By Patti Grant, RN, BSN, MS, CIC, Infection Preventionist, Addison, TX
No matter what your background, there is little doubt you can quickly name several people that impacted your infection prevention experience in a positive way, making you better that day and beyond. No doubt these same memorable people made it possible for you to see your contributions as productive and meaningful, when you saw them as commonplace and ordinary. These people are mentors.
You may not have read a description exactly like the one above, yet this is how it feels when I’m experiencing the gift of a mentor’s time, shared learning, and selfless perseverance. You are a new Infection Preventionist (IP) and feel back to square one on the learning curve of a demanding new discipline — so you think. Remember that you bring a background that is unique — meaning you will be an IP like no other because of your varied prior experience.
It’s amazing how rapidly the mentor/mentee cycle can flip with IP’s as a professional group — and the power of APIC as the cornerstone — share evidence-based practices, personal experiences, grassroots success stories, and noncompetitive networking.
What prompted this reflection on mentorship? An unexpected professional support trio I experienced in May 2014 in north-central Texas:
Maxine Garcia, a fairly new IP at Baylor Surgical Hospital at Las Colinas, sent me an e-mail with "I’m excited" in the subject line. We’d known each other at another facility when she worked in the Emergency Department, and later as a Quality Coordinator at a different facility. Recently she stated, "Your job seemed fascinating. You explained why things were done and shared knowledge. I wanted to do that." Maxine described some prevention work she was doing at our local APIC meeting. I encouraged her to share what she was doing, telling her it was novel — even though she thought it routine and ordinary. Her contribution is now part of APIC’s 2014 publication "Guide to Preventing Catheter-Associated Urinary Tract Infections."
- Tosin Laja-Akintayo is an energetic IP straight from bedside nursing that took on the IP/quality role at a sister facility, Methodist McKinney Hospital, whom I’m joyfully mentoring. Tosin has taught me meaningful acquiescence through the ease in which she accepts public reporting requirements for the opportunity it is: a requisite part of IP visibility to advance patient safety. She chose not to focus on the difficulties and obstacles of morphing this new workload within the many IP responsibilities the profession has accumulated over four decades of fighting infections. I knew this yet she helped me relax into this practicality.
- Donna Ballard at Children’s Medical Center Legacy is now an experienced IP. She knows Maxine, since Donna was a Nursing Supervisor at the same facility where the three of us worked around 12 years ago. Back then Donna quickly stood out as potential IP material with solid and proactive questions to prevent infection. Donna instinctively knew when to phone versus e-mail with a consultation since she understood infection transmission urgency without much prompting. She personally paid for basic IPC courses while still a Nursing Supervisor, documenting a serious intent to break into’ the profession. Donna landed an IP job at a newly built hospital with the stipulation I mentor her and have a formal letter in her Human Resources jacket for hospital accreditation purposes. Donna used to call me her "Morning Coffee" because I’d come to work and answer her e-mails before starting the day.
Imagine my surprise while talking with Tosin to discover she’d just gotten off the phone with Donna regarding a pediatric question — a former mentee was mentoring at the same moment I was to the same IP. Within that week the aforementioned "I’m excited" email arrived from Maxine. The positive impact of mentoring was coming full circle — even though at the time I wasn’t sure if Donna and Maxine had connected yet (they had).
Encountering the gift of mentoring while simultaneously experiencing the eagerness of being the mentee is priceless. Be kind to yourself while learning and accept the help of others. Seek their expertise knowing this profession is more than worth it, and it really takes off when you can teach others. What will your cycle of mentorship be?