If you’re in an HM leadership position, don’t be surprised if you’re asked to be a mentor for a less-experienced hospitalist. Why should you voluntarily spend valuable time sharing your guidance and advice? Because to lead is to mentor, and when you dive into the process it rewards all parties involved.
To Lead Is to Mentor
Whether you were just promoted or you’re a leadership veteran approached for the first time by an eager new hospitalist, don’t hesitate to add mentoring to your schedule and responsibilities.
“When you start out as a leader, you get where you want to go by being a mentor,” says Eric E. Howell, MD, director of Collaborative Inpatient Medicine Service, Department of Medicine, Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, Baltimore and faculty for SHM’s Leadership Academy. “You gather disciples, as it were, who will then see you as a leader and support you as a good leadership choice.”
Not only that, but mentoring can add to your skill set as a leader, says Joan C. Faro, MD, FACP, MBA, chief medical officer at John T. Mather Memorial Hospital, Port Jefferson, N.Y. “If you’re interested in developing leadership skills, it’s one of those things you need to do, and do well. If you can’t mentor, then you really can’t lead.”
Plus, when you mentor, you get to feel the reward inherent in helping a young physician whose shoes you once filled. “It’s like raising a kid,” says Dr. Faro. “You want to do a good job because you want to see someone succeed.” This is especially true for mentoring relationships within your HM group.
That means fully flushing out the program and dedicating the time necessary to make it a success. “If you are the de facto leader of a group, you have some obligation to people interested in career development,” says Dr. Howell. “I think it’s part of the job to help advance those people.”
The Ground Rules
Any new mentoring arrangement should start with a discussion of expectations, responsibilities, time frames, and communication. What are the mentee’s expectations for the relationship? How much time can you, the mentor, offer?
Whether the arrangement is formal (a director mentoring a new hire) or casual (an established hospitalist asking a conference speaker for a long-distance mentoring relationship), ground rules are important, Dr. Howell insists. “The mentoring relationship can be established informally, but it’s worthwhile to set some rules on responsibilities: How is the feedback going to come, how frank and honest do you want to be, when should we meet? …Rules will depend on the relationship and on the individuals involved.”
If nothing else, agree to how frequently you will meet or speak. “It could be quarterly or it could be weekly,” says Dr. Howell. “Face time is important, but e-mail and phone calls will work, too, as long as you’ve established some ground rules about this. If the mentee expects a face-to-face meeting and you’re e-mailing your answers, that could be a problem. So you need to establish how you’re going to communicate.”
Those meetings can add up to a sizeable commitment. How much time, exactly, should a new mentor expect to devote to this aspect of leadership? “It varies widely,” Dr. Howell admits. “But I will say that many younger mentees require much more time than older mentors expect. If they’re struggling or haven’t found their stride yet, it can require several hours a week, which is a lot for a busy person’s schedule. But many relationships can be handled weekly or monthly.”
Dr. Faro, who has mentored many hospitalists within her organization, says, “You need to build the relationship; you need enough contact time so that you can understand each other.” For her, that amounts to 40 to 50 hours of getting-to-know-you time, she says. “After that, maybe an hour a week.”
Dr. Faro tailors her guidance to the personality, capabilities, and level of independence of each person she mentors—hence her lengthy initial time frame.
“You need to start with setting up a clear set of goals and outcomes,” she says. “They really need to know what they’re doing and why they’re doing it. So, set up a plan with specific time frames. It’s your job to determine how independent they are; you may end up giving them goals rather than them stating what they’re going to do.”
—Joan C. Faro, MD, FACP, MBA, chief medical officer, John T. Mather Memorial Hospital, Port Jefferson, N.Y.
For example, she might tell one mentee to develop an order set for patients with syncope, and expect a document by an agreed-upon deadline. She might give another individual the same assignment, but walk that person through each step—within reason. “You can’t do it for them, or they’re not going to learn,” she maintains.
Each completed task is met with constructive criticism. How well was the task done? Did the physician leave out anything? If Dr. Faro senses that more guidance is necessary, she steps up her level of involvement.
What Makes a Successful Mentor?
Dr. Faro understands the mentor/mentee process because she’s been part of it for so long. How can you get to that point? Simply agreeing to be a mentor and having regular meetings with your mentee doesn’t necessarily mean you’re doing a good job.
“Good mentors probably listen more than they talk,” explains Dr. Howell. “For many people, if they can talk it out, they will reach their own conclusions and that’s much more powerful than being told something. That ‘Aha!’ moment is a big career moment.”
He also believes strong mentors can give even non-hospitalists helpful career advice. “Good mentors are able to step out of their own shoes and look at the unique situation of the other person, and give advice tailored to that situation,” he explains. “You have to be altruistic in your mentoring; you can’t do it for your own needs.”
Successful mentors also understand their mentees. For example, mentees in leadership positions should receive advice about how to invest in themselves and their careers. “I always recommend SHM’s Leadership Academy, as well as several books, including Getting to Yes and Good to Great to improve themselves as leaders,” says Dr. Howell.
Finally, a mentor who does the job well understands when the relationship isn’t working. If this is the case, “be up-front and honest, and if possible, point that person to another mentor,” Dr. Howell says. “If you can introduce them and get them started, that’s best. You can also share a mentee with someone else; you can each handle different areas. I have many different mentors in different areas. It’s more productive that way.” TH
Jane Jerrard also writes “Public Policy” for The Hospitalist.