A few years ago I was ready to leave EMS again. One of the best places I had ever worked was recently closed secondary to politics, and I was dealing with interpersonal and institutional politics at my current job. I was tired of the seemingly endless dead-end jobs with no opportunity to advance. I had ideas for what EMS and my career could be, but I could not see a future in this profession—until I got a mentor.
A mentor is defined as a trusted counselor or guide. The original mentor was a character in Homer's The Odyssey. Odysseus left charge of his son with Mentor when he went off to war; Mentor was his teacher and male role model. He provided more than just an education, but someone Odysseus' son could depend on while his father was not present.
How does all this benefit you as an EMS provider? We know that EMS eats its young; it can be a huge benefit to have someone with EMS-specific experience in your corner. A mentor has trod the path you are starting on and is aware of the pitfalls and opportunities along the way. Mentors promote your career and its development by giving you professional exposure to others that you might not have access to otherwise. A mentor will challenge you to take the leap on an opportunity that might intimidate you. They will give you assignments to train and coach you to that next level, whether they be for specific professional tasks or personal identity development. A mentor also offers protection when others question your ability or merit when successful.
It is important to note that modern day mentoring is still based on a relationship. Much like sharing a cramped ambulance cab with your partner for 12 hours, it is imperative for a mentoring relationship to be successful and healthy. That way, both parties are aware of basic expectations.
Is willing and able to make a commitment to a mentee. That might mean they need to have adequate professional experience and stature in the EMS community, or the ability to make time to work with a mentee.
Is reliable and consistent. They regularly take the opportunity to work with the mentee or make agreed upon appointments, whether in person or via phone or teleconference.
Is an encourager. There is such a thing as “tough love” and it can be applicable in certain extreme situations, but a mentor needs to be able to express their confidence constructively to a mentee to further identity development and prepare the path for success.
Evaluates their goals. Knowing where you would like to go in your EMS career will help you choose the correct mentor, and will help the mentor know what you would like to achieve. You may also find that you need more than one mentor depending on your goals and their individual specialties.
Is willing and able to make a commitment to a mentor. In addition to regular shifts, often at multiple jobs, they complete assignments and tasks in a timely manner and arrive to meetings on time, prepared and ready to work.
Is receptive to feedback and constructive suggestions. Sometimes feedback from a mentor can be positive and celebratory, but at times it may be constructive criticism for you to reevaluate your performance, readjust, and try again. In either case, it is important to be open to all feedback so you can continue to improve yourself.
Is responsible for their own success. Having a mentor can help you polish your image, improve your performance, get you the introduction you needed, but you still have to put in the effort, drive, and passion to grow professionally.
There are also mutual expectations in the mentoring relationship that are requisite to the growth of both parties. The most important are trust and mutual respect. Both parties must agree their conversations, emails, text messages or any other form of communication will be confidential. This is not only to protect any sensitive work product, but to create a safe place for the mentee to test their ideas before sharing them with the rest of the department or the world.
Finding a Mentor
Now that you have an idea of what to expect and what is expected of you, how do you find a mentor? In my experiences, most mentoring relationships are organic in nature. They naturally grow from an acquaintance or business friendship that is already established. The difficulty in approaching a stranger to become your mentor is they don't know you, your potential or your work ethic.
Establish what goal you are attempting to reach. If you have a few different goals you might want to consider having several mentors that excel in those particular arenas, something like your own personal board of directors.
Identify someone who has successfully achieved that goal. Preferably, this will be someone you already have some interaction with. This person should also be several steps ahead of you in their career evolution so they have a broad picture of the road you will have to travel.
Approach your potential mentor. Ask for help with a specific problem or issue, offer your assistance or viewpoint on an issue they are invested in or have an informal meeting to discuss your proposal for a mentoring relationship.
Building an Agency Program
While some EMS agencies have mentoring programs, it's not the norm. Agencies, mentors and mentees all benefit from such an arrangement. EMS agencies are seemingly always looking for new providers; this is a great tool to attract and retain talent to grow and maintain an excellent agency reputation. Providers are more likely to stay with an agency they feel invested in and have strong interpersonal relationships at. Additionally, the agency would be able to develop prospective new leaders to carry the legacy of their agency into the next generation of providers.
Layout the scope of the program. Do you want to develop future administrative or operations officers? Do you perform multiple functions within the community that require specialized training beyond basic clinical training? What does your agency require to remain operational in the future?
Develop an agreement for both mentors and mentees. Describe the goal of the program, expectations for both parties, and general time table for expected progress. A code of ethics should be included as well.
Identify potential mentors and mentees. Pick which of your personnel would be good fits for each role. Please consider that the best clinician is not always the best at nurturing and encouraging future leaders.
Hold an informal gathering describing the program and its goals. Let the participants talk and get to know each other. Mentoring is based on a core relationship, and both parties need to feel comfortable with each other.
If you had told me two years ago I would be the author of a blog, speaking at EMS conferences or writing for a major EMS magazine I would have laughed. My mentor lifted the veil of stagnancy that I viewed EMS through, encouraged me to keep writing, pushed me to attempt the intimidating goals and opened the door to the rest of my EMS career. I waited 18 years to ask for help to grow professionally and almost left the career I love in the process. If you have ideas on how to improve yourself and the EMS industry, don't wait any longer. Align yourself with a mentor and put the work in. Imagine where you might be in two years.
Amy Eisenhauer has been a prehospital provider in New Jersey for over 19 years working in both clinical and educational roles within the EMS community. She hosts TheEMSsiren.com, a blog on EMS which engages providers and strives to improve the EMS community as a whole. You can contact her at theEMSsiren@gmail.com.