Mentoring in Health Care

A mentor is a person knowledgeable in a particular discipline who provides guidance to an inexperienced individual or an individual with less knowledge in that particular area. Health care mentoring may involve an experienced professional giving the benefit of his or her experience to a novice in this profession. At other times, mentoring in the health profession can be interdisciplinary or interprofessional when two or more people in different disciplines work together to add to the body of each other's knowledge. This type of collaboration allows professionals to share the benefit of their cumulative backgrounds, experiences and strengths.

One goal of those in the health care professions is to learn how to show sensitivity to individuals from various cultures during every professional interaction. Sensitivity such as this requires good communication between patient and provider. However, when the health care professional and the patient are from very different backgrounds, communication may be impeded or just about impossible.

Nations everywhere have become melting pots of racial and ethnic diversity. In the United States, for example, about 30 percent of the population consists of minority groups: Native American/Alaskan, 0.7 percent; Asian, 3.8 percent; Hispanic/Latino, 11.9 percent; and African American, 12.2 percent. It is clear, then, that health care professionals will have to deal with a diverse population of patients as diversity within nations continues to increase.

Health care providers who are new to the profession, or those still in training, may not be well-equipped to understand symptoms of illness or conditions as they manifest in a particular ethnic or cultural group. In some cases, a disease is specific to one ethnic or cultural group, and the professional may be confronted with a disease that is unfamiliar to him or her. However, a mentor can point out such symptoms and conditions to the novice, so that person learns to recognize the disease process at a future time.

In addition to specific symptoms and conditions, minorities and health care providers may be at an impasse for communication. The two may not share a common language or may have very different expectations. Failed communication may end up undermining patient outcomes.

A patient may not understand, for example, that a medication is oral as opposed to topical. Sometimes a patient cannot read and takes a 10-day course of medication at one time. In other cases, a patient may feel better after two days of antibiotic treatment and decides to discontinue treatment. All of these issues share a factor: failed communication between provider and patient.

Mentoring can be helpful in these situations. In most cases, a novice health care provider has no inkling that a patient may be illiterate or may not understand the delivery method of a particular medication. If the provider does realize that the patient is illiterate, it is important for the professional not to express shock or distaste. By watching a professional with years of experience speak with patients from different backgrounds, the novice learns the proper approach to patients from varied backgrounds.

Health care professionals often have a specific expertise. For instance, a cardiologist may be the most expert in a specific heart procedure in a particular geographic region. The budding cardiologist will be thrilled to watch and possibly assist the expert cardiologist during such a procedure, and this experience is sure to boost the skills of the novice.

Mentoring is also useful for health care professions that combine disciplines. For instance, the autoimmune condition known as sarcoidosis often begins in the lungs. The condition is one that may, therefore, be treated by lung doctors and rheumatologists, though rheumatology and pulmonology are two quite different disciplines. Each of these specialists has different areas of expertise that can be used to assist the other in understanding certain disease processes.

Some schools are now employing an innovative teaching strategy in which college students studying various health care disciplines are partnered with community high school students who are considering a future in health care professions. In this manner, university students have a chance to practice their skills in interdisciplinary communication, collaboration, acceptance of cultural competency and recognition of diverse cultures. For high school students who come from diverse cultures, gaining exposure to the terminology used in the medical profession and in the various health disciplines lends a feeling of competency.

As high school students learn how to perform a case study, they get a taste of college life. Such mentorships may encourage a high school student to pursue an education and future career in one of the many health care professions. This type of mentoring relationship can also help a student narrow down his or her ideal course of study within the health care profession.

Mentoring in Health Care: Selected full-text books and articles

Beyond Teaching to Mentoring By Alice G. Reinarz; Eric R. White Jossey-Bass, 2001
Librarian's tip: Chap. 3 "Mentoring for the Health Professions"
Smart Nursing: How to Create a Positive Work Environment That Empowers and Retains Nurses By June Fabre Mba Rnc Springer Publishing Company, 2005
Librarian's tip: Chap. 13 "Leadership: Coaching and Mentoring Others"
The Return of the Mentor: Strategies for Workplace Learning By Brian J. Caldwell; M. A. Carter Falmer Press, 1993
Librarian's tip: "The Health Culture" begins on p. 91
The Role of an Environmental Health Professional-Practice (Internship) Coordinator in Mentoring the Student Intern By Ronczkowski, Paul J.; LaFollette, Sharron; Bellingar, Teresa Journal of Environmental Health, Vol. 66, No. 10, June 2004
Correlates of Fundamental Skills versus Complex Skills for Medical Technologists By Blau, Gary; Tatum, Donna Surges; Ward-Cook, Kory; Guiles, H. JEsse Journal of Allied Health, Vol. 32, No. 1, Spring 2003
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
How Professional Values Are Developed and Applied in Medical Practice in China By Peng, Ricong The Hastings Center Report, Vol. 30, No. 4, July 2000
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
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