Career Resources

Mentoring Today

Reed Morton

The challenges that healthcare executives face today make mentoring more important than ever.

In the early days of healthcare management, charismatic mentors "finished" the education of new professionals during the required hospital administration residency and often wielded influence over much of the protege's career; relationships and allegiances were lifelong. Today, rapid change in the healthcare system, reorganization and downsizing, and the diversity of healthcare managers' careers combine to make those long-lasting professional relationships the exception rather than the rule. While mentoring is no longer as common, the challenges that healthcare executives face today make mentoring more important than ever.

What Does Mentoring Mean Today?

Mentoring, a voluntary learning relationship in which one professional contributes to the professional development of another, can occur in a variety of contexts. Relationships can be built within an organization or across organizations. The duration of the relationship can be short or long term, and the time commitment can also vary. Protégés may receive higher payoffs through a long-lasting, tight bond with a mentor in his/her organization. However, cross-organization relationships of a shorter duration can also provide the protégé with opportunities for obtaining feedback or advice.

In today's environment, healthcare executives can benefit from a series of mentors, says Walter Johnson III, president/CEO, the Institute for Diversity in Health Management, Atlanta. Johnson encourages healthcare executives to look for mentors from different backgrounds and areas of specialty such as marketing or managed care. He adds that mentoring is an inherent responsibility in the role of the supervisor: "All supervisors should ask themselves how they can look out for the welfare and improve the talents of those who work for them."

"Having a mentor is not just for beginners," says J. Larry Tyler, FACHE, FAAHC, president of the executive search firm of Tyler & Company in Atlanta. At the senior level, mentoring takes on a different flavor and is most often conducted by peers. Having a trusted friend to bounce ideas off of or to go to for advice can be extremely important for senior executives. He adds that board members can often serve in this role.

While proteges benefit from the mentor's experience, wisdom, and counsel and develop valuable professional contacts, for mentors, payoffs from the relationship may include higher-quality work from the protege, recognition in the field, an expanded network of contacts, and the satisfaction of knowing they've given something back to their profession. Mentors may also learn to better define and communicate their vision for their organization.

Growing Interest

In 1993 and 1994, respectively, the Chicago Health Executives' Forum and John Schwartz, FACHE, the College's Regent for Illinois-Southern Cook County, and chief executive, Trinity Hospital, Chicago, conducted independent member needs surveys. Survey results in both cases indicated overwhelming interest in mentoring programs. When CHEF invited volunteers to help establish a mentoring program, Schwartz stepped forward to develop a program for healthcare executives in Northern Illinois. "Mentoring can help anyone, anywhere on his or her career path," Schwartz said. "Mentoring has value not only for climbing the career ladder, but actually for changing ladders as well."

To promote mentoring, the College worked in cooperation with CHEF to develop a model program. The ACHE/CHEF Mentoring Program establishes one-year mentor/protege relationships. Any ACHE or CHEF member is eligible to serve as a mentor or protege or in both roles. Mentors must commit to giving their protégés one hour of undivided attention, in person or by phone, each month. At the end of the year, participants will assess the effectiveness of the program and will have the option of renewing their relationship.

This article is reprinted from Healthcare Executive.