The changing landscape of hearing health care is causing unrest in our profession. Students and new professionals may feel insecure about job prospects and the future of the field, while more seasoned audiologists may feel powerless to adapt to changes in health-care delivery. 

One way to combat this uncertainty is through mentorship. The mentor–mentee relationship serves to develop new professionals so they are better equipped to navigate our profession, while established audiologists experience rejuvenation and renewed interest in audiology through interactions with students and new professionals. Additionally, more seasoned audiologists will be able to help develop the skills of the new professionals to ensure the success and continuation of our field.

What Is Mentorship?

Mentoring is defined as a relationship where a more senior individual voluntarily teaches, supports, and encourages someone who is more junior (Rose et al, 2005). The mentoring relationship develops formally or informally. Mentors are professionals who hold knowledge of their field and willingly pass along the traditions and skills of their field to the younger generation (Rose et al, 2005). 

Precepting is an example of formal mentorship. Informal mentorship is a relationship that naturally develops between an inexperienced and more experienced professional. The mentoring relationship helps transition a novice to an expert and can be valuable in career development. In many cases, mentorship, after education, is the greatest determining factor in professional success (Mills, 2008).

Precepting, a formal type of mentorship, is a teacher–student type of relationship, such as the relationship between a doctoral student and a practicing audiologist. This relationship is formal because it is determined by external factors (i.e., a university preceptor matches the student with an off-site clinic for a semester) and follows the goals set by the educational institution. 

Formal mentor relationships are typically short lived—the average amount of time for this relationship is six to 12 months (Allen et al, 2005). The goals in this type of mentorship follow the ability level of the student and increase in difficulty as the student progresses through his or her coursework. 

These goals tend to be specific. The student focuses on developing a few skills while also working to develop professional interests (Mills, 2008). The mentor’s primary job is to demonstrate techniques, critique the mentee’s work, review and track progress, and challenge the student to meet his or her goals (Rose et al, 2005). The protégé will receive guidance from the mentor to drive his or her professional and ethical growth (Rose et al, 2005).

Informal mentorship develops spontaneously and is driven by interpersonal interests. This type of mentorship is defined as “a naturally formed, one-to-one, mutual, committed, nonsexual relationship between a junior and senior person to promote personal and professional development beyond any particular curricular or institutional goals” (Rose et al, 2005). 

This relationship lasts longer and, on average, lasts between three and six years (Allen et al, 2005). The mentor and protégé mutually agree to this relationship and they grow from interactions that occur naturally within the workplace. Additionally, this relationship tends to be deeper because the mentor and protégé interact on a more personal and emotional level. Unlike formal mentorship, the mentee will drive the goals of this relationship, which results in more career support and personal and professional development (Allen et al, 2005). 

What Drives Success in Mentorship?

Actions that will improve a mentor’s effectiveness include engaging the protégé on a personal and emotional level, communicating clearly and effectively, being sensitive to diversity, and adjusting his or her teaching styles to match those of the mentee. The most important action a mentor can take is to be available to the protégé (Rose et al, 2005). The mentee should be the focus and the mentor should convey respect and confidence in the mentee’s skills.

Communicating the mentee’s progress by identifying strengths, providing constructive feedback, and reassessing skills will foster a beneficial relationship. It is important for the mentor to avoid promoting his or her own agenda and to avoid taking advantage of the student by using him or her as free labor (Rose et al, 2005).

There are also actions that the protégé should take. The protégé should strive for punctuality, show integrity by following through on assignments and tasks, accepting feedback, conveying respect, accepting challenges presented by the mentor, and showing appreciation for his or her mentor (Rose et al, 2005). 

The mentee must track their own progress and communicate openly with the mentor to ensure goals are reached. The mentee should also take an active role in the relationship by taking the initiative to complete tasks and to research answers to questions and problems for which the mentor may not have a solution (Inzer and Crawford, 2005). 

The mentoring relationship will naturally evolve over time as the protégé’s skills progress. It is best to communicate regularly to make sure the relationship remains mutually beneficial. If the mentor determines that the protégé needs guidance that would be better given from another source, it is important to refer to another audiologist (Rose et al, 2005).

Conclusion

Mentoring is a powerful way to ensure the successful continuation of audiology. Mentoring empowers the mentor through the sharing of knowledge and experiencing the direct impact her or his help has on the development of a junior professional. In addition, mentoring empowers the protégé by providing that individual with the knowledge, skills, and networking opportunities to help him or her succeed (Inzer and Crawford, 2005). 

Mentoring is a way to regain control in our changing professional landscape.