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How to Be a Good Mentor in Healthcare

Mentoring in Healthcare

It’s the start of your shift and standing in front of you is a wide-eyed student, excited about the shift ahead. Yep, you are assigned to take a student for the day, week, or even longer.

Whether you are a nurse, physician assistant, or technician, you may be in the position of mentoring students during their training. Mentors have an opportunity to help their students become conscientious and caring healthcare professionals.

Some healthcare professionals welcome the opportunity to teach the next generation, while other medical workers are less than enthusiastic about having a student tag along. But love it or hate it, it may be part of your job. You may as well make the best of the situation. If you are assigned to mentor a student, consider some of the following suggestions:

Remember you were once in the same position: At one time everyone was a rookie at his or her job. If mentoring is not your thing, try to think back on what it was like when you were a student. You probably would have appreciated a mentor who took the time to answer questions and show you the ropes. Be the kind of mentor you would have liked to have.

Find out what your student needs to focus on: Students come into clinical rotations with different levels of knowledge. Ask your students what semester they are in and what they should be studying. For example, if you are a respiratory therapist and are mentoring an RT student, you don’t want to focus on the basics if your student should be learning critical care skills.

Encourage questions: Avoid creating an environment where your student is afraid or apprehensive about asking questions. The medical field can be complex, and there is a lot to learn. Everyone has questions. Questions are part of the learning process. Let your students know they can ask question at any time if they don’t understand something. If there is something you can’t answer, don’t fake it. Be honest and tell your student you’ll find out and get back to her or him. There is no shame in admitting you are unsure of something. In addition to answering questions, quiz your student occasionally. Asking your student questions will help you assess whether he or she is learning anything from the rotation and what areas you still need to work on.

Be a good role model: You may have been doing your job for a long time and know where you can cut corners safely. But your student should always be taught how to do things according to policy. Students also learn by example. Always be a good role model in how you treat patients, interact with staff, and do your job.

Teach compassion: Sometimes students are so focused on learning procedures and the science behind medicine, that they neglect the human aspect. Remember that you are mentoring the next generation of doctors, nurses, physician assistants, or technicians. Teach students the importance of having compassion and empathy. Remind your students that patients are more than an illness or a condition. A little kindness goes a long way.

Emphasize looking at the big picture: Regardless of what type of healthcare work you do, looking at the whole picture is essential. It is easy to focus in on one aspect of care or a set of symptoms and forget to consider everything that is going on. Not looking at the big picture can cause you to miss something or misdiagnose a condition.

Allow a little freedom: It’s important always to follow your facility’s policies for working with students. But if possible, give your students a little room to work on their own without hovering. Certain procedures may require that you stay at your student’s side. But there may be instances where you can step aside and let your student work a little more independently and gain confidence.


Ohio State University. Mentoring Best Practices.  Accessed June 2015.

American College of Healthcare Executives. The Benefits of Being a Mentor.   Accessed June 2015.

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About MaryAnn DePietro

MaryAnn DePietro has been a health and medical writer for over a decade. Her work has appeared in newspapers, magazines and health websites. MaryAnn holds a degree in rehabilitation and also in respiratory therapy. In addition to writing, she works as a respiratory therapist at a trauma center in northern California.

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