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Want to be a mentor? All you need is mentee
'I am a mentor. You can be one too.'
Editor's note: This is part one of our coverage of a presentation on mentoring by Carolyn E. Jackson, RN, MA, CIC, infection preventionist at SHW Hadley Hospital and Skilled Nursing Facility in Washington, DC. Jackson spoke recently in New Orleans at the annual conference of the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC). For part two of this story, see the next installment of Wisdom Teachers.
While the benefits of having a mentor may appear relatively straightforward, this vital professional relationship is not a one-way street. Experienced infection preventionists who mentor novice IPs "mentees" may find themselves challenged and changed by an experience that can be truly rewarding, Jackson says.
"It is a give and take relationship," she said. "You are also challenging yourself to higher achievement. Your mentees are going to challenge you [with questions]. That challenges you as a mentor to strengthen your knowledge base. And don't be afraid to say, 'I don't know.'"
As infection prevention continues to undergo demographic changes, taking an IP under an experienced wing is critical, whether the mentor is explaining the latest confusing array of acronyms and guidelines or serving as the calming voice in a crisis.
"You can hear the shaking voice of the person calling you at 3 o'clock on a Friday afternoon with a healthcare worker with chickenpox," Jackson said. "You can help build their self confidence because they will get through that. You did it, your colleagues did it, and the mentee also will get through it."
In a mentoring relationship, a more routine activity may be watching an educational webinar and then scheduling a discussion.
"You can discuss that and offer challenges as you dissect some of the information conveyed in the webinar," Jackson said. "The mentor serves to help the mentee, but the mentee may pick up some issues that the mentor did not pickup."
Participation in a mentoring relationship increases the self-confidence of the rookie infection preventionist as she becomes familiar with a new role and different responsibilities, Jackson noted.
"It is so crucial to have an 'I can' attitude," she said.
OK, health care needs every good infection preventionists it can get, but what's really in it for the mentor? Plenty.
For example, mentoring creates opportunities for experienced professionals to strengthen their knowledge base and improve communication skills. Mentoring enhances your leadership, teaching, and coaching abilities, Jackson emphasized.
"You become a more effective practitioner when you do this," she said. "You begin to step out and you acknowledge the fact that 'Well, I do know a little bit about this.' Because if you are a sole practitioner sometimes you're challenged in your institution sometimes you're not."
While gaining some personal growth by mentoring, experienced IPs will also open new channels, professional connections and networks as they help the mentee. "Issues such as improving your public speaking skills as you [help a mentee with this issue]," she said. "There are skills you will learn as a mentor that will help strengthen your role as an IP."
Beyond that you get that feel-good intrinsic satisfaction of helping an emerging professional develop to his potential.
APIC is trying to link up volunteer mentors with new practitioners, and the relationship need not be strictly local, she noted. (For more info go to www.apic.org) "If it is your preference they will certainly try to match you with someone in your local area, but because of email and electronic communication it is a lot easier to keep in touch with people," she said.
Regardless of how you do it, mentoring means one day being that person that experienced IPs look back at and credits for their success. The skill sets of mentors will vary, of course, but that's part of the beauty of it.
"It's crucial that you do it, because no one else can do it like you can," Jackson said. "Our role, our responsibility in this area is great. We need to recognize the importance of giving back and the importance of trying to grow individuals into this profession. I am a mentor. You can be one too."