-workers.

The mentor is often a coworker or supervisor in the practice setting. This makes sense when the mentee is developing medical or communications skills. A new graduate's ultimate success and long-term career satisfaction may depend on having a mentor.1,8 However, there is some disagreement about whether every practitioner needs to be a mentor. Practitioners who do not have the time or inclination to be a mentor can still assist their newest colleagues with advice and guidance on finding a mentor or mentors. Also, mentoring is a skill that can be learned and improved through good training, such as that provided by AAHA.B

Some employers or new associates may assume that a mentoring relationship will ensue with the employment of a new graduate. However, it is critical to make those assumptions explicit. If mentoring is already part of the clinic culture, the new person will be assured of being matched with a mentor by the employer.

If a distance relationship is considered, both parties must make an extra effort at communication, and it is recommended that an occasional face-to-face meeting be arranged. A common example of mentoring-at-a-distance is the relationship between a teacher and former student.13 Another might be when the mentee has a specific focused goal or project for which assistance is helpful.

How does a mentee ask someone to be a mentor? When initiating the relationship, a face-to-face meeting is always the best way to begin your discussion. You may initiate an introductory meeting by sending a letter of introduction from yourself or a colleague. Then, a follow-up phone call or e-mail may be used to schedule a meeting.2

Once both parties agree to establish a mentoring relationship, consider using a list of "action steps" to guide your discussion (Table 2).14,15 Also, discuss common fears and concerns, focusing on those of importance to the mentee (Table 3).

Consider creating an agreement

A written agreement is considered essential by some. Others may find a verbal agreement is enough, especially if they are not employed at the same practice.

The absence of a written agreement does not decrease the value of the mentoring relationship. However, it is important that both parties have a very clear understanding of the intent of the agreement and of their expectations, regardless of form. Just as work agreements should be fluid and change as needs change, so should mentoring agreements be viewed as an ongoing process and adjusted accordingly.

Verifying verbal agreements in writing serves as a tool to ensure mutual understanding and to confirm the relationship will be beneficial to both parties.8,16 The mentor can get ideas from associates and the practice team about what might be included in a written mentoring agreement. A written agreement can be an addendum to an existing work agreement, or a separate agreement. Consider including mentoring guidelines in employment agreements, outlining the goals of the relationship and how those goals are to be accomplished. If no written work agreement is in place, resources are available for help.16