Methods in Mentoring is a bimonthly column produced in partnership with the National EMS Management Association. Visit www.nemsma.org.
I now work weekend night shifts as a paramedic for a large healthcare system. Not long ago I served as one of its EMS deputy chiefs and as interim chief, during which time I reported directly to the regional COO of the health system.
The COO made available to me a formal executive coach who was used to coaching healthcare executives new to their positions. She had me take the Birkman Method test to measure my usual behavior, stress behavior, needs, and interests to inform her coaching sessions.
For the next several months we met for an hour every other week to discuss those results and my experiences. I found this coaching to be invaluable not only to my role as an organizational leader but also to my personal life and even today to my work on the streets. Most EMS professionals, however, do not have access to this kind of coaching.
There is another form of professional development within the reach of every EMS professional: mentoring. Compared to coaching, mentoring is often longer in duration, maybe even lasting a lifetime. It can be more informal and may only occur as often as needed. Usually the mentor is more experienced and can pass on knowledge toward career and personal development.
What Makes a Good Mentor?
The word mentor can be traced back to The Odyssey, composed by Homer near the end of the 8th century B.C. In this story Mentor was an old man and adviser of Telemachus, the young son of Odysseus, asked to watch over and provide appropriate counsel.
Canadian academic Sharon Straus, MD, recently identified five key ingredients necessary for a successful mentoring relationship: reciprocity, mutual respect, clear expectations, personal connections, and shared values. She also identified some causes of failed relationships: poor communication, lack of commitment, personality differences, perceived or real competition, conflicts of interest, and the mentor’s inexperience. Good mentors, she said, are honest, trustworthy, and active listeners, meaning they are engaged with the mentee during each session, focused on the issues identified by the mentee, and help the mentee set goals.
In addition to the traditional mentoring described above, Matthew Allen, PhD, describes five other models that may be appropriate and worth considering for paramedicine:
Peer mentoring—Typically this entails a group of persons at the same level of training, rank, or experience who meet to share experiences, work on a project, or gain feedback. These can be informal lunches, peer-support groups, career counseling sessions run by experts, or writing support groups.
Mentoring panel or committee—A panel of 2–5 mentors to advise the mentee a few times per year in one setting.
Functional mentoring—Project-based, where the mentee finds a mentor for a specific skill or defined project such as writing a grant proposal or manuscript.
Group mentoring—This involves 1–3 mentors and a small number of mentees who engage in a flow of conversation to share experiences, ideas, and tips.
Mosaic mentoring—A diverse range of individuals of different ranks, ages, genders, races, skills, and experience come together in a nonhierarchical community.
Research has found that paramedic bachelor’s degree students fared better when they participated in peer mentoring as either a mentor or mentee. In this model student mentors do not introduce new content but rather “model, advise, and facilitate” content that has already been taught. Student peer mentoring is usually intended to benefit both mentors and mentees, although the mentors are often a year ahead of the mentees and already skilled students.
Both peer and traditional mentoring fit well in the paramilitary structure of most EMS organizations; however, there is another style to consider: reverse mentoring. In reverse mentoring an older or more experienced person becomes the mentee and seeks out a younger provider to provide the mentorship.
A reverse mentoring arrangement is ideal for helping the older and more experienced mentee learn. This would be particularly useful, for example, when agency policies need to be updated for something like employing or caring for patients who are LGBTQ or have diverse gender-identity expressions, to result in a more inclusive workforce and respect the human rights of patients. These ideas are more familiar to many of our younger colleagues, who have grown up with social equity embedded in their education and are known to be the most socially conscious generation since the 1960s.
Paramedicine is at a point where it would benefit from developing a culture of mentorship that extends across age and experience groups. The evidence in not just healthcare but also paramedic research supports the benefits that come from a formalization of mentorship. There is untapped knowledge available among our peers that will improve our organizations and also, as a result, our profession and the care we provide each patient.
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Indiana University School of Medicine. Models of Mentoring, https://faculty.medicine.iu.edu/let-us-help/mentoring/mentoring-matters/models-of-mentoring/.
Meister JC, Willyerd K. Mentoring Millennials. Harvard Business Review, 2010; https://hbr.org/2010/05/mentoring-millennials.
Ong J, Swift C, Magill N, et al. The association between mentoring and training outcomes in junior doctors in medicine: An observational study. BMJ Open, 2018 Sep 21; 8(9): e020721.
Rhodes J. Study identifies 5 ingredients essential to strong career mentoring relationships. Chronicle of Evidence-Based Mentoring, www.evidencebasedmentoring.org/study-identifies-5-ingredients-essential-to-strong-career-mentoring-relationships/.
Straus SE, Haynes RB. David Sackett’s legacy includes evidence-based mentorship. J Clin Epidemiol, 2016 May; 73: 61–3.
Nick Nudell, MS, NRP, FACPE, EMD, is a paramedic for UCHealth in Fort Collins, Colo., and serves on the boards of The Paramedic Foundation, the National EMS Management Association, and the American Paramedic Association. The author wishes to thank his night-shift partner, Kali Sindorf, EMT, for her assistance in writing this article.